International Expansion of Desktop Linux
A panel consisting of Bernd Kretschmer, Louis Nuages, David Orban, and David van Enckevort discussed the
international aspects of desktop Linux.
The group discussed various issues relating to the deployment of
Linux in the corporate environment.
A few generalizations can be drawn from the discussion:
The corporate world is not interested in fighting the Linux "crusade". Multimedia capability and the ability to play with installed software
may bring down worker productivity significantly. The PC as a platform
is increasingly becoming obsolete. Moving off of a Microsoft platform
will get more expensive with time.
Here are some pluses and minuses of switching a corporation to Linux:
Areas where Linux has strengths:
Areas where Linux needs improvement:
- Linux has the potential of a much lower total cost of ownership.
- The Microsoft suit over the Lindows trade name gave Lindows increased name recognition and boosted sales.
- Most standard desktop software is available for Linux.
- Various Windows emulation solutions can deal with some of the harder to port legacy applications.
- Companies with small installation bases can transfer easily to Linux.
- Linux's tighter security is becoming a larger factor for conversion.
- Linux is catching on quickly, the next two years will be very
critical for companies considering the switch.
- Linux language translations are not always mature enough for practical use.
- The choice of pre-installed systems is small.
- Linux has a pull market, the corporate world is used to a push market.
- Linux has a deficit of available business software.
- Existing systems administrators may only have Windows experience,
and may fear losing their Windows skills.
- Market statistics for Linux use are very imprecise, making for difficult decisions.
Ian Murdock, the Ian
, explained some problems
with Linux distributions, and gave a brief talk on a concept that he
calls Componentized Linux.
Linux distributions have driven the commercialization of the Linux kernel.
The distribution has served us well, but it has a few shortcomings.
Distributions cause Linux to have some of the same shortcomings as a
traditional commercial boxed operating system. Problems from this model
include incompatibility issues, system lock-in, the need to create a
one-size-fits-all distribution, and a per-seat pricing structure.
The consumer is stuck with the vendor's platform evolution decisions
and release schedule. Typically, organizations need to supplement
a box-install with their own post-install customizations. Dedicating
staff time to such work diverts valuable time from the company's
Componentized Linux is a concept for automating the assembly of
components into a working operating system. The administrator
only needs to pick the high-level pieces that the system requires.
Using of a set of system construction tools, a customized operating
system can be assembled. This allows for an
optimized installation to be put together, and creates a base system
without a lot of software bloat. These tools are available in two
forms, the commercial platform services from Ian's company, Progeny,
and a community sponsored platform where more work is performed by the
Ian gave a few examples of installations that can be created with
this model; these include server appliances, network attached storage
devices, point of sale terminals, and customized desktops.
The word from Doc
Doc Searls from the
discussed Neal Stephenson's essay
In the Beginning was the Command Line
He talked about the essay's comparison of Windows to
a Bigass station wagon
, the Mac to
a quirky Jaguar sports car, and Linux to a tank (a free one).
He also worked with the idea of Crossing the Chasm, or moving
Linux from an operating system that's used by a limited number of
specialists to a wider cross-section of the population.
Doc kept going with the car comparison, and came to the conclusion
that in order to achieve wide-spread use, Linux needs to become the
operating system equivalent of the Chevy Cavalier, an inexpensive,
generic utility that everybody knows how to use.
gave an overview of the current state of Linux adoption
in the business world and non-commercial settings.
She noted that the United States is in a different position than
other countries in that there are more desktop systems and more installations
of Microsoft software. She reiterated the point that interest and
adoption of Linux is high in the EU, Africa, and Asian countries.
Linux adoption is moving forward in the field of education and
in the business server area. Adoption in the consumer space is still
slow due to a lack of pre-loaded Linux boxes, and the perception that
Linux is still difficult to use.
As for the desktop, some of the issues preventing widespread use of
Linux include a smaller selection of commercial software, not enough
device drivers, and a lack of available training.
Microsoft and SCO FUD were mentioned as threats to Linux,
Martin Taylor, a Microsoft employee who is employed primarily to
Amy analyzed the modern day computer users and usages.
Typical corporate users of desktop computers were defined as
knowledge workers, clerical workers, and meanderers, people
with mobile jobs like sales people and nurses.
Desktop computer usage was divided into email, business applications,
web browsing, and lastly, productivity applications like word processors
and spread sheets.
User reactions to Linux include the purchasing of Linux-based servers,
planning for Linux on the desktop, and a bit of skepticism. Some
real world examples of Linux adoption were given including wide spread use
at IBM, Novell, the European government sector, and US educational
Barriers to Linux adoption include missing applications, a large base
of current Windows users, training for users and administrators,
and a sustainable ecosystem. The presentation ended with a rosy prediction
that Linux will make it as a mainstream desktop system sometime in the
2004/2005 time frame.
Mainstreaming of Desktop Linux
A question and answer style panel discussion was held on the topic of the
Mainstreaming of Desktop Linux. Some of the more interesting highlights
are covered here.
Q: What are the priorities for Linux making it into the mainstream?
