The third Desktop
(DAM3) is being held on December 7 and 8 at
OSDL's offices in Portland. Despite some rumors to the contrary, there
will still be
a few people in those offices, and the meeting is
going ahead as planned. LWN, unfortunately, will not be represented
there. Happily, most of the attendees have posted
ahead of the event, so it is possible to get a sense for
what some of the common themes will be.
Outsiders like to criticize Linux for its proliferation of distributions,
desktops, and more. Within the community, we recognize this diversity as a
form of wealth. The variety of Linux distributions encourages
experimentation with different approaches, with the resulting lessons being
learned by the community as a whole. They also ensure that we will never
be locked into a single source for our software; switching distributions is
an easy thing to do. Similarly, the competition between free desktop
projects has inspired them all to identify their users and give them the
best experience they can. There are few people who would wish for a world
with a single distribution and a single desktop.
Some of those who might wish for that world, however, may well be at
DAM3. Diversity is good for the community, but it does make life harder
for those who would support binary applications on Linux. Having to deal
with a range of desktops, packaging systems, library versions, encoding
choices, etc. creates a lot of work for application vendors. Someday,
maybe, the free software community will be so rich that nobody will ever
wish for a proprietary application for their Linux systems. Until that
time, we will either have to make life easier for those vendors or simply
write off a large subset of potential desktop Linux users.
Some other old complaints have been raised: lack of support for proprietary
codecs and DVD playback, for example. Most of the people involved seem to
understand why Linux has these limitations. But they can still wish for a
world where more things just worked.
Hardware support also shows up in a few sets of slides. This is an area
where things are getting better quickly - most wireless network adapters
should be supported before too long, for example. But video adapters
are still a problem.
A certain amount of slide space was reserved for complaints about sound
support under Linux. At the driver level, things seem to work, but not
everybody likes the ALSA API. Above that, there seems to be no consensus
on which sound server should be used. Without a consistent and reliable
way to make noise, many desktop applications will remain hard to support.
Printing also, apparently, remains a sore point, despite the great progress
that has been made in recent years. One initiative which may go forward
soon is the certification of printers which are well supported under
Linux. Beyond that, it appears that the Portland Project is going to try
to create a unified structure for print dialogs. This mechanism would try
to present a consistent interface to printing which would make it easier to
export - and use - printer-specific features. Desktop-specific dialogs
would still do the actual user interaction, but they would be using the
Portland mechanism underneath.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to be seen from the slides, however, is
the expanded view of the "desktop" being taken by the group. Mobile and
embedded systems - from the OLPC to the Nokia 770 and telephones - are
clearly seen as a sort of desktop system. Many of the issues are the same,
but the incorporation of mobile applications brings new pressures. One
can, with little effort, find plenty of evidence that the desktop projects
have not, so far, been overly concerned with memory use and overall bloat.
Small systems are forcing people to reconsider their priorities, however,
and there is likely to be an increase in the amount of development time
which goes into making things smaller. A few of the participants note that
better tools for memory profiling would be most helpful in this task.
Overall, there appears to be nobody who is willing to predict total World
Desktop Domination anytime in the near future. There is, however, a clear
level of interest in the Linux desktop, especially when one considers
desktops which fit in a shirt pocket. Interesting things are going
to happen in this area.
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