Apps, Not OS Itself, Key to Desktop Linux Uptake


ZDNet's Dana Blankenhorn has an interesting post suggesting that uniformity in the Linux desktop market -- i.e., fewer distributions -- may be the key to finally seizing marketshare from Windows.


Blankenhorn suggests that perhaps Ubuntu, with re-selling endorsements from Dell and Acer, may be taking the lead as THE Linux desktop distro, but ends with an open-ended lament that desktop Linux still seems fragmented, with Red Hat having no serious skin in the game.


I'd suggest that the real tipping point for desktop Linux will come when the applications that users are accustomed to are available for desktop Linux. This is true for most consumer tech users; it's 10 times more sure in the business world, where any change -- no matter how rudimentary -- means expense.


I've spent the last few weeks playing around with Ubuntu, and found it to be pretty useful and friendly. I'm no support tech, so I can't speak to the learning curve for support staff in dealing with Linux desktops, particularly in a heterogeneous environment, where the first wave of Linux client adoption will need to gain a beachhead -- businesses simply aren't going to pitch Windows unilaterally. But I can say that most users should be able to come to terms with the trashcan being anchored in what Windows users would call the task bar.


However, a more daunting curve exists for desktop applications, which are far more complicated than the OS GUI, at least from a business user's point of view. However intuitive I might find Ubuntu's interface, there is no way I'm going to undertake getting a handle on the GIMP image editor -- it took me long enough to figure out my low-end Photoshop drills, thanks.


I have, however, written a handful of posts in WordPress on our Ubuntu test system. Obviously, as a Web-based application, every WordPress session runs identically regardless of what OS a host system happens to be running. I have nothing new to learn.


So, my guess is that desktop Linux will begin to gain traction when all applications are forced to run in a browser or, more likely, in OS-independent runtimes that support local data access and offline functionality. Adobe's Apollo quickly fell out of the headlines, but I still think it's the sign of things to come.


Within the next decade or so, businesses will expect to license software through the SaaS model, and as Linux and Mac nibble at the Microsoft OS stranglehold (and nibbling is all you should expect, at least in the U.S.), there will be no financial incentive for companies to tie their software to a given OS's code base. When line-of-business managers no longer sense a cost with a move to desktop Linux, IT will be at liberty to calculate its own ROI on maintaining client machines.


In other words, desktop Linux will begin to take marketshare from Microsoft when the desktop OS becomes an absolute commodity, like Web browsers are now.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 6, 2007 12:32 PM John Dowdell John Dowdell  says:
"Adobe Apollo" did fall out of the headlines, once the early codename gave way to the legal name "Adobe Integrated Runtime".(AIR 1.0 focuses on Mac & Win, to make sure the principles are correct, and post-1.0 it's Win, Mac, and popular Linux.)jd/adobe Reply
Aug 13, 2007 2:07 PM David Legg David Legg  says:
I think that having Linux pre-installed on PCs will be more significant than application availability. Indeed the convenience of preinstallation should drive demand for new apps. But there are many already available, and new ones appearing all the time.Why don't you try kubuntu, then you'll get a KDE desktop?It is nicer for ex-Windows users, and nicer in general than the gnome desktop. Reply
Aug 15, 2007 4:50 PM The Management Consultant The Management Consultant  says:
Two issues come to mind. The first, what is industry standard compatibility on their desktop? The answer at the moment for the OS market is MS.This has come about over time by acceptance of all stakeholder groups. The ISV community see their investments in MS standard products as the mainstay for their development plans, as this is the most likely source of revenue in the current product cycle. They will continue with this strategy until alternative-compelling revenue streams surface. Will industry standard change in the near future say from MS to Linux or Unix? Time will tell if customers see a compelling value proposition in Linux or Unix and start adoption behaviour in a big way. The relationship between ISV investment, revenue, and OS acceptance strategy has been the mainstay of MS strategy in the recent past. The question for MS and other players, which events will trigger the ISV community sufficiently to influence investment in new product technology? Will this process happen fast or slowly? Will the Server and home desktop markets develop at different rates or directions? Reply

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