The Desktop Linux Paradox: Page 2

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This would be, and is, tough. Not as a programming effort, but as a real-world logistics effort. You’d have to get hardware makers and application developers on board, and not in a token after-the-fact way. You’d have to forestall criticism from those who regard with suspicion any attempts to turn Linux or its derivatives into a commercial project. And you’d have to find out a way to fund the whole thing—something that most likely can’t be done on the relatively modest revenue generated by simply selling support, Red Hat- / Canonical-style.

Given that Windows and Mac have already done that heavy lifting and created ecosystems that provide 99% of the user populace what they need and are willing to pay for, it’s not surprising nothing like this has happened. The effort required is massive; the payoff dim and distant. Better instead to concentrate on markets where the results can be seen far more immediately.

Android was as close to that sort of project as we ever got, and it took the muscle and clout of Google to make it happen. What’s more, it didn’t happen on the PC — it happened in the exploding smartphone space, where the economics of phones made Android a worthy bet.

The results speak for themselves: ‘Droid phones are legion. And that’s despite the frustrating inconsistencies between different handset makers and carriers, and the rather patchwork-quilt nature of the application ecosystem.

Android’s been edging that much closer to being the desktop that Linux simply can’t be, especially with the recent spate of Android-powered tablets hitting the market. But it’s intended more as competition for iOS, not the desktop proper, and ‘Droid’s evolution is going to continue to be rocky for a good while to come.

I’ve seen a few other attempts to take a stab at creating a new end-user software ecosystem, but they’ve been stuck in the early stages for years. Haiku OS, for instance, which was born from the ashes of BeOS. Technologically, it’s intriguing—but it’s still a long way off from being anything more than a nice idea.

And the beat goes on

None of this has stopped Canonical and Fedora and the rest of the distro-rollers from doing their thing. They seem to remain firmly convinced that it’s just a matter of finding some combination of a couple of magical elements. And so each successive iteration of Ubuntu has interface tweaks and usability variations, but no substantial attempt to use Linux as a base to build a properly cohesive ecosystem.

It’s reminiscent of a car company changing styles of paint or dashboard controls but ignoring what’s under the hood, while the rest of the competition is rolling out hybrids and electrics.

Some people have said to me, why give them grief for giving a small but select group of people what they want? Well, no, I don’t mean to begrudge the folks who have made Linux their desktop system of choice. God love ‘em; they’ve got far more chutzpah than I.

But they need to remember they’re the exception. The fact that most people have no desire to dump Windows (or OS X) and install Linux, or root their phone, is not a sign of the decadence of the masses. It’s a sign that they have different priorities. I have never seen a single successful attempt to convince a non-technical user that it’s in his best interest to be a hacker.

I have seen plenty of successful attempts to convince engineers and programmers that it’s in their best interest to understand what ordinary people want and need, and to give it to them in a way that they can further build on.

The evidence of that is all around us.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, Linux desktop, Linux downloads

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