The Linux Desktop in 2007

January 07, 2007

Linux and open source computing is going to have a great 2007. In spite of a few hiccups in some communities, and the astonishing lack of penetration into the mainstream brain, it is obvious that we are seeing more and more people getting it.

Just check out IBM's Linux praise page if you want an overview. And governments are getting it too, in Korea, Venuzela, and India. And then there is Chicago.

When you think of Windows server, you think of rebooting the server, of always having to apply security patches. You think of viruses ... Linux and Solaris prove to be a lot less headaches than any other platform. Amy Niersbach, Chicago geek-honcho

Of course, it is a bunch of elitist BS to pretend that the only reason people don't "get" desktop Linux is because they are just ignorant — Linux is hard. Switching is hard-ish.

These governments are not doing something that is totally obvious — they are, but contrast, pioneers, and they are taking no small risk in putting Linux desktops in front of their municipal employees. I mean, really, I just can't see my Dad using ifconfig to fiddle with his network settings. Only recently has Linux distributions emerged that I would consider suggesting to my family, much less my family's coworkers.

(By contrast, of course, Linux as a server platform has had success for so long, and open source software is clearly dominant on the server.)

Ever since the Ubuntu Linux campaign began a couple years ago, we have all seen how much it makes sense (in terms of attracting an audience) to focus on getting things to Just Work on a personal computer. Ubuntu has ridden the hype skyrocket right past Debian and Suse etc ... well, because they have a millionaire at the wheel ... but also because they have taken on the closed-source OS's head-on with regard to usability. They put a lot of time into making a Linux distribution that would recognize your iPod (and monitor and printer and keyboard ...) the first time you plugged it in. They even have a branch devoted to a kid-friendly version, edubuntu. And they have done a lot of steady work to make a more useable experience generally (even if they aren't rewriting the Gnome desktop). I think their whole approach deserves applause, despite all the remaining gotchas of linux. (Certainly there is not a Linux desktop the tops the Mac OS usability experience, in my opinion.)

Related reading on usability:

Check out the recent preview of the KDE desktop, which has been designed by a wonderfully talented, small team.

And then there is the fascinating approach to the UI taken by the $100 Laptop folks.