After reading colleague Alexander Wolfe's piece about a Linux distro called "Vixta" that apes the look and feel of Windows Vista, I confess to having mixed feelings about the whole thing. Mostly negative ones.
Here's the big reason I feel as uneasy as I do: it's tantamount to an admission of defeat. The only way Linux can "succeed" is if it looks like Windows. And frankly, isn't there something hypocritical about railing against Microsoft for not innovating and then turning around and mimicking them, right down to the chrome on the user interface?
This comes back to a question many people have asked before. Does Linux have to look like Windows to work? Not "beat Windows at its own game", which if you ask me is a red herring, but work. Granted, the Windows UI is familiar territory for most people with at least some degree of computer use, but that doesn't mean it has to be the be-all and end-all of UI design.
I think part of the problem is that starting from absolute scratch with a UI is a terribly daunting project -- why reinvent the wheel when there's plenty of them already around? -- and I can see why that would cause someone to simply reach for what's handy and available instead of trying to break the mold.
It's a temptation that needs to be fought. Even if it's just incrementally and over time, Linux needs to step completely away from Windows as a paradigm for success and see what it can accomplish on its own.
My feeling is that if Linux users create something that is useful and attractive on its own merits -- and that doesn't slavishly owe Microsoft a debt -- it will succeed. I'd rather see more time and effort invested in making Linux the best thing it can possibly be on its own terms, not something that feels obliged to play catch-up at every turn. I want to see more diversity between OSes, not less.