Got Vision?

By Timothy Timothy | Posted at 13:12

Seven years ago this week I published my first online commentary piece. The topic was the predicted death of the Linux desktop brought on by the demise of Eazel, the original developer of GNOME’s Nautilus file manager. A lot has happened since that time, but not precisely how I would have predicted it would. Let’s review.

Back in those light and easy days of the early part of 2001, things were not all that light or cheery in the Linux world. Back then, the world had not heard of Ubuntu; back then, it was normal for the media to confuse Red Hat with Linux – the term “Linux 7” would pop up when a writer meant to say “Red Hat Linux 7.” In that environment, one in which I had just made GNU/Linux my primary desktop platform, the fall of the GNOME software developer Eazel, coming on the heals of some other news making failures, such as that of Linuxgruven, led to a sense of doom among many of those who had drank too deeply of the Dot-Com Bubble’s elixir of optimism. The unlimited optimism having evaporated, these people now began to suffer withdrawal symptoms of doom.

At the time, I wrote that Eazel’s failure would not hurt GNOME, much less the Linux desktop itself, in the long run. Because of the association of Red Hat with all things Linux at the time, many people had forgotten that another desktop environment, KDE, existed and was not harmed in the least by Eazel’s death. I hardly need to point out that I was right. GNOME thrived after Eazel’s death, eventually to the extent that I switched “sides” and became a GNOME user myself. Ultimately the failure of Eazel, and plenty of other large and small Linux companies over the following years were a healthy culling of the excesses of venture capital investments in half-baked business models. Perhaps more importantly, the failures have been the process by which we have seen what business models do work with Free Software.

Source: Larry Ewing

Dell, which was partnered with Eazel, and later dropped almost all involvement in desktop GNU/Linux, returned once a really polished desktop started to emerge in the form of Ubuntu. Red Hat and Novell have adapted to the terrain and carved out segments that can actually make money and now offer products that are appealing to businesses not necessarily driven by ideology. Things have been successful – yet in May of 2001, I would have predicted far more success.

In 2001, it appeared that GNU/Linux was ready to make a real run at Microsoft’s dominance in the market, becoming the true second player as the somewhat soft and overripe offerings of the Cupertino, CA fruit vendor struggled to make much of an impact at all. KDE was really relatively mature and, within a year or so of that time, GNOME started to show maturity too. But despite all the progress, when I look at the experience of using Linux in 2001 and compare it today, I have to ask, “Where did the last seven years go?”

Frankly, many of the problems that existed in 2001 – hardware support, multimedia support, interface pleasantries – have done little to improve. GNOME learned to act fruity in its GUI layout after Apple started to rebound and KDE has continued to come up with nifty, if overly complex, technologies for its desktop. However, while Linux desktop developers continue to try to make installing software easier and are attempting minor facelifts to interfaces that act mostly reminiscent of the decade old Windows 98, Apple managed to turn itself around, launch a new operating system platform, switch processor architectures and seize a sizable majority of the lucrative high end PC market. Everyone’s favorite challenger to Microsoft remains a side player, and one that continues to see inroads from Microsoft in its non-desktop stronghold of web serving, while the desktop market is again a lively battle between Redmond and Cupertino. This is not how it looked like it would be in 2001, and, frankly, should have been if the Linux desktop had developed its potential in a focused manner.

The problem is the same problem that doomed companies like Eazel: vision. The idea that a file manager could provide a sustainable business model in the twenty first century was somewhat silly at best. They may have had a good idea, but no vision for how to develop it into something that would pull in users and keep the company afloat. The Linux desktop, to the dismay of someone like myself, who founded Open for Business for the precise purpose of communicating Linux’s virtues, lacks vision. To beat the competitors, one needs either amazing volume or amazing vision. The former belongs to Microsoft, the latter to Apple. What then belongs to Linux?

