Seven Concerns on the Linux Desktop: Page 2

After years of trying to match proprietary desktops, the Linux desktop has yet to find a new destination -- or even a compass point.
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The answers have offered mixed results. They include geolocation, new compositing effects, and experiments in panel layout, many of which have not become the necessities their originators once hoped. At times, the answers have been solutions for problems no one was complaining about, such as Unity's app indicators or the constant attempts to reinvent the menu.

What the answers have not included is a strong road map of where any of the major desktops are heading. KDE had a definite direction for the first few releases of the fourth release series, but seems less -goal-oriented now, while if GNOME or Unity have detailed plans, they have not been announced.

Yet the pressure for progress remains. Apparently, you do not need a focus on commercial markets to feel market pressures.

4) Assuming Hardware Acceleration

3-D graphics remain only partly implemented on Linux, especially if you avoid proprietary drivers. Even where support is supposed to be available, as with an Intel chip set, the results can still be buggy. Although exact figures are impossible to come by, one third to one half of Linux users probably can't count on reliable, full hardware acceleration.

However, that didn't stop GNOME 3 and Unity from assuming that hardware acceleration was the norm. Before release, they backed down enough to provide fallbacks based on the GNOME 2 series (while claiming that only basic hardware acceleration was needed). But, on both development teams, the assumption was clearly that 3-D graphics would be more dependable and widespread than they are.

I have to wonder why hardware acceleration should be required for a desktop -- no matter what the compositing effects -- and the assumption seems to have increased the frustration of many users. But in the long run, the assumption just might speed the development of hardware acceleration. Linux has no gaming industry to push hardware development, the way that Windows does. So, just possibly, the demand for hardware acceleration on the desktop will encourage driver development.

5) Copyright Assignment

Copyright assignment is the transfer of ownership rights from individual developers to a project. It doesn't affect users directly, but, indirectly, it can affect a project's rate of development, since many developers refuse to contribute to projects that require copyright re-assignment.

For example, many people consider that the copyright assignment required by Sun Microsystems hamstrung OpenOffice.org for years, and prevented a strong community from forming around the project.

On the other side, those in favor of copyright assignment point out that a project's development can be impeded if a developer dies or drifts away from the project while still owning the copyright to a piece of code. This is the main rationale for copyright assignment by the GNU Project and Free Software Foundation Europe.

For example, because the Linux kernel has never required copyright assignment, it would be difficult for it ever to shift from version 2 of the GNU General Public License because dozens of former contributors would need to be tracked down.

These issues aren't new, but they have been revived due to the Canonical / Ubuntu contributor's agreement and the Canonical-backed Project Harmony, whose mission is to standardize and coordinate contributor agreements throughout free software. Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth has been promoting Project Harmony as a necessary step for responsible code maintenance.

By contrast, critics like Bradley Kuhn argue that Project Harmony's template agreements heavily favor the projects and companies that receive copyright assignment, while providing insufficient guarantees to the donors that their code will be used as they prefer. In particular, critics point to the fact that the templates allow recipients to relicense code -- even under a proprietary license.

6) Fragmentation or Diversity?

Informally, GNOME and KDE have always consulted and borrowed from each other. However, official coordination has been lacking in the last couple of years. The freedesktop.org project has dwindled into inactivity, and, although the second Desktop Summit is currently happening in Berlin, one was not held last year.

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Tags: Linux desktop, Gnome, KDE, Unity

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