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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Continuous End-to-End Missed Opportunity of Desktop Linux

A recent PC World post asked, if Desktop Linux has missed its opportunity. Oh, boy. Did it ever.


Understand that I've been using Linux more years than I've been using Macs, and I'm sold at how solid Linux is. I rely on Linux everyday to run my back-end stuff and my network. Apple fan boy that I am, know that this isn't any religious bias when I say, Desktop Linux sucks. Let me tell you why.

The kernel aspect of it--- the schedulers, the memory management they're all good as it is. This underlying technology can handle Desktop Linux no doubt.

For years, Desktop Linux--- Gnome or KDE has had the look and feel of Windows. And it sucked. Have you seen the standard Ubuntu color?

Linux for years has offered little to differentiate itself from the market. In fact, a few years ago, no decent distro would install mp3 support natively. None. nada. You'd have to hack it to get decent mp3 playback. And the slow support by Intel, NVidia, and ATI for their graphics cards have long been an issue too (which has changed considerably in the last two years or so)! Hell, Flash Player couldn't run properly on a 64-bit Linux machine up until quite recently. Then there is the eye-candy of Compiz and Fusion are only now being integrated into the whole shebang. With technologies like XMBC Media Center, and with projects like Gnome 3.0, things are getting better right?

When Red Hat ($RHT) walked away from the consumer market, it was a punch in the stomach for Desktop Linux. No one wanted to buy it. And for good reason, you can't even play games that your friends were playing on it. And like I said, you were still expected to hack most of the media stuff yourself. Yes there were games like Tux Racer, but haven't you been a kid before? People were using windows because they liked to play PC Games too. With their friends. Wine for all its power took too long to get to market.

It wasn't so much as a developer problem writing linux native windows drivers, because TransGaming has succeeded in that. Have you seen Cider? You can run spore today on Macs and Windows using cider technology, which is based on wine. Yes, it is imperfect for hard core gamers but the casual gamer wouldn't be arguing that much, right?

So the question is, why haven't Dell ($DELL) or HP ($HPQ) jumped into integrating Linux more into their machines? Think about it: an Ubuntu base, with a customized Dell User Interface and User Experience with properly licensed mp3, dvd playback technologies that can run native windows applications like Photoshop, Office suites, Chrome, Halo, Left4Dead, and Fallout 3, why hasn't anybody done it?

Is it because they'd have to answer to Microsoft's wrath?

All this world needs is one huge PC manufacturer that has the clout to integrate Transgaming technologies, an innovative User Interface and decent User Experience and a Linux foundation and you have not just serious competition to Windows, but Desktop Linux. The real deal.

How much did Apple ($APPL) spend to initially develop OS X? Surely, Dell or a similar company can do it. Surely, other material that are not open sourced can be licensed.

If you look at Apple's success even during this recession, it is a shout in the bow that PCs and, specifically Windows--- sucks. People are tired of viruses and trojans and reboots. And while Windows 7 addresses most of the issues of Vista, have you seen how it arranges Control Panel? Seriously, the damn thing is so complicated, it takes a rocket scientist just to decipher what it all means, much less to get it to work right.

The problem of Desktop Linux has been too many cooks. Desktop Linux suffers from the Windows mentality of mediocrity. There is no focus. It looks and feels like Frankenstein on top, when in fact under the hood, the kernel and the infrastructure around it is ready. Avahi technology on linux is like Apple's bonjour for instance and it works right out of the box.

The other truth is, the best unix desktop for the consumer right now is Apple's Mac OS X and boy, it could have been Linux. Still could really. No one just has the balls to try to do it right.

Don't get me wrong, the building blocks to making a true and ultimate desktop linux experience that challenges the status quo of Microsoft's dominance is here or getting here and like Lego bricks, someone just needs to put it all together and polish it. The continuous missed opportunity is that Linux distos are following the Microsoft formula of we're software only. No one dares enough to combine in one single polished product both the PC and Linux in an end-to-end solution and tell the customer, yes, we're responsible for all of it. In the words of Alan Kay, "people who are really serious about software should make their own hardware". It's also true isn't it that people who are serious about hardware should write software as awesome as their hardware.

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