Without vision or volume, the Linux desktop is not sentenced to die – I remain convinced that the prophets of doom that were busy chanting in 2001 are wrong – but it is sentenced to relative unimportance. The Mozilla Project faced a similar threat and responded with Firefox. Linux needs a defining, unified voice like that which Firefox provided for Mozilla. The question seven years later is whether the time for that has passed Linux by.

Timothy R. Butler is editor-in-chief of Open for Business.


Re: Got Vision?

Linux should and will continue to play to it's biggest strength: openness.

Linux would be nothing if it weren't open and free. If Linus had made it proprietary, it would have ended up just a junky little unix clone. It is what it is because it was open from the start.

At some point, users are going to wake up and realize that openness and standardization is what is lacking in there experience, not “innovation”. We get “innovations”, and six months later not only are they old hat, but we find out we can't communicate with people using the old technology, and we have to upgrade everything else we own to work with our new “innovation”. This is what standards and openness are supposed to fix, ideally.

People need to mature and get over the flashy new interface. Yeah, wowo, technology is cool. Yippie. Now let's get something done — that takes more than just flavor-of-the-month style innovation.

Posted by Alan - Jul 7, 2008 | 3:29

Re: Got Vision?

This talk of Linux lacking “vision” seems to miss the distinctive thing about GNU/Linux, its open source orientation.

With Linux, if I have a vision about what could be changed or added to my desktop experience, and I have sufficient skills, I can make those changes/modifications. (Or I could start a group to make them, or join such a group).

If I think of things that would like improved, but don't have the technical skills, then I can google around until I find someone working on it. Or I can e-mail a project group. Or I can try another distro.

But with Windows, there is really only one company that is allowed to determine the vision for what my desktop becomes — Microsoft. What if I don't like the way my Microsoft OS does things? Guess I'll just have to wait a few years until they spit out another OS.

What spawns creativity and vision like the freedom to experiment and modify?

Posted by anonymous - Jun 5, 2008 | 1:34

Re: Got Vision?

Right, there's a few problems I see above:

No centralized management? There's been centralized management in unix for YEARS. Unfortunately I haven't used it - but my work colleages have.
I believe Redhat's produced something - again, no knowledge of it since we do not use linux at work for any major purpose.
Still, you can use VNC, or X-forwarding as has been commented (meaning nice GUI's for controlling the remote system) - or you can be a grown up and sys-admin like all the other *nix admins.

Where GNOME fails, KDE prevails. I've moved the bar's all over the place and never had any problem in KDE.
The default settings are great, and it gives you a very good GUI for the next feature here:

ACL's.. Try putting in an ACL option to the mount file (/etc/fstab) or do a tune2fs -o acl /dev/sd[xxx]. This turns ACL's on, and is supported in the latter versions of EXT2 (might be a patch) and by DEFAULT in EXT3 (and I'm guessing EXT4)..
Have you tried ACL's in AIX or Solaris? They're non-inheritant - whereas in EXT3 they are.
+1 for Linux in the *nix admin world.
If you're after the NFS4 ACL-style (executable, writable but not deleteable, etc) then you're correct - but if you're getting that silly then are you sure you're using the correct model for your company?

For the evolution since 2001 - what about Compiz? What about centralized repo's in the RPM world (didn't gentoo have this by 2001?) meaning you simply let your system 'update', updating ALL the software (gimp/development/database/webserving/games) you've got installed at once.
What about the simplicity of installing nowadays?
YUM/synaptics/apt/…
How about the improved gui's for simple things like wireless networking, normal networking, etc.

