Time for some serendipity. I sat down with Rurik Bradbury of Unison to talk about its unified messaging solutions for Windows and Linux, and ended up with a strong hint as to how the commercial application space for Linux might get a boost.
First, Unison. It's essentially a very elegant-looking Exchange killer that uses Linux as a server and runs on both Windows and Linux for the client. The client strongly resembles Outlook, so most folks familiar with that program can dive in and get going with little retaining. Aside from e-mail, Unison also does voice calls, instant messaging, calendaring, directory services, and a bunch of other things you used to need separate servers for. All of the protocols used are open standards: LDAP, IMAP, SIP, and so on. The client/server combo is free (as in beer, that is) for up to ten users.
Now comes the interesting part: it's working on a version for Ubuntu which will be distributed -- both the client and the server components -- via Ubuntu's own app repositories. Granted, it's being kept separate from the pure FOSS apps since it's not FOSS itself, but that's precisely what makes this particular item so intriguing. Rurik also hinted that a whole slew of different proprietary apps are to be added to the repositories shortly. He couldn't name names since he's under NDA, but the mere fact that this is happening is an eye-opener.
This to me has been one of the biggest hurdles for Linux: how to deliver commercial-grade software elegantly. Using the software repositories is one of the first things people learn when they sit down with a given distribution. If said commercial apps are segregated into their own non-free repository and delivered with the blessings of the manufacturer, it becomes a snap to get them up and running.
What's not as clear is whether or not this will be a way to deliver for-pay commercial applications as well -- or, rather, whether or not people will avail themselves of a technique like this to do so. This is assuming, of course, that full-blown for-pay applications find traction on Linux desktops, as opposed to FOSS apps with support for sale.
I almost feel bad for talking about this issue at the expense of discussing Unison as a product. Give it a whirl and see what you think. Me, I'm also going to be keeping an ear peeled for future app distribution developments of this variety.