Ubuntu Desktop Unit Consistency (LP: #369525)

Andrew Sayers andrew-ubuntu-devel at pileofstuff.org
Thu Jun 4 06:38:55 UTC 2009

Mike Jones wrote:
> This discussion has gone on long enough that I'm no longer able to tell 
> what we are discussing.

Neal posted a GNOME bug report 
(http://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=554172) which I think sums up 
the issues really well.

I agree with Evan that there are two issues:

a) What should be expressed as powers of 2 vs. powers of 10?
b) What names should we use for powers of 2 and 10?

As to (a):

There are a few places where there is a strong technical reason to 
prefer powers of 2.  For example, memory is designed in such a way that 
you will always have a round number of bytes in base 2, but never in 
base 10.  Everywhere else, there are strong arguments on both sides, 
including for instance:

* 30 years of precedent for base 2 in the computing community
* 300 years of precedent for base 10 in the scientific community
* Interoperatibility with other systems (e.g. Windows)
* Compliance to relevant standards (e.g. POSIX)

So far as I can tell, everyone has made up their mind about which of 
these issues outweigh which other issues.  Further debate is likely to 
produce lots of heat and little light.

As to (b):

I think the issue can be summarised like this:

As developers of the English language, we get words from the dictionary 
(our upstream provider), and hand them on to users (our downstream 

We have agreement that the words are defined upstream as 
kilo=1000/kibi=1024, but do not have agreement on whether a valid bug 
report has been filed by downstream.

This is a serious issue because the English language has a long and 
proud tradition of being modified solely through patches working their 
way upstream.  Some people believe that any attempt to impose words from 
the top is an inappropriate attempt to grab power, which should be 
resisted on principle.  Some people believe this is an especially 
egregious example because the computing community was hardly consulted 
at all, and strongly objected where it was consulted.

My personal opinions:

My understanding is that GNOME shies away from configuration options 
where possible, whereas KDE quite likes them.  As such, I doubt that 
GNOME developers would be willing to make this configurable.  Even if 
they did, you still have to discuss which option is the default.

As I mentioned elsewhere[1], not all standards are equal.  It's 
important that we consider standards seriously, but that doesn't mean 
automatic adoption.

As far as I'm concerned, the most important thing is that the UI uses 
words consistently.  A close second-most important thing is that the UI 
uses words that users can understand and mentally manipulate.

I have no strong opinion right now about whether "giga" should mean 10^9 
or 2^30, but I do have a strong opinion that ordinary users can't define 
the word at all.

IMHO, the only words that are widely recognised by ordinary users are 
"million", "billion" etc.  As Scott mentioned, the definitions for these 
words vary[2], but I believe this can be managed with localisations.

Since ordinary users don't have any words for large powers of 2, I would 
expect them to have difficulty thinking in base 2 no matter what words 
are used.  Here's a thought experiment: in base 6, try calculating 4 + 
4.  Even if you understand perfectly what I mean, I bet you have to use 
your fingers :)

	- Andrew


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