Two events in the last month have gotten me worried about the future of desktop Linux. First is a declaration by Mark Shuttleworth [Ubuntu's founder] that there is no money in desktop Linux. This is significant because Ubuntu represents the closest stake the Linux world has had to being used as a desktop operation system. First of all, Ubuntu seems to have matured [I didn't upgrade from 7.10 because I didn't have a compelling reason to.]. Of course there is the mist of cloud computing and broadband which might make most of our computing to become utilitarian … but I have always thought that is a plus for desktop Linux because you still need an OS to run a web browser. If cloud computing makes the case for desktop applications less compelling for most, then desktop Linux will gain a huge edge over both Windows and MacOSX.
The second disconcerting piece came out of the last Microsoft Professional Developers Conference – the unveilling of Windows 7. I made the case on this blog earlier in the year that given the kind of hardware specs Vista needs to really fly, desktop Linux is a better alternative. Well … Microsoft seems to have pre-empted that with Windows 7 … I learnt that the executive who heads the Windows development team has as his primary laptop, a netbook based on an Intel Atom processor and 1GB of RAM and that Windows 7 will run very fast on those specs!! Considering the Windows familiarity and eye-candy factors, it seems Window 7 suddenly is putting Linux out of the play on most things that matter to the typical PC user except price?
So please share your take on this? Is this a move the Linux desktop community need to worry about? What moves must desktop Linux make to counter this? However it turns out, am planning to get a new laptop soon and irrespective of its OS, I plan to install Ubuntu because I specifically need it … but then, I am not the average user.
For most people born within the last 35 years or so … using a computer has become and inextricable part of living. Unfortunately [for Linux] most of the not-too-technically savvy amongst them got started using some version of Microsoft´s Windows or an Apple Macintosh. These people have been used to a certain way of doing stuff and how things should look. For Linux to appeal to this people, not only must it flaunt it´s technical excellence, freedom of choice and low cost, but must also prove as easy to use, flexible, simple and aesthetically pleasing. In computer-speak, eye-candy refers to how beautiful or pleasing to the eye the whole user experience is. It involves beautiful graphics, icons, mouse cursors as well as animated feedback.
These characteristics plus simplicity is perhaps the primary reason why Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distribution today not only on the desktop but for servers. I used to be a Fedora fan but today, I don´t see myself downloading and burning six iso images and spending about an hour to setup my system when I could do all that from a single CD in about 30 minutes. Therefore, switching to Ubuntu on both my desktop, laptop and any server services was just a no brainer. A key department in which most desktop linuxes have improved is the eye-candy department but to get the kind of eye-candy that makes people drool a little tweaking needs to be done which may be more than the average joe is comfortable with doing [eg installing compiz theme manager, emerald, using svn to get keys and then download themes.]
Eye candy has become important because our laptops have become very personal objects, much in the same way we by cute phones with nice covers for them and change wallpapers regularly. Eye candy is the primary reason why most people go WOW!! when the first see a Macbook [both hardware and software eye candy]. Personally, one way in which I have spread the Ubuntu word is with my own laptop. Immediately after installation, I enable compiz themes, install emerald theme manager, get some beautiful themes, cute icon packs, cursor themes and nice looking fonts. I also get rid of most of the default login screens (except the Human Circle) and add cutter ones which come up at random. So when most people see my laptop, they go WOW!! … what OS are you using? — giving me the perfect opportunity to sell them not only to how aesthetically pleasing [aka eye candy] Ubuntu and Linux can be but also the fact that I usually don´t bother much about antiviruses, the moral issues of pirated software, or system instability. Yes I know, focusing on eye candy might seem like a trivialization of the technical excellence of Linux, but then most of the people out there whom we´d like to adopt Linux on the desktop are people who would gladly ´…make the mistake of falling in love with a dimple and then marrying the whole girl [and live to thank God for the mistake].´ to paraphrase Evan Esar, italics mine. I think eye candy is that dimple that can be used to seduce people to marry the whole girl (desktop Linux)