Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Desktop Linux

The normally excellent The Register website has posted an ill-judged report from LinuxWorld by Ashlee Vance which begins "The Linux desktop reminds us of a dog humping a table leg. It's both fun and disturbing to watch, but ultimately there's very little payoff from the exercise." Whose we? It is obvious from the article that Vance has never actually run Linux on a desktop. The Register would have been