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Letter to the Editor: Linux Misdirections [Regarding Linux Journal's 'Perceptions of Linux']

Dec 20, 2001, 13:58 (16 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Ho-Sheng Hsiao)

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By Ho-Sheng Hsiao

I write this article in response to Paul Berry's article published on Linux Journal. He wrote about the common perceptions and misperceptions based on an informal survey of 31 students he taught a course to.

His students made mention of how the Microsoft OS family has the largest collection of desktop apps. However, between them, Linux, BSD and UNIX have the largest collection of Web apps. Microsoft's .NET seems strangely to point towards that direction. Sure, there were many failed attempts to pull off this vision. Remember Java? Consider the current incarnation, the application-service-providers. Today, you can get fairly decent web-based apps, like PHPGroupWare, PHPNuke/PostNuke, SQL-Ledger, various web-based email interfaces, Bugzilla, ad nauseum. And besides those web-based apps you can download and install on your personal server, the web sites are becoming the applications. I'm sure readers can think of more examples. And it won't be long before someone starts creating business- and consumer-specific web-based apps and renting them out.

These students also didn't realize that the GUI isn't the end-all-be-all interface environment forevermore in the future. GUIs are by design, primarily visual. They are also still difficult for new users to pick up and learn. All the little tricks and tips have added up to a body of techniques to manipulate the OS environment that's just as obscure as using /bin/sh.

Even then, I see another interface that will slowly come out in supremacy, and it will be audio-based. Only over the past two years have speech-recognition technologies been affordable enough for the average user. However, none of those are integrated in the OS very well, because Windows is tied to a visually-oriented interface. With Linux, you write an audio-based shell and leverage the vast amount of text-processing tools available. When both speech-recognition and speech-synthesis technologies mature, it will be the text-oriented interface that will have an easier time integrating the audio-oriented intefaces. Will AUIs replace GUIs? Perhaps, in the same way X Window went on top of the command-line interface on Unix et. al.

Forget the desktop. Sure it's necessary, and at the current state, the Linux desktop is playing catch-up in a game of one-upsmanship. But is that critical to the success of Linux? Microsoft wants you to think so. After all, they dominate that space. Myself? I don't think so. The Desktop is being subsumed by something cooler, something more immersive.

On the business side of things, I refer to the story about McDonald's written in the book, E-myth: Why most small businesses don't work and what to do about it written by Michael E Gerber. McDonald's doesn't make the world's best hamburger. They have the world's best business system to sell the hamburger. According to Gerber, 90% of small businesses fail, and yet over 60% of McDonald's new franchises succeed, month after month, year after year. Microsoft had the world's best business system to sell software. Whether they still do now rests on the new leadership at their helm. Do Linux vendors have a great business system?

Finally, E-myth also points out that the real product a business sells isn't what the customer walks out with. Rather, it's the experience of the customer interacting with the whole business system. The product Microsoft sells isn't the software; it's comfort. The product that Linux vendors usually sell is freedom.

Having freedom of action isn't always comfortable: you're put nose-to-nose with the consequences of your actions. So, is the mass-market ready for the freedom that Linux and friends provide?

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