200X: Year Of The Linux Argument - InformationWeek

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12/19/2008
10:33 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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200X: Year Of The Linux Argument

In no less than two days I've read a flurry of articles pooh-poohing the Linux desktop as a veritable delusion and a fairy story -- something to tell young GTK+ coders before you tuck them in at night. It isn't the year of the Linux desktop; it's the year of the Linux catfight.

In no less than two days I've read a flurry of articles pooh-poohing the Linux desktop as a veritable delusion and a fairy story -- something to tell young GTK+ coders before you tuck them in at night. It isn't the year of the Linux desktop; it's the year of the Linux catfight.

One such declaration comes courtesy of, oddly enough, Matt Asay -- open source blogger for CNET. In "Yet again, desktop Linux won't claim a year", he insists that it's the cloud, the Big PC In The Net, that will be our next "desktop":

... we already have the Linux desktop: it runs in the cloud and is called Facebook, Google, etc. There is little need to have Linux running on my local laptop when the real game is in the cloud now.

It's time to move on. Next year won't be the year of the Linux desktop anymore than 2010 will be. Why? Because we don't need a Linux desktop. We need to accelerate efforts toward the cloud, which is open source's game to lose.

All of this is true, but only up to a point. The cloud -- or Cloud, I guess we should call it -- is only of importance to people who need such a thing, and at the moment they need it. I'm not particularly interested in a cloud when I'm trying to work in a six-layer image in Photoshop; I want a good, responsive GUI and a logically-designed workflow. I am interested in the cloud the minute I publish my finished work to Flickr, though. Both experiences demand radically different kinds of engineering, and if Linux can give me good experiences in both camps, bully for Linux.

Alex Zaharov-Reutt's article "2009: Year of the Linux Delusion" for iTWire is even more venomous. The title alone tells it, but he goes on to slam the whole concept of Linux-powered netbooks as productivity devices:

... when you want to get some real work done, you'll certainly be turning to a real desktop, notebook, or netbook, not one of these "web" devices with little processing power that relies on a non-flaky Internet connection.

He leaves it to us to define what "real work" is (as opposed to, what, all that "fake" work going around?). From what I've seen, there's more than enough "real work" that can be accomplished through one's e-mail clients or word processors, two applications that don't exactly require devastating amounts of CPU or graphics power to be usable.

Each of these two arguments seems to only encompass half the issue. There is as much a need for a robust local desktop as there is a slimmed-down, nothing-extra desktop, as there is for a desktop-in-the-cloud. I have found myself using any one of these things, or some combination of them, at any given time. To assume that any one of these will rise to the top and lord it over the rest is myopia.

I don't believe for a second that Microsoft or Windows will go completely off the map, whether due to their own incompetence or because of open source making something as good or better for less. I do believe that Windows will no longer be the de facto choice, that having competition from everything from Linux to the Mac to the Cloud will be and is exactly the kick in the rump it needs. And vice versa, too -- that future editions of Windows ought to have the same effect on those concerned with desktop experiences.

Here's another way to put it: 2009 will be the year of choice on the desktop. Better?


Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/syegulalp

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