Posts Tagged ‘desktop’

Linux on the rise

25 August 2010

Joel Spolsky seems outdated. In an old article, he says there’s just a cultural difference between the windows and linux ecosystems. Windows is user-focussed, whereas linux is programmer-focussed. That’s why everything in Windows has a user interface and seldomly a command line, whereas GUIs are only driving command line programs by passing them command line arguments which would be tedious to write by hand, and often GUIs for programs are an afterthought – says he.

I wouldn’t say linux was ready for the average desktop two years ago. However, in the meantime, due to Canonical’s marvelous work, I’d say that since quite some time, maybe a year or more, linux is _the_ choice for a desktop you can brag with. You have tons of applications installable via a few clicks, don’t need to download anything manually except the initial CD/DVD image, have an update feature similar to what Windows has but smarter (it also updates all applications installed from the repository, not just the OS), have a desktop which Windows 7 tried to copy and failed (at least in some regards), have every bell and whistle there is on Macs and then some, and still have a stable  system, easy on the hardware, immune to viruses.

It may be something like the debate between Linus and Tannenbaum about linux vs minix. The essential argument for Tannenbaum was „Microkernels are better.” Hence, Tannenbaum stated that „Linux is obsolete”. The basic argument Linus threw in was „Linux is here, it’s working and it’s used, whereas Minix is shitty and not free”. And stated that Linux will prevail. As it seems, Tannenbaum was definitely wrong. Also, as it seems, the Linux philosophy, to do things for programmers, rather than for dumb users, led to something which is more pleasant and more friendly for dumb users. How come?

Re-reading many of Joel’s articles, I guess his mistake was to assume all users are extremely dumb. Indeed, half of all users are less than average, and only a small fraction are power users. But this is no different than it is in other areas. The power users are the ones leading the way and creating trends. Most of the dumb users listen to what smarter users say. If enough many smarter users start using Linux on the desktop, and tell and demonstrate everybody willing to listen and look at how easy and nice linux is on the desktop, this sets a trend that no marketing campaign can reverse, in the long run. Maybe it will take another ten or fifteen years (but I seriously doubt it – I think something like 5 years is closer to real), but IMO the trend is set.

You have ubuntu derivatives for media centers, language-/country-specific distros, different desktop/window managers, various specialized uses. That’s IMO not something MS can beat. For one, Windows doesn’t come prepackaged with thousands, or probably tens of thousands of free applications. Another issue is that MS would probably shoot itself in the foot and damage its relations with many of its customers who use embedded versions of Windows to create specialized products, if it would suddenly start putting tens of customized versions of Windows on the market. Besides, MS already has a nightmarishly complicated licensing system, and adding a few tens of specialized distributions wouldn’t help. And even if MS did this, it would still publish closed, unextensible versions of Windows, rather than an open, freely extensible OS.

Then there’s the handheld and gadget factor. Right now, there are already more smartphones, PDAs, tablets, game consoles and the like out there than PCs. Only a fraction of them runs Windows. As it seems, Android, which is essentially a Linux distro, is on the rise in this market. Apple devices are also highly successful. In a few years from now, if the trend goes on, there will be several times more non-PC devices which run a non-MS OS which is likely to be a derivative of Linux. Whaddya think, what the preferred desktop system will be for users running Linux on their tablet/phone/music player/video player super-device? Provided they will use a desktop system anymore.

Than there’s HTML5. That’s not such a big issue for home users, but it is a big issue for businesses. In a few years, only quite old legacy apps will still use rich clients, bound to one particular desktop OS or another. Most apps will move to the web. HTML5 has mechanisms which increase the capabilities of web apps to a level where there isn’t any motivation for rich clients anymore. Which essentially means that as enterprises get rid of costly to maintain legacy applications, their business moves to the web. It doesn’t really matter whether it is Amazon’s or Google’s cloud or a custom in-house cloud solution, or it’s a server farm in Singapore, London or LA. What’s important is that whatever the solution, the client for most applications will simply be a browser. Which makes switching the OS on the desktop a breeze, and eliminates much of the worries sysadmins currently have with maintaining workstations. Essentially, the workstation will need just an OS, a browser and a VPN client. Anything else is just distraction. Any decent OS, Linux included, can support a VPN client and a browser as well as Windows. Which means that the cost of migration tends to become zero. Which more than offsets the cost of Windows, Office and whatnot.

Personally, I can’t wait. And I had to get this out of my head.