Desktop Linux Aims for Big Time

Published November 30, 2005

| EWeek

Linux desktops have always faced an uphill battle against Windows desktops. Now, OSDL is calling together architects from over two dozen key desktop-oriented Linux projects to a Dec. 1-2 meeting at its headquarters to set strategic directions and standards, and find synergies amongst Desktop Linux organizations.

Armed with detailed information about what Linux desktop users really want from their desktops from a recent OSDL (Open Source Development Labs Inc.) survey, the developers will attempt to fix the technical problems keeping Linux from winning a lion's share of the desktop market.

There have been numerous attempts in the past to popularize the Linux desktop. Indeed, OSDL has sponsored some of these efforts.

What's different this time is that instead of simply trying to set a policy, OSDL has reached out to other open-source organizations to work in a small group of less than a hundred developers on how to dramatically improve the Linux desktop.

Some of the major desktop organizations represented include Gnome.org and KDE.org, to LinuxBase.org and Oasis-Open.org, to Mozilla.org and OpenOffice.org.

The plan also has the corporate support of Adobe Systems Inc., Intel Corp., IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co., Linspire Inc., Mandriva SA, Novell Inc., RealNetworks Inc., Red Hat Inc., Trolltech, and Xandros Inc.

John Cherry, OSDL's Initiative manager for the Linux desktop, said that the OSDL decided to take a close look at why the Linux desktop had lagged behind other areas where Linux had been accepted much more quickly.

Part of the problem, according to Cherry, was that the changes that needed "to be adopted for Linux to become successful on the Linux desktop had to be driven by the Linux communities and their distros. The Linux companies alone couldn't do it."

Since OSDL is vendor-neutral, Cherry said, "It's uniquely positioned to pull together developers."

Dave Rosenberg, OSDL's principal analyst, said, "There's a huge amount of innovation going on in the Linux desktop, but there's been no unified thread."

Things are changing.

"We weren't aware how much the Linux desktop was in people's minds," said Rosenberg. There has been a great deal of interest in the meeting.

In advance of the weekend get-together at OSDL's Beaverton, Ore., headquarters, developers have been hammering out what areas they'll be tackling at the meeting.

The meeting is not just limited to fat-client desktops such as a Linux equivalent to Microsoft's Windows XP.

For example, Jim McQuillan of the LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project), a thin-client group, has identified resource utilization of high-powered desktop clients, better local device and audio support and enterprise level management and security tools as being important for thin-client Linux desktops.

The group, in advance of the meeting, has also identified issues that are standing in the way of the Linux desktop's adoption.

In addition to the recent survey's identification of the need for more device drivers and the porting of some Windows applications to Linux, the developers have identified FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and a need for better Linux interfaces for the blind.

Perhaps the most important problem the meeting will address is a very mundane one.

It is, as Jon Perr, a technology marketing executive and former Ximian official, put it, the "Who will do it?" problem.

"Some of the toughest barriers to Linux desktop adoption, especially by corporate customers, are bigger than any given vendor. However, the complexity (and often, the sheer drudgery) of the development work, combined with lower interest among community hackers as end users, mean that key issues don't get addressed (or at least, not in a timely way, from a market perspective)," said Perr in a planning group e-mail discussion.

Some of this grunt work is already being done.

The OSDL's Open Source Device Drivers Web site was launched on Nov. 11 as a repository of device driver information and to help device driver developers get accustomed to the methods and processes of the Linux kernel community.

While announced in August, the launch was prompted in part by the upcoming desktop meeting.

The meeting will address include other areas, as Patrice Lagrange, Adobe Systems Inc.'s Linux market development and strategy director, suggested, "Desktop organizations should leave the meeting with a clear understanding of gaps in inter-org interactions and dependencies, [and] define a common list of ... gaps in technology where there would be benefit in coordination across desktop organizations."

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