The End Of The Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End? (Part 2)

1/24/2013 4:21:36 PM

The commercialisation argument will no doubt be tossed to and fro over the coming months, more than likely with no clear winner. If you take the pessimist’s point of view, then Linux as a whole has the words ‘doom and gloom’ hovering over it in bold gothic type. With the likes of Steam moving into Linux, Ubuntu and Canonical selling their souls to the all-powerful dollar, heaps of free potential advertising space for a new breed of user and more non open source material appearing for the OS, how long would it be before Linux as we know it dies and from the remains emerges a closed-source and very much paid for operating system?

In addition to the whole commercialisation of Linux, we have now learned that Valve may be releasing a Steam driven (not literally) gaming PC for the living room sometime next year. As Newell stated recently, concerning the Steam Box, “Our hardware will be a very controlled environment. If you want more flexibility, you can always buy a more general purpose PC.” Perhaps this is what the Steam to Linux development has really been about? Could Valve be modifying the Linux kernel to better suit a games console PC, then adding the soon to be well tested Linux version of the Steam client to it and closing the whole thing off before packaging and making an obscene profit from the use of a free OS, along with a community tested client?

Description: Steam on Ubuntu

Steam on Ubuntu

This theory is, of course, akin to ripping the pages out of a collection of copyright free books, then gluing them into another and selling the final tome for a handsome profit. In the eyes of the community it’s horrible and unethical, but in the eyes of the law it’s perfectly legitimate.

Judging by last year, 2013 looks as if it might be potentially fraught with glitches, bugs and serious lapses in security for poor old Linux. There are always going to be problems and bugs, of course, which the community will report, and they’ll subsequently be written out with a suitable update from one of the many developers who support Linux and the applications that run on it. However, 2012 seemed to be the year that brought many bugs to light, some that were simple enough potential security issues relating to a flaw in the kernel, flaws that were quickly found and removed. It’s possible many of these bugs and risks were brought to the attention of the public via malicious sources, but there’s no actual proof of this, and it’s one for the conspiracy theorists to chew over. Regardless, the overall effect was one that made casual users think that Linux isn’t as secure or as perfect as its users like to believe not that the users of Linux ever stated that, but the negative press could have been very damaging anyway.

The State Of Linux

The predictions and views stated so far may border on the apocalyptic and paint a sorry picture of woe for the future of Linux, but thing don’t have to be so bad.

Description: The games appear to be well met and perform adequately too

The games appear to be well met and perform adequately too

Ubuntu, for all its faults, may very well be classed as a traitor to the ethos of Linux and free software, but it’s pushing the boundaries of the operating system into new territories.

For most standard computer users, Windows or Mac OS do the job nicely. They run the applications that the user requires, they allow the user to surf with relative safety and the user can enjoy some play time with their favourite game. That being the case, there’s very little to offer the user to make the move to Linux. However, what we now have, thanks to Ubuntu, Valve and so on is an operating system that can potentially do all of the above while for the moment at least still being free to install and use.

Description: Linux Mint is probably one of the most loved Linux distros at the moment

Linux Mint is probably one of the most loved Linux distros at the moment

Although it’s still difficult to persuade the standard user to convert to Linux, Ubuntu et al have now covered all the necessary bases for a good 90% of computer users. Office applications have been around for years with releases of Ubuntu, as has the Gimp for those who manipulate graphics, and now we have a gaming backbone that can soon see the release of triple-A titles. Interestingly, in conjunction with this potential, should these big names and titles start taking Linux more seriously, as has Valve, then the problems that face the core of Linux (drivers, interoperability with other platforms, fragmentation between distributions, desktop environment wars and legal issues) could finally be laid to rest as the big names demand more coherent standards. In fact, in view of the commercialisation of Linux, we could see better standardisation.

Admittedly, this will clash with the ethos of Linux and open-source. After all, the whole point of Linux is freedom. Once we start having big commercial concerns dictating what they want from the operating system, then we start to lose the very freedom that the operating system was based on.

To be honest, the current state of Linux is a bit of a mess. Distributions differ far too much and the vast majority are so amateurish that it’s laughable. Desktop environments are so focused on beating Unity and making themselves look flashy that they’ve lost the ability to be useful and useable. And, taking into account the point of view of a new user, some of the basic tasks require a knowledge of the terminal or, at the very least, knowledge of what the obscure error messages are trying to say, which is likely to frighten the life out of the new user.

Description: Check out Zorin OS Free: it certainly has some interesting features

Check out Zorin OS Free: it certainly has some interesting features

All these issues are being worked on, albeit in a time frame that matches the march of free software producing a working, bug-free audio driver is a glowing mark on the CV of the developer, but it’s not going to put bread on their table. In time we will see a relatively bug free Linux distro that encompasses the requirements of the standard user and matches the tolerances of the named companies who are willing to invest their time and finances. When this will be is anyone’s guess, but the sudden lurch of Linux popularity with named individuals and companies could make this utopian Linux distro appear sooner rather than later.

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