App Naming: Generic vs. Special (e.g. StyledEdit vs Text Editor)

So, here’s a thing: are generic names (like Text Editor or Notepad) or “special” names (like StyledEdit or Kate) better?

This is a random, mostly rhetorical question that’s been on my mind for a little bit. Generic names are useful to users since they can easily find what they’re looking for in a menu, especially for a first-time user (when I first used Haiku, I honestly could not find WebPositive for an embarassingly long while.) It makes it easy to know the purpose of an app and why you would use it without having to experiment. They also make it easy for users of other operating systems or DEs to know what you’re talking about. For example, if you’ve never used KDE before, you wouldn’t think of “graphical package manager” when you hear “Discover”. However, I think that they make it hard to connect with default apps in that there are probably at least a thousand different edits out there that are entirely different, but no one is going to mix up StyledEdit with WordPad. Generic names are especially bad for operating systems that actually exist, where you can destroy customize the entire operating system to your liking by replacing any system components. By naming the default text editor “Text Editor”, you make it obvious for the user whether they are using the default app or not. Also, having special names for your apps give a sense of charm to the system.

KDE (on openSUSE, at least) solves the usability problem by using the literally-named “GenericName” field for .desktop files, so that when a user is looking through their menu they get the use of a program right next to its actual name, like “Kate (Text Editor)” or “Ark (Archive Manager)”. When searching for apps, this field is also used. In fact, I’m pretty sure Discover (already mentioned, KDE’s graphical package manager) actually uses generic names, or at least descriptions, first when searching for apps. GNOME, on the other hand, technically has special names for their apps (file-roller) but only ever shows a generic name in the menu (“Archive Manager”). Maybe a solution based on these two would be allowing the user to customize how app names and icons and stuff appear in the system.

So, what do you think? This is just a random thought that I wanted to put out there in the world. I’m not saying we should change all of Haiku’s app names, of course; they’re perfect the way they are. (Remember that HaikuDepot naming thing?) I just want to see what people think about this.


You have more than the name to identify an application: you also have the icon (which we already show), and a description in the application resources (which we could make more use of).

Personally I like the slightly quirky and sometimes not-exactly descriptive names and icons, they are part of the personality of Haiku for me, as an OS that doesn’t take itself 100% seriously and can afford to be a bit fun and unusual. Maybe it goes a bit too far sometimes (for example, with RobinHood which tries to fix PorrMan’s problems, and either app name don’t really tell you what they are doing at all).

In HaikuDepot we already have a description for each package, which helps knowing what you install, so, hopefully this isn’t too confusing.

Also, if we chose too generic names, we would have a problem with the generic-named apps from GNOME, which are ported to Haiku now, clashing with our own…


As a case in point – you weren’t looking for WebPositive, maybe it should have been named “Web”? But wait, now there’s a “Web” - I use it, when I have to, though right here I’m using WebPositive. Which one is the true “Web”? Bah.

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The names ARE confusing, I mentioned it before, but the devs like them, so they are staying.

The fact that they prevent casual users from actually getting to know Haiku, (they just leave, & go back to Linux/BSD/Windows), doesn’t worry the devs, but it should, because it likely puts off other dev/programmers from joining the team…

At the very least, they should have pop up descriptions of their use, when you mouse over them in the menu!

I’ve got used to some of them, but, maybe because of them, I don’t really USE Haiku, it’s just not ‘user friendly’…

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While I don’t mind apps having names with some personality I consider it a good thing for each app to have a description field summarizing what it does. On my main work machine (MacOS) I have some apps that I use every 5 months and I keep forgetting the name. It gets worse with aging .

So there is definitely a need for a system feature where you can search “Text editor” , “Image editor”, “Tasks” and get all the apps that have this role. More than a description it would be cool if this was some sort of mime type .

Yes, that’s certainly got to be factor in why hardly anyone finds MacOS usable. I mean, “Safari”? WTF!? I was paralyzed in confusion when I opened up a Macbook! “Finder”? What’s that - will it find me a web browser!? I just had to put it down - not user friendly at all! :rofl:

Having unique names isn’t actually much of a problem. Take for example web browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Falkon, etc.) or text editors (Kate, Vi, Emacs, etc.). They don’t really need to be explicitly named after their purpose to be recognisable.

A good middle-ground option is to have a naming scheme that allows for using descriptive names, while also adding a distinctive quality to them. Good examples of these are some of the more modern KDE apps (i.e. Keysmith, Skanpage, Kontrast, Kasts, etc.).

Even GNOME has started going back to more special names more recently. Loupe is their new image viewer. Meanwhile, the GNOME Circle apps are all rather varied in their naming schemes.

That’s the French word for “magnifying glass”. Not a great choice, as I guess they have some accessibility tool called like that, which is now untranslatable into French without creating a clash?

It matters if you’re using Firefox or Chrome. You don’t want the OS to fire up vi when you’re expecting Emacs. Software isn’t created equal. Sure, it helps to have preferred applications, so you set it up once then just start the default system browser or mail client (the EDITOR environment variable is a godsend). But the difference matters.

For what it’s worth, with my recent programs I started to call them [proper name] [generic description] in window title bars, web page headings and so on. That way people can see right away: oh yeah, ToyEd is a text editor. But it’s this particular text editor. Not just any other.

Edit: I thought of another thing. I use a lightweight IDE for serious development, a Markdown editor for long-form writing, and a general-purpose one for quick work. All of them are technically text editors. Which one should be named the system’s official Text Editor?

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