Karmen - what hardware 'drivers' are you talking about?
Put linux on a computer nowadays and it'll launch in upwards of 1024×768 display (usually to the display's best resolution) - meaning only nvidia/ATi installers can cause trouble (both are usually fine, although from experience nvidia requires X11 down to install - still menu based system though, unless you're willing to use a repo which skips this altogether).
Sound usually works - if it doesn't, then the chipset isn't supported well, but no drivers are needed AT ALL for sound cards.
Mice/keyboards, may have 'custom buttons' which require some work to resolve this - but that IS due to the hardware vendor not supporting linux.. I'm SURE you can survive without 703 mouse buttons.
USB devices/printers - simply work. I was suprised my webcam worked straight off the bat - no installing, no pop-up, nothing. Simply “plug-and-play”. Something Windows is STILL trying to achieve.
TV cards? I keep hearing that they are supported, although I've just given up on TV anyway.

Are you actually confused and talking about /drivers/?
In which case, you download and open up a ZIP file. Or you click to install a package… Yes really, it's now THAT easy to get MP3's running in linux (fedora): click(1)-> add repo, click(2)->yes install repo, click(3)-> open package manager, type(mp3) into search, click(4)-> install package.
Same with DVD's and windows media.
Same with Flash.

And guess what - they're automatically updated with any fixes!

As for updating Linux. I've been updating for 3 years now - and the only hassle I've ever had has been with old files remaining on the system… Does this slow performance - nope. Do I notice them - nope.
You could possibly even go with Ubuntu, and go with updates for the next 3 years - no reinstall necessary!

Have you even USED KDE3? It's VERY similar to Windows 98/2000/XP.
Have you USED Vista? The training time for THAT is far more than any KDE jump (I talk from experience, being a user for 95-98-98SE-NT-2000-XP-XP.SP2-2003, and experience fixing problems on vista, I've also used KDE, xfce, fwm (currently using at work for 50%), gnome, enlightenment and the occasional other. I've also used the MAC os (X I /think/) as well as the riscOS, atari, amiga, etc.
They ALL act the same.. They all point and click and run programs - or open files with whatever you want.
When unknown files are seen, KDE gives you a list of 'start menu' programs to open it with - I think gnome does something similar. Windows does a half a job.

On the article itself, it made a couple of points about the open source arena being very large - but it is the fact that ANYONE can improve the software that drives it.

When the desktop was said to be basically the same as that in 2001, why wasn't windows compared (windows XP.SP2 is the same as 98, except the occasional config window - and telletubby-mode).. Why was macOS hyped up for changing architecture? (Linux works ACROSS many architectures, including phones, TV's, radio's, scales, gaming machines, DVD-players, YOU NAME IT)

If you want to talk about 'vision', then please say what 'vision' Linux lacks, since it is ahead of the other OS's by miles in very many key area's (updating, clean package management, performance, customizability, flexability).
The problem comes about when Linux needs to communicate what the USER needs to do (grab the MP3 codec from one place, video codecs from another) - but that is NOT it's own fault, many distro's go out of their way to inform the user.. It's the users ignorance of “oh, this works with Windows - that I pirate.. Why doesn't it work in Linux?”.

“but most admins don’t go further than…” then they should be sacked - pure and simple. Most PROPER or GOOD or ACCEPTABLE admins know how to look after a server, know how to get stats for application performance etc.

And I disagree on the point right after that:
“Desktop users are bottlenecked by themselves”
At work, I'm bottlenecked by the fact I have to wait so long for windows to twiddle it's thumbs. My mother is bottlenecked when she has to wait 10 minutes for windows to boot up, and then 3 minutes for each app, which ran FINE on the install.

… That was a long rant!!

Posted by Paul_one - Jun 5, 2008 | 0:54

Re: Got Vision?

The author wrote:
“Frankly, many of the problems that existed in 2001 – hardware support, multimedia support, interface pleasantries – have done little to improve.”

I totally disagree with that statement. As a Linux user since 1995, I remember the 'bad old days' when getting multimedia, hardware and software support to work was really challenging. My house is currently Microsoft free (with the exception of some work related tasks); even my wife runs Linux 24/7 now and that was not possible in 2001. My wife is definitely a typical, general public type user of computer technology — read: she cares little about the OS and just wants a computer to work, be easy to learn and not require a reinstall every 6 months.

