Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Linux Desktop is Dead

ESR's rant is, surprise, surprise, making waves. Mostly unhappy ones that can be best summerized as STFU.

However, ESR is right.

I switched over to Windows as my primary desktop operating system in 2001 when I moved over to marketing. There were simply too many tools that I needed to use which weren't available under FreeBSD (desktop de jour at the time) or Linux. It was the first time that I had seriously used a non-Unix desktop since 1993 and I had to admit - I was surprised. Windows 2000 was stable, things just worked, and life was all around good. After a few weeks I noticed that I spent a lot less time managing my desktop and that above all else made me change my home machine over to Windows as well.

I still use Linux and FreeBSD. I just use them as servers and ssh into them as necessary. From time to time I take a peak at what the folks over at GNOME and KDE are up to, but to date I just haven't been all that impressed. As far as I'm concerned, the Linux on the Desktop effort is dead. Anyone that hungry for a Unix machine with a usable GUI environment is now buying a Mac.

In early editions of my book, Linux Administration: A Beginners Guide, I wrote something along the lines of "one of the great things about Linux is that it gives you the choice." I've since spent a lot of time caring about end user interfaces, being a user, and watching customers use my products, and I've come to the conclusion that unless you care about the technology itself, you really don't care about the choice. What the user cares about is the choice in whatever task they are trying to accomplish and if the action is passive (e.g., seeing a silly video on Youtube), then a choice doesn't matter. It just has to work. My dad is the perfect example of this: he just wants to see CNN's web site. He can click on the Firefox logo and he can click on the the Internet Explorer logo. But that choice doesn't matter to him -- he wants to choose what news he reads instead of sitting through 30 minutes of CBS.

If the Linux community wants to revive its effort for the desktop, it has to come to terms with the reality that my dad doesn't care he can choose between KDE and GNOME, or Firefox and Konqueror, or KWord and OpenOffice. He just wants to click on the 'W' logo and have something pop up that lets him get the job done.


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