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Editor's Note: A Conversation on the Desktop

Dec 19, 2003, 23:00 (20 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

When I look at recent events and products in the Linux community and the business environment, I can't help but think that Linux on the desktop is a done deal.

(No it isn't.)

Of course, there's always this little voice in my head that chimes in whenever I start to ruminate about such things. It pops in at times, whispering opinions that counter my main line of thinking. When I extoll the virtues of the Linux desktop, which I've been doing for years, the little voice comes in and says something like:

(Linux isn't on the desktop, because it's nowhere in the consumer market. It's barely in the business market and it never will be.)

It's not a cheery voice, to be sure.

The reason why this little voice, and all the voices of the naysayers of the Linux desktop, has any credence is because both sides of the desktop argument are constantly shifting the definition of the desktop around to suit their needs.

If my little voice pops up and asks me if Linux can run a full-fledged gaming system with killer video and sound as well as Windows right out of the box, I would have to grudgingly admit there would have to be some serious configuration involved before such a system would run.

But, I would counter, if you wanted a desktop that browsed, e-mailed, wrote documents, did spreadsheets, and had databases, then by golly, certainly Linux would fit the bill.

(You changed the definition of the desktop to meet Linux's needs.)

So did my little voice. Each side of the desktop argument constantly does that to make their point. The problem is this--

(You're just reaching here.)

--you hush. The problem is this: there is no real definition of what a desktop is for the term to be applicable to this argument. Let's face it: GNOME, KDE, and the myriad of other environments and window managers have all met and exceeded the most clinical definition of what a desktop should be for years. I can (and have) plop a KDE or GNOME desktop in front of completely neophyte users and they will very quickly figure out what's what.

"The Linux Desktop" is a misnomer. The Linux desktop has been here and better than fine for a long time. What we are really talking about are systems. What system is best for what particiular user. In this context, I mean GUI, application set, and hardware capabilities when I talk about "system."

(To-may-to, to-mah-to, dude.)

If we talk about Linux systems for home users, then yes, there is gap that needs to be met. Not through any fault of Linux, so much as the fact home users' needs are so diverse. What I need for a perfect Linux system is completely different from what you need/want at home.

This is compounded by the fact that most home users don't want to have to configure a system to get something that will work for them out of the box with another operating system. They have no time and likely no experience doing this kind of thing.

(So Linux should abandon the home market altogether, is what you're saying?)

Absolutely not. I think there is a very large market segment out there that uses OS X and Windows to do tasks they could do on Linux just as well, if not better, and out of the box, too. There are people out there that just need a browser, an e-mail client, and a word processor and nothing else. Linux needs to be marketed to those folks.

(Speaking of Mom, there's still some of the fudge she sent down in the kitchen.)

Shhh, later. Lindows.com and Sun are already doing this with their respective LindowsOS and Java Desktop System, so we'll see how successful they are.

As for the power users, I think the community should start seeking to identify the key areas where consumers want the "extras" (CD/DVD burning, P2P, accounting/tax software, video editing, etc.) and then draw up plans to address those areas. It can't be too hard to do this, since a lot of this software exists in some form now. It just needs to be made more accessible.

Now, as for the business systems, good grief, what more could you want that isn't already available? Linux on the business "desktop" is already here. The available applications are robust and numerous and cheap. Support from the big commercial vendors and third-party companies is out there, in place and ready to go.

(Getting a little excited, are we?)

You bet! The fact that Linux doesn't have all that extra software that Windows does is actually a benefit in the workplace. How many times have IT managers had to fix a Windows machine because some worker brought a program from home and installed it? Linux systems let you keep your systems lean and mean right from the get-go.

(So, you're waffling. You're saying that Linux is good for some users and not good for others.)

Not quite. I'm saying Linux is great for some users and not quite there for others. Each user has to honestly assess their needs to determine what kind of system they can run. The community has to be honest and help them understand how Linux can or can't meet their needs.

Linux systems can be used anywhere. It is only a matter of time and patience to get these systems ready for any user's needs. Something even my little voice would agree with.


Pipe down or you won't get the fudge.

(Yes! That's something I would agree with, yessiree! Now can we get the fudge?)

Yes. Hopefully you'll agree with me more often.





(No I won't...)

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