Linux has come a long way……

Posted by CanadianReader - Jun 2, 2008 | 22:54

Re: Got Vision?

The CanadianReader, Jun 2, 2008 | 16:54:54 wrote:
“I totally disagree with that statement. As a Linux user since 1995, I remember the ‘bad old days’ when getting multimedia, hardware and software support to work was really challenging. My house is currently Microsoft free (with the exception of some work related tasks); even my wife runs Linux 24/7 now and that was not possible in 2001. My wife is definitely a typical, general public type user of computer technology — read: she cares little about the OS and just wants a computer to work, be easy to learn and not require a reinstall every 6 months.”

Really? Are you sure Linux is easier to use? I do no think so at all, even if you use GNOME or KDE, the training time to use those desktop environment would take longer and users have to update again and again as new distributions ships new version. And about a computer “Just work”, I do not believe so, due to the fact most hardware makers do not provide support for Linux, all drivers on Linux does not yet reach the quality of the driver on Windows and some even are not yet supported, you will get into many problems of making things “work” on many Linux distribution (installing driver on Linux is more pain comparing on Mac or Windows, not to say you have to recompile the kernel, you expect your wife who do not know anything able to do it? bah bah). What about listening to MP3, as far as I know on Ubuntu or Fedora or some distribution, this is not out-of-the-box working and require installation step, do you still said it “just work”?

Furthermore, you said it doesn't need to be reinstall every 6 months. I admit that Windows stuff up if you do not know how to maintain it but I am ensure that Linux will give you more the pain when it comes to updates (normally 6 month cycle on moth distros). Not all distros give you smooth and problems-free update, most creates new problems and it could drive you crazy to the point you need to reinstall from fresh. Speaking of updating feature, Linux lacks at least 20 years behind Mac and Windows.

I seriously think that for now Linux only suits power user as long as things can't be done totally with GUI.

Posted by Karmen Rider - Jun 3, 2008 | 6:27

Re: Got Vision?

IMHO, GNU/Linux's vision is all about `Write once, run anywhere'
Not the Java way (just try to run any desktop Java app on your Java-enabled cellphone, or vice-versa), nor by using esoteric programming languages or tricks, nor layers of abstraction upon layers.

Just good old C and C++, POSIX conformance, source-level compatibility (as opposed to binary-level), lots and lots of code review and continuous testing.

Dissect a dozen of random embedded devices around you, and you'll find half of them using Linux. If not today, then tomorrow. Look into your wireless router, look into your TiVo. The revolution's already being televised ;)

Posted by dexen deVries - Jun 4, 2008 | 19:21

The High End Is A Dead End

You're focusing on the wrong thing. Haven't you noticed the single most significant trend of the last 6 months, namely the rise of the budget ultralights? Look at the success of the Asus Eee, which is selling so fast that competitors are scrambling to join in. That's where Linux is having the biggest impact on the desktop right now—these machines are selling in the millions, and that's no small potatoes.

Posted by Lawrence D'Oliveiro - Jun 2, 2008 | 4:26

Re: Got Vision?

Many of the things that make the desktop 'just work' have been quite slow in coming. X.org is finally getting up to speed and has made great progress, but it took forking of the XFree86 project and quite some time even after that.

The present NetworkManager (I'm using Fedora 9) is just great, but it also took it's time to get there. People complain about wireless support, but there are a lot of people whose chipsets are supported, and for them, wireless on Linux is easier and switching between networks more reliable than on Windows.

Things like PolicyKit, PulseAudio, the new GNOME VFS, integration of the keyring with the login manager, fast user switching etc. are also very important for the 'just works' experience. They are not exactly mature yet, but certainly getting there quite rapidly.

Technically, all of these things probably could have materialized years earlier, but getting a large number of different groups to agree on and follow e.g. the Freedesktop standards takes time. The GNOME project has also had fair number of false starts on many of these things, pouring work in one direction and the turning around and doing something else in the end.

It looks to me like the desktop is now on a sound technical basis and developing fast. It is technically on par with Windows, and Eee PC case suggests that the price/freedom thing is finally starting to make a difference.

Posted by Mikko - Jun 2, 2008 | 5:42

Re: Got Vision?

>> Seems like there’s missing a charismatic leader

Or maybe Linux just had too many charismatic leaders… Vision and Leadership can be two very different things.

The case in point: Eazel and GNOME, seems a good example. Though i am sure many would disagree, to me the way Eazel went making the FM was the worst thing about GNOME. I used to be an GNOME fanboy back in those days, but Nautilus and that other mail-thing (Evolution) just made my old, badly sewed together computer grind to a halt. For my own (personal and idiosyncratic, please no flame!) use-case, the demise of Eazel was a great progress.

And for that matter, i would like to put a grain of salt in this “Apple's got vision” thing. Both Apple and MS (and GNOME and KDE and …) are only trying to make a better Xerox's ALTO/STAR. And that was back in 1981! Even the Star computer was heavily based on ideas that came from Engelbart still some years before. It's almost ridiculous to see fanboys accusing their favourite nemesis of copying what their company had copied in the first place!

Case in point: Exposé, the numero uno MacOS X UI feature that everyone loves. Does it change anything? It is beautiful and it is really useful, but it doesn't change the WIMP ideas that at the same time sustain and trouble our day-to-day life with computers.

I agree — the promise of the GUIs never really did blossom, the so-called “Desktop Linux” is today only slightly better than it was few years ago. Lot's have been done, but it never seem to “scratch the itch”. Really new ideas seem to get more and more scarce.

But i am not sure what exactly “vision” means in this context…

Posted by MarcioRPS - Jun 2, 2008 | 6:53

Re: Got Vision?

Good post!

The problems are always the same - lack of focus, duplicate efforts/endless forking or rewriting (the curse of the endless 0.8 version, as JWZ would say), nobody wants to do the boring work, etc.

I would add that too much choice between mediocre apps (or even worse, OS subsystems) is definitely worse than having no choice but a single solid offering, IMO.

Nobody's doing a systematic overview of the whole enchilada either, going:

- identify an objective ('Linux on the desktop')
- spot the real problems/pain points, with sniper-like precision
- in order of priority, coordinate focused efforts to fix them ASAP

The armies of zealots that find Linux perfectly adequate after spending years learning to tame it and lose no chance to remind the masses of how stupid they are since they don't feel like dropping to the CLI aren't helping, it must be said.

As Lawrence said, there IS constant improvement in kernel and userland, so there will come a time when mission specific, custom-ish distros will be the sensible, default choice for embedded, mobile and eee-like machines. In that sense, Linux pretty much won already, as you can't really fight that tide, or free as in beer.

I guess the point of the original post pretty much is 'why is it taking so long'? :)

Posted by Anonymous - Jun 2, 2008 | 9:44

Re: Got Vision?

How about Enlightenment?! That was an effort which showed that there are GNU/Linux developers out there who do have vision, but have no support.

Give them a go and send them some feedback and/or support: http://www.enlightenment.org/p.php?p=contribute&l=en

—tonza

Posted by tonza - Jun 2, 2008 | 11:30

Re: Got Vision?

Yes, your article is very interesting. It is truly a mess of open softwares in which programs forking each other, too much hassle to provide support for each software, fighting over stupid issue of license, etc. I do not believe that Linux could ever can take over the desktop world of MS and Apple.

Posted by Jones Lee - Jun 3, 2008 | 6:16

Re: Got Vision?

What Linux needs are killer app and strong companies behind it.
- Mozilla stand by firefox to fix bugs. Mozilla foundation is Profitable.

If see all sever apps have either a strong company or strong foundation behind it. mysql, apache, bind, sendmail and highly commercial and closed source like oracle too.

For desktop
- Unification and singularity.
- Vendor and ISV support, example if either dell or HP switches to all Linux Microsoft there no where to go.
- If Microsoft can get away with sloppy vista, linux definitely can makes success with stronger support.

Posted by bhargav - Jun 2, 2008 | 18:39

Re: Got Vision?

Linux is fine technology, few doubt that. A lack of focus or direction is definitely an issue. I've been a desktop-Linux booster for a long time and I really no longer know what it is that is missing.

I use Windows at work. No choice there, it's just company policy that I can't change. I am constantly on the lookout for reasons why Windows succeeds and Linux doesn't and I have figured out several possible answers.

(1) Windows admins don't know and don't need to know anything. This is not to be insulting, but a OS GUI installer followed by “just click next” setup wizards for installing services, followed by “just click” configuration… it means that you just have to remember a few clicks and you too can set up an AD network.

Ever tried setting up an all-Linux network with kerberos-based authentication to a directory for everything? I don't just mean each physical user, but also the specific user accounts for each service on each box. Throw in centralized file management where rights are assigned from a GUI management tool (or tools) on the server to LDAP users. This is all possible in a Linux network, but it is really not easy and takes hand-editing of numerous config files. In a Windows network this is all default stuff you just click Next to get. An advanced Linux user might be able to make this work with some care, a no-nothing Windows user can make this work without a problem.

I would add that the same can be said for Netware/eDir, except that you have to know a little to setup netware's server.

If you go to a corporate network admin monkey working on a Windows network he's not going to care that it's free, or Free, or anything. He only wants his job to be easier, and Linux mostly doesn't do that. I say 'mostly' because of course eventually it will help there, as stuff continues to work without errors over time, but since setting it up is so hard he wont care. Reimaging a server after a failure, or doing a reinstall from scratch, is just simpler/less time consuming.

(2) A lot of things that people take for granted take time and care to code. I call this the “feature density” problem, and it's the reason OpenOffice loses to MS Office on many occasions. You know that squirrely, stupid option buried 5 panels deep in MS Word's configuration? Somebody needs that every day and doesn't care how much it costs in money, time or frustration. In Ubuntu (or any GNOME) try putting your top menu bar on the right hand side of the screen and use keyboard navigation. Sucks, doesn't it? Windows' start menu Does The Right Thing™. Why? Not because MS is better, but because of feature density. It means more testing, it means more users, it means more features.

GNOME people don't seem to like it, but feature density is there for a reason: people need it. When you can be all things to all people, then you win. When you want to be 90% of things to 90% of people you will lose, because almost 100% of people will miss a small feature they need.

Your software can't just work, it has to do everything. As microsoft has proven it doesn't need to work well.

(3) Performance is not important. Linux is far, far better than Windows in most areas, but people don't notice. Server admins who get aroused by short bar-graphs notice, but most admins don't go further than “I can ping it, it must be working fine.” Desktop users are bottlenecked by themselves and not the computer. Being faster or more reliable doesn't help because most of the time the user never notices. Remember, you don't need to do what the user needs you need to do it better than Windows or the user wont bother to switch. Being less costly doesn't help because only beancounters care about that, and mostly they don't evaluate software.

Let me just add some things I think Linux needs to succeed in the enterprise:

Remote administration. Windows wins here, hands down. I know, ssh right? Remote X sessions? Those are hard to use (command line scary, remember?) and hard to set up, likely to be bad for security in the case of X. A Windows admin will open up any number of system admin tools and click Actions->Conntect To Computer, enter a NETBIOS or locally resolvable hostname and click OK. Now they're remotely configuring the other computer. This doesn't work for every tool but it is pretty standard for Microsoft; at least, they've made this the common way things get done. This is very, very easy to use and makes any command-line option laughable.

Security. I know, Windows sucks right? You'd be right if you just take it at its default, but Windows actually has a really advanced security architecture which goes mostly unused by most people. Linux, on the other hand, doesn't even use ACLs. POSIX ACL extensions are supported by most filesystems, but just try turning those on and see how pervasive their use isn't. Windows-style authentication is basically “single sign on” by DEFAULT when a “domain” is involved. Any tool, any computer. You try to authenticate and it either succeeds with your 'current' credentials or you get prompted (via a standard dialog, no less). Linux ain't got nothing like that.

I know someone will be thinking “But this is all enterprise network stuff, what has it got to do with the desktop?” The answer is simple: Businesses switch first, then people use what they're used to at work. Apple tried the “teach them as kids” thing, but that didn't pan out for them. Linux has gained some popularity from being the thing that kids learned at University, if the Uni had a nix network (which is frighteningly infrequent these days). The reality is that people (non geek people) use *on the desktop what their corporation uses. If you don't own the business desktop you don't own anything.

Again, look at Apple. Despite all that they have going for them they cannot boast more than a 5% share of the market, which has been true for a long time. And they're targeting businesses lately… wonder why?

Posted by Sorpigal - Jun 2, 2008 | 21:37

Re: Got Vision?

People who take the larger view of Linux can see that Open Source has a HUGE impact on computing. Linux has stopped Microsoft's growth on the sever and is destined to rule on mobile devices. Linux desktops are getting better all the time and benefit from battle hardened security, (since Linux runs most of the internet) and constant kernel development improvements. MS is all about marketing forgetting performance and security and they are just hanging on because people don't want Vista or Win 7 bloatware.

Posted by LAS - Jun 1, 2008 | 5:53

Re: Got Vision?

linux. be free. enjoy

Posted by max stirner - May 31, 2008 | 23:19

Re: Got Vision?

Yes - a great point of view ! I'm also a long-time linux user (since Red Hat 5.1 in 1999), and afraid about the lack of vision…
Seems like there's missing a charismatic leader…

Posted by Johannes Eva - May 30, 2008 | 22:30

Re: Got Vision?

We must remember that open source works with meritocrazy and not democrazy, carismatic is not enough, it must be a highly skilled leader, carismatic and with resources, that would push linux for sure.

Posted by chill - May 31, 2008 | 20:24

Re: Got Vision?

Chief, I would say it depends on what you consider “success.” In my eyes, Linux is already successful on the desktop, and BSD is very nearly there, too. The weakness of Linux in the marketplace — the lack of being a singular “thing” — is what makes it so very successful on its own terms.

Linux is a broad and formless thing, and even the GNU/Linux purists can't really define it. Yet all those I know using Linux know pretty much the same block of stuff for getting things done on a computer. We compare the ways we do things on our favorite distro because things are comparable. The differences are annoying to those who prefer Windows or Apple, but they are a blessing to those who don't care for either one of those. While Linux can certainly be bent to the corporate use pattern, or the artsy creative pattern, its fundamental nature is an art form of its own.

Linux has already succeeded by meeting the needs of a particular portion of humanity, which portion is defined by having no precise definition among computer users. While a significant number are those who enjoy poking and probing at things — hacking — there are plenty who don't go beyond simply gathering a basic user's skill set and then using it for other things that matter to them. So while it draws what seems is the bulk of those who qualify for the adjective “hacker,” even that tag won't stick very well.

Yeah, Windows is simply the vanilla corporate provision, its chief virtue being the sameness and predictability which makes lots of money. It's the way to go for mass appeal entertainment. Apple offers a wholly different world for those who can afford to do better than Windows, and maybe some of them like to make it apparent they aren't among the pedestrian masses. We who don't get excited about Macs joke the only thing we don't like about Macs are the users. Linux is the best known expression of the wider Open Source community, and we have equally disgusting fanboys to match the other two. Yet I would venture to say the primary success of Linux is not the corporate inroads laid by RedHat and Novell, but should be measured by the very lack of unity and focus. This is what we want.

Posted by Ed Hurst - May 31, 2008 | 22:34

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