Monday, December 1, 2008

A path forward for Linux

One of the big issues for Linux, in general, is that the variety of distributions makes broad-scale adoption of specialty applications relatively difficult. The general use applications - like web browsers, word processing, etc. - aren't impacted because developers have taken the initiative to adapt these apps to the various applications. But business lives and dies by the usability of their specialized software, be they manufacturing control, database or order fulfillment systems. Until some order is established in the Linux distribution community, this problem will persist.

A writer at InformationWeek proposes several improvement strategies, including some sort of governing body to oversee package development, among other things. Most of the suggestions are sound, but I believe the proposal is somewhat idealistic, if not naive. Nevertheless, here they are, and you may notice a couple of themes ...

  1. Meta-package format: a promising potential solution because I believe entrepeneurs could create a sustainable business out of provision and maintenance.
  2. A consistent configuration system throughout (from the kernel to userland tools and user applications): a great idea, but who will decide what the standards are to be?
  3. Consistency in the kernel application binary interfaces: I don't pretend to know what this means, but the problem with deciding who sets the standard presents itself yet again.
  4. Native File Versioning: This will make it feasible to consistently roll back installations and upgrades. Good quality software is built with this in mind, and shouldn't be too much to ask of the developer community as a whole.
  5. Consistency across Audio APIs: It seems that every distribution has its own "best" audio implementation. Standards would be nice, but again... who?
  6. A predictable GUI: Every distribution has a different look and feel, which confuses most users.
  7. X11/Application Integration: Another hallmark of good software is its ability to gracefully handle errors and hiccups. But many Linux-capable applications lack an ability to restore a previous session.
Consistency and Standards.
One of the great things about dictatorships is that standards are set, and consistency is enforced. Microsoft has proven this and, as mediocre as some of their offerings have been, it has been an unimaginably fantastic benefit that developers and end-users know what to expect when they sit down at any Windows PC. Of course, they profit from this benefit -- as they should. And therein lies the path for Linux.

Someone needs to be able to make ridiculous profits from standardizing the Linux offerings. Until that happens, Windows will dominate the desktop.

InformationWeek Article:
Fixing Linux: What's Broken And What To Do About It

1 comment:

  1. As far as the US corporate and personal markets are concerned, these are real stumbling blocks. But in less wealthy countries, were local labor is a smaller part of the cost structure, and capital investment of $1000/user/year to a software vendor for a basic office suite is real money, LINUX and Open Source Software tools seem to be doing well. India, Eastern Europe, and now China appear to have more and more adopters at the company level. The same is true of Open Source development tools.

    The larger, more critical step is the desktop application. I wonder how much hassle American companies may be willing to put up with when they are severely cash challenged. The Microsoft office enterprise renewal gradually stops being a "no-brainer." Adobe Photoshop stops being the only alternative for image editing. Oracle and MS-SQL look really expensive for basic small business database activities. Word spreads about Open Office. Gimp, and MySQL. Presto! Suddenly Windows isn't really a requirement, either, and the LINUX dance seems less daunting when its real money in your pocket.

    So rather than someone needing to make rediculous profits, I believe a critical mass of people trying to make a small profit and stay in business could be enough to fuel a significant move away from Windows and into Linux and the apps that support it.