Monday, November 01, 2010

Except a Gleam Across the Dreamer's Face

I'm a little late on this since I've been exhausting my mana ranting elsewhere, but rest assured I've been thinking about this a lot during the shower in the morning. I mean... wait... there's a less awkward way of saying that...

PC World has declared that the Linux desktop missed its opportunity to gain market share, and that opportunity has passed. To a point this is true... the Linux desktop was a viable alternative when Vista was rejected by the public at large. It didn't matter if users had even tried Vista in their lifetime - public opinion had spoken, and Vista wasn't invited to the consumer PC party. A huge market share vacuum was left behind and Linux tried to fill it as rapidly as possible, but it simply had too much ground to cover. By the time the Linux desktop caught up (and they did catch up in my opinion) it was simply too late for inclusion by OEMs into netbooks - the hardware platform that was absolutely made for Linux.

Gosling ends up agreeing but on a different premise: the economics of OSS don't work for desktop software that "just works" out of the box. This has some truth as well - a pay-per-support model cannot sustain an OSS desktop when the expectation is that the desktop should simply "work" without the need to call for support. By the time the user picks up the phone for help the desktop environment has already failed. Desktops must install and operate without a need for any hand-holding.

PC World did make one important point that shouldn't be glossed over - the traditional, monolithic desktop is dying off. I'm not saying that the desktop is going away by any measure... but people are returning to the time where they see desktops, laptops, mobile phones and TV's as "appliances" and no longer as "computers." Each serves a function of its own and is expected to work in concert with the rest of the electronic family.

I hope these blogs o' doom don't have a chilling effect on writing applications for the Linux desktop. Linux is only going to see greatly increasing deployments in the future, not diminishing ones. The desktop is not simply going to be defined as KDE 4 or Gnome, but instead is going to exist as Hulu Desktop and/or MythTV. The desktop creates and consumes content - the lines between OS' are starting to dissolve.

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