Sorry for the cliche heading.
Reflecting on my own situation gives me a good insight into why Linux hasn’t really landed on the desktop. It comes down to one simple reason: If I run Linux, I can’t pay anyone to solve my problems for me.
Actually, at work, Linux is great. At work, I have to solve problems that are new. Problems that nobody else has solved yet. At work, I need the best tools that are available. I need the ability to customize my workflow and my tools. Linux is very valuable and appropriate here.
At home, I don’t have new problems. Chances are, I have problems that others have solved. I don’t have time to roll my own solution. Nor the patience.
I want to take RAW photos and print them. I want to listen to music and maybe occasionally carry it with me. I want to watch videos on the Internet.
Yes. I know. Most of these things you can do in some form on Linux. However, F-spot is no Lightroom. Rhythmbox is actually almost as good as iTunes, but there’s no Rhapsody equivalent. Flash videos sort of work (and they work on x64 if you try really hard), most other videos don’t. †
Sure, free software is great. It lets you do so many things without paying a single cent. If you want to do something that’s never been done before, it’s a good place to start. But when you want to start doing things that it can’t do already, and you don’t want to spend many hours coding your own solution, that’s where you hit a wall.
Why is this the case? As my friend always laments, “there’s no good way to ship proprietary software for Linux.”
Think of all the successful closed source desktop applications out there for Linux. Let’s see, Bibble Pro, and VMware, Flash, and … Real Player? Sorry, I’ve been using Linux for a while now, but I can’t think of many more.
Bibble Pro works because it uses qt, and ships it’s own qt library. If you’re going to ship a C++ app on Linux, you better be prepared to ship every library you depend on. Trolltech’s licensing sanity allows this.
VMware. well we spend lots of effort making our Linux product run on as many different distro’s as possible. And trust me, its pretty insane. Just look into the vmware startup scripts if you’re curious.
Flash? Well, Flash works because once upon a time a commercial company designed a plugin interface that was relatively stable, and has been good enough for all this time.
Real Player… didn’t that use Motif?
Whether it’s free software zealotry, laziness, or just the boringness of the work involved that leads to this situation, I know not. But in the end, without a better environment for proprietary software ††, closed-source thick-client apps will continue to be scarce on Linux desktops.
Without closed source apps, there’s no proven business model. Without a proven business model, there won’t be many businesses. †††
Without businesses, well there’s no one that I can easily incentivise to solve my problems for me.
†Yes. I also know that a big part of why a lot of these don’t work are DRM and proprietary codecs and the sort. Yes. I avoid these where possible. But these strategies aren’t going to go away. Not until someone figures out how to really make money without them. And don’t say Redhat. Look at how much they make compared to some software company that actually makes money. And don’t say Google, because Google has just figured out a new way to deliver you their proprietary service and software that seems more open.
†† Ironically, the best support for closed source third party apps that OSS has produced is a reasonable HTML and Javascript environment.
††† Sure, some business innovate. Google is one of them. But there are very few Googles. And besides, if we do become totally web-based some day, who cares what OS you’re running?
Update: I guess today is the day to chime in about Linux on the desktop. Anyhow, this artcile points out an important distinction. For many non-power users, Ubuntu has reached the level of usability and “good enough.” These users will likely, as the article predicts, move more and more towards Linux. But its all the non-typical users that I’m really talking about. The gamers, the photographers, the artists, etc. There are too many commercial tools out there that are too hard to ship on Linux, that people will likely move to the Mac before they opt for completely open-source tools.

1 Comment

  1. Richard Chapman


    Speaking of Google, don’t forget to add Googleearth and Google Desktop to the mix of proprietary applications on linux. And yes I do like free software… no, the other kind of free.

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