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Editor's Note: Setting Expectations

May 26, 2006, 23:30 (22 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Today, I am happy to say, my wife and I are celebrating our 16th anniversary. It's a pretty cool thing, actually. I have a sense of happiness about the last 16 years, as well as a bit of relief--as in, I can't believe she's tolerated me this long.

(Of course, I suspect all men in relationships with the fairer sex should feel pretty much the same way. If they don't, they should be. But that's another topic for another day.)

Not to get all Dr. Phil on you, but I have learned that one the secrets to a good relationship is the setting of expectations. My wife knows what she can expect from me and I from her. More importantly, we know, through communication, trial and error, or just plain dumb luck, what each of us expects. Expectations are met, for the most part, and things go smoothly. Expectations are exceeded and things go very well. When expectations are not met, though, then there's trouble. Disappointment, sadness, friction, the works.

Today, it is impossible for me not to draw this conclusion when looking at the recent announcement that Google's Picasa was ported to Linux. While many users have downloaded and appreciated the software, there have been some who, for one reason or another, have been disappointed with the release. Is this just vague, undefined complaining, or did Google completely miss hitting the expectations of these users?

The better question, perhaps, is: just what are the expectations of the average Linux user for applications that run on Linux?

The two core complaints I have heard about Picasa for Linux is that (1) it uses WINE to run on Linux, so it's not a true native port and (2) it's not open source.

Taking these in reverse order, when did it become a requirement that everything that runs atop Linux has to be open source? Given that I have the Adobe and Macromedia plug-ins for Firefox on my Kubuntu machine to open PDF and Flash files, respectively, clearly someone at Firefox didn't get this memo. Would it be nice if all applications on Linux were open source or even better, free? I would be first in line to say yes. But that is not always a desire for the software vendor with the code.

We can wish this weren't so, but it is frankly unrealistic to expect companies to always hand over their code as the ticket to run on the Linux train. Personally, I am pretty happy with the amount of companies that do switch to some sort of open source license. That means they not only want to serve the Linux userbase, but they also "get it." At the end of the day, though, I think I want more app choices on Linux, regardless of the license. Let individual users make their own choices on what to use and why, but let's not deny other users a chance to access more applications.

Besides, Google did not just plop a closed-source application on Linux. While they still hold the Picasa core code, the changes they made to WINE were immediately given back to the WINE community, without hesitation. Google followed the spirit and letter of the open source mindset.

And, getting to the topic of WINE, I was also unaware that WINE-assisted apps were verboten on Linux, too. Users are implementing WINE all the time, either directly or embedded in products such as Transgaming's Cedega or CodeWeaver's CrossOver Office, so I know that can't be the problem. So what is? Is it that a port can't truly be native if WINE technology is in the picture somewhere? I would have to agree that in the purest technical sense, this is very true. Picasa is not, purely, an application ported to Linux. Not completely.

When people fly in airplanes, they know that the wings are the critical part in making the plane go up and stay up. They might even be aware that it's the special airfoil shape that generates the lift. But would they really care if you told them that flight is not achieved by air pushing up on the bottom of the wing, but actually pulling up on the top of the wings? The finer points of Bernoulli's Principle may be true, but the thing that people most care about is that the plane is staying aloft and not accelerating towards that large rocky ball below the plane at a rate of 1g.

If an application like Picasa uses WINE a bit to run on Linux, but it still runs well, then will the average end-user care? Likely not.

This is a question that the community will need to address, and soon. Linux is looking ever more attractive to software vendors as a place to distribute and/or sell their wares. What should the community's expectations for a Linux application be? Should the app be something totally Free or something that just runs? Or something in between?

The apps are coming, and its up to you to decide what your expectations are and whether the community as a whole can agree with them.


Program note: In the US, this weekend is a holiday weekend, and Linux Today's staff will be taking Monday off. The site will continue in weekend feed mode until 0530 GMT Tuesday. May you and your loved ones have a safe weekend.