A: Interoperability with existing standards. Linux developers
need to visualize the future desktop. If Linux achieves a great enough
market share, Microsoft will have to release its office suite on the
platform. Linux needs a more unified user interface standard.
More drivers are needed, and more applications, especially in the
Q: Do the big companies (Apple, Microsoft, Dell) need to participate?
A: The large corporations will follow the users, when there is a
demand, they will show up. There is a need for consumers to be able to
buy preloaded computers. Customers don't want tools alone, they want
support for formats, especially .doc (Microsoft Word). IBM is working
hard to create a Linux market. If they move over too late, companies
may find that they have no market, an example would be Photoshop and
Q: How will the mainstreaming of Linux happen?
A: By giving it away to schools. Outside of the US, adoption is
already high. There is a need for more experts.
LUGs can offer free support to local schools. The community
should aim to get people using Linux on a daily basis, that will drive
Q: What about support?
A: It is critical to have better support than that offered by
Microsoft. Better yet, the distribution vendors should do everything
they can to make everything work correctly in the first place.
Linux support may be less important. Security was an afterthought in
Windows but Unix grew up in the university world where security was
always necessary. There are two types of support, user help and bug
fixes. Microsoft does poorly with bug fixes, turnaround is glacial
at best. Open source security fixes can turn around in 24 hours.
Lastly, the topic of Microsoft XP's more restrictive licensing schemes
came up, this may prevent a lot of operating system pirating overseas,
the indirect effect may be an increase in Linux usage.
Novell's Enterprise View
Novell's Nat Friedman (of Ximian fame) talked about the evolution
of the Linux desktop. He started with a quote from Allexandre Julliard:
Even failed companies contribute to the progress of open source
Nat mentioned the inaccurate mainstream press coverage of Linux,
which follows a sine curve, alternating from positive to negative.
of Linux developers was investigated; a study by Eben Moglen revealed
that most developers work for intellectual stimulation and learning,
not the widely publicized need for "geek status." A lot of
Linux developers are motivated by joy, and not by market trends.
The evolution of the Linux desktop was illustrated with a set of slides.
Its rapid development was shown from 1992 with basic xterms, to 1995
with a browser and virtual desktop, to 1997 with Gnome, a spreadsheet,
and GUI development tools. The present desktop has an office suite, a
movie player, and the Ximian Evolution groupware client.
Current frontiers are commercial desktop support, and integration of
third party applications.
State of Desktop Linux Linspire version
Lindows's CEO Michael Robertson
covered the current state of desktop
Linux, and filled us in on the current state of Linspire in particular.
Lindows is aiming at the mainstream Linux desktop market; it is
directly competing against Windows in the Windows market space.
Currently, the company employs around 70 people.
Most of the technology problems have been solved, the company has
recently shifted from a technology focus to a marketing focus.
The Linspire business model includes:
- Building marketing and distribution channels.
- Selling channel services and proprietary software.
- Selling click-n-run software.
- Selling click-n-buy downloadable music.
- Partnering with 450 system integrators.
- Making money from OEM builders and per-unit install fees.
- Partnering with Seagate to offer bare drives with LindowsOS.
- Making pre-installed systems available in stores.
- Focusing on international markets where Microsoft is not dominant.
The company is in the quiet phase pending their IPO, more details could
not be given.
Linspire is based on the Debian distribution and the KDE desktop.
The distribution is aimed primarily at desktop users.
The company has three main software products, Click-n-Run,
Lsongs, and Lphoto.
Click-n-Run is a package management system.
It adds a nice GUI layer on top of the basic Debian packages.
In addition to installing the packages, it also configures
the various desktop icons and menu entries. Software can be installed
and configured with one click of the mouse.
The software keeps track of the applications that are currently on
the system. If newer versions of the installed software are available,
they show up in Click-n-Run. A catalog of available software, both free
and commercial, is available, along with popularity ratings for the
various applications. The package management system aims to make
software installation and upgrades as easy as music downloading.
Lsongs is an integrated audio application. The aim is to improve on the
current state of Linux audio tools, which currently consist of a large
collection of different packages with different user interfaces.
Lsongs integrates a music library, CD ripper, CD burner, audio player,
streaming radios station player, and music store into one application.
Lphoto is an upcoming (still in beta) image system that is the digital
photography equivalent of Lsongs. It is an open-source project.
Lphoto includes a digital camera interface, a photo library, a photo
viewer and editor. Photographs can be output to web pages, email,
Just looking at the software, it is easy to see that Linspire is aiming
to fill the consumer end of the desktop spectrum. The user experience
looks to be pretty polished, if the software works as advertised,
it should be a good Linux entry point for a wide variety of new users.
One demonstration that was quite interesting was Sun's
Project Looking Glass
, an experimental
three dimensional desktop environment.
Objects on the desk can be panned and rotated in three
dimensions and stacked like books on the side of the screen.
Content can be displayed on the front, back, and sides of the desktop
objects. The desktop also features floating 3D icons. This new
technology may be just barely out of the realm of science fiction,
but it looks like something to keep an eye on.
Go back to the 2004 Desktop Linux Summit
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