Graham Morrison: The advocate

4/5/2012 8:53:37 AM

Graham Morrison: The advocate

The fight for the desktop might be entering its final phase, but not in the way any of us could have imagined 10 years ago. In a recent interview at www.derstandard.at, for example, KDE’s Aaron Siego said that the desktop is losing importance in the same way as newspapers, and after a conversation with Miguel de Icaza, Tim Anderson posted on his blog that the former Gnome founder felt that many of the benefits in open source development had played against the success of Linux on the desktop. According to Miguel, this was because of fragmentation (my word) in the number of times we break the APIs for developers, and the cycle of upgrades that cause incompatibility between distributions, and even different versions of the same distribution.

Description: Linux vs Windows

Even suggesting that there’s too much choice is controversial, as I’ve found out in the past, and Miguel has brewed a small storm with his statements. But there are two elements in his argument that change the angle, and I think set a new challenge for both Linux and Windows for the next 10 years. The first is connected to the idea that the desktop is beginning to matter less a point also made by Rob Pike at Google and many others since the release of the iPad. But it’s important to differentiate between what might be seen as a fad for tablet computing and the obvious target for any desktop growth, and the increased pervasiveness of all technology in our lives. It’s not just smartphones that replace PCs - you could just as easily accuse internet enabled televisions, games consoles and satellite receivers of stealing desktop market share.

But what these devices have really done is take an application off the desktop and move it into a more convenient form factor - regardless of whether that’s a TV for YouTube or a fridge for recipes. The result is that we no longer have as much need to sit down formally at a desk and use the computer. That doesn’t mean they’re becoming redundant - they’re just becoming more specialised, and that leads to another of Miguel’s issues. “When you count how many great desktop apps there are on Linux, you can probably name 10. [If] you work really hard, you can probably name 20,” he’s quoted as saying. There’s a lack of killer applications for Linux.

I think he’s right. If applications are becoming less PC-centric, we need better reasons for using a desktop. Linux faces an uncommon challenge when you need a solid excuse to use one particular system over another, especially when it requires more effort to configure and set up. The challenge is that I don’t think we’ll see that killer application. Any application worth the effort will be ported to both Windows and OS X, as has happened with many of the most popular open source projects. Major releases of software like Audacity, Inkscape, Scribus, LibreOffice and Ardour are almost certainly downloaded more hungrily for systems other than Linux, at least initially (and we won’t go into why you can’t just download a package and install it on any Linux system). That’s a good thing. Free software is about more than just an operating system, and the more that can be done to unshackle users from proprietary alternatives or pressure their developers to be more open, the happier we’ll all be.

For that reason, the killer application has to be the desktop. The desktop is the best expression of the freedom found within the kernel, as well as community user interface design. It’s what makes Linux different from the alternatives, and it has to be the reason why you want to choose it over Windows or OS X. And while freedom is obviously a big motivation, both in cost and in the availability of the source code, when you move away from software idealism, there needs to be something else. The problem is that this “something else’ is missing. There is no single desktop you can point to and say ‘look at Linux’. Which is a pity, because there’s great potential in the Gnome and KDE desktops that will likely be the inspiration behind many new features in their competitors. Look at the drag-down task switching in Plasma Active, for example, or the touch scrolling for desktop windows, and I bet you’ll see replicas of these functions in future versions of either OS X or Windows. The trick has to be getting people to the Linux desktop first, and making it their preferred environment for desktop tasks like office work and browsing. We shouldn’t get distracted b tablets and iOS, and should instead use the genius of open source software to create a singularly awesome desktop that everyone wants to use.

  •  Cars 2.0 : Hacking by hi-fi & Playing catch-up
  •  Automated cities : App development & Urban OS in the UK
  •  Searching for Google’s future (Part4) - Smarter search
  •  Searching for Google’s future (Part 3) - Gene genie
  •  Searching for Google’s future (Part 2) - Playing a long game & Mobile money
  •  Searching for Google’s future (Part 1) - Taking the tablets
  •  Small Business Development Centers - Assistance For Entrepreneurs
  •  How to set up your own virtual private network (Part 2)
  •  How to set up your own virtual private network (Part 1)
  •  LCD NEC EX201W
  •  Collaborating via Web-Based Communication Tools : Evaluating Web Conferencing Tools
  •  Visual Studio 2010 : Writing Custom Facebook Applications - Querying Data from Facebook
  •  Writing Custom Facebook Applications - Creating Your Application with Visual Studio 2010
  •  Xen Virtualization : Installing Xen from Source
  •  Xen Virtualization : Installing Xen from Binary Packages
  •  Introducing IBM BPM and ESB : IBM SOA Reference Architecture & Introducing IBM WebSphere Process Server
  •  Introducing IBM BPM and ESB : Achieving success through BPM enabled by SOA
  •  Separating BPM and SOA Processes : Example-Process for Handling Credit Card Disputes
  •  Separating BPM and SOA Processes : The Model Stack & Design Tips on Separating BPM and SOA
    Top 10
    What’s New In Speakers? – April 2013 (Part 3)
    What’s New In Speakers? – April 2013 (Part 2)
    What’s New In Speakers? – April 2013 (Part 1)
    Genius LuxePad 9100 Bluetooth Tablet Keyboard
    Philips Hue - Color Your World
    Supertooth HD Voice - Cup On And Start Talking
    Sathero SH200 - A Lightest Digital Satellite TV Signal Meter
    Ferguson Ariva 102 Mini - The Smallest HD Receiver
    Canon EOS M - Live Up To Its Pedigree?
    On The Origin Of PCs
    Most View
    Corsair AX 1200I - The First Digitally-Controlled PSU
    Tech Preview 2013 (Part 1) - Next-Gen Gpus
    Changes in Windows Vista Affecting SDI
    Algorithms for Compiler Design: REGULAR SETS AND REGULAR EXPRESSIONS
    Creating a Development Provisioning Profile on iPhone
    Plantronics BackBeat Go - Incredibly Small, Amazingly Light
    New Products For March 2013 (Part 1)
    Windows Vista : Customizing Windows PE Boot Images (part 3) - Working with OSCDImg, Working with vLite
    Parallel Programming : Task Relationships (part 1) - Continuation Tasks
    The 50 Best Headphones You Can Buy (Part 8)
    Unravelling the mobile security conundrum
    Not Bad For A Monkey (Part 3) : What's a Fusion Drive?
    Get Creative with Shadow Photography : 3 of the best ways to use shadows creatively
    Upgrading to Windows Server 2003 : Switching Forest and Domain Functional Levels
    Using Non-Windows Systems to Access Exchange Server 2010 : Mac Mail, iCal, and Address Book
    Fujifilm X-S1(Part 3) - ISO and White Balance performance
    .NET security : Isolated Storage Explained
    Windows Vista : Performing Local PC Administration (part 1) - Working with workstation administration tools
    Online Radio Tuner
    Sony Xperia Z Review (Part 4)