Miscategorization and Science

Posted 28 Oct 2007 at 14:38 UTC (updated 28 Oct 2007 at 17:55 UTC) by vicious Share This

Apparently only students and office workers are using Linux. If one peers at the current version of the vfolder menu spec from freedesktop.org one discovers that all the problems of the previous setup have been put back into the spec, while some entirely new problems have been created. For example, all Science (including Mathematics) and Engineering applications are horribly miscategorized. xdrawchem in Education? Octave in Development? We might as well have OpenOffice in Accessories and Firefox in Games.

The spec was originally written to avoid having a small set of "categories" that were set in stone, that you had to put your application into. I should know, I am one of the original authors of the spec. Instead you would put in a list of keywords (called Categories in the spec due to naming conflict) into your .desktop file. The menu implementation would then have a sort of database queries on the categories so that you may build arbitrary menu structures. In particular it was built so that you could easily split up one menu into several, etc...

Problem 1: The spec pecifies so-called main categories which pretty much correspond to menu titles on the panel. Hence the original problem of certain main menus cast in stone has come back. The solution has been retrofitted with the problem it was trying to solve.

Problem 2: The query language is inadequate. There is only Include/Exclude. You might think it may be enough. But the spec treats Exclude as intentionally deleted from the whole menu. Hence if you exclude something it won't appear in the menu even in the Others menu which uses the OnlyUnallocated query. This makes Exclude useless and makes it impossible to construct a proper query.

Problem 3: Which brings us to the Other menu which some distributions don't even include (I won't name names). Hence if you want your application to appear as an author, you must miscategorize your application for it to appear in all distributions. This is even worse than the original setup. It is a grave bug for a desktop if a newly installed application does not appear. Think non-technical users who don't use the command line. I hate to have to say the last sentence, but it almost seems to me like many developers don't keep that in mind.

Problem 4: There is no Science, no Mathematics, no Engineering "main categories." Hence if the current stupid setup is kept in place all such applications are miscategorized. I have seen Octave appear in Development/Programming menus (huh? who came up with that). Most science apps appear in Education menu. Are we as free software developers so limited to notice that Science is something that happens mostly after you finish your bachelors and leave school? Yes you can use those apps (some of them at least) for education. But I use spreadsheet for teaching (hence in education). I use word processing for teaching. But I've never used any application in the Education menu for teaching, but only for research. Similarly things like 2-D molecule drawing apps are probably used overwhelmingly more by researchers in both industry and academia for actual work, and very little by teachers and students for education.

I feel like I should have my name on the spec include something like with protest, since I think the current spec is a most vile complicated thing, which introduced back all the original problems and added new ones. And I don't want people to think that I'm responsible for screwups such as the Exclude/OnlyUnallocated braindamage, nor the "main categories" nonsense.

Wrong forum?, posted 29 Oct 2007 at 23:28 UTC by Ankh » (Master)

Wouldn't the xdg lists be a better forum for this?

Maybe a tagging approach for menu items, where you can click on the menu item with your MENU mouse button and have a choice of adding/editing tags, would be more Web 2.0ish and better in tune with today's useless hype? :-)


Menus are obsolete, posted 30 Oct 2007 at 18:14 UTC by apenwarr » (Master)

The whole thing is a mess in Linux anyway; the categories just don't *help* people. Categories that randomly rearrange themselves would be, if possible, worse.

Apple just dumps everything into an "Applications" folder that nobody ever looks at; real users only start the 10 apps on the default toolbar, which, interestingly, is all they really needed in the first place.

One of Microsoft's only innovations in Vista is the new Start Menu "search" feature, which is needed because the menu structure has become a den of insanity.

My advice would be to combine the two: dump everything into a single folder for easy browsing like Apple, and then add a keyword search feature like Microsoft, and then make it really easy to copy your favourite app onto the toolbar.

The great thing about this approach is that you can implement it while ignoring the freedesktop.org categorizations entirely, so they can do whatever they want.

Fedora menu irks, posted 30 Oct 2007 at 18:45 UTC by StevenRainwater » (Master)

As long as we're complaining about menu problems, the thing that drives me crazy on Fedora is that the naming scheme is inconsistent. In some cases the menu item has an unhelpful generic name like "Word Processor" (huh? which word processor? Abi Word? OO Writer? Something else?). Others include an app name but no description, such as "LASH Panel" (what the heck is a "LASH Panel"? What does it do and why would I want to start it?) Still other menu items (correctly, I think) include the app name along with a generic description - for example, "Firefox Web Browser". Without the name of the app, it's hard to know what program you're going to start if you click on the menu. Without a description, it's hard to pick an option in a case where you know what you want to do but aren't familiar with the available program names. Overall, though, the menu seems to have improved somewhat in Fedora 7.

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!

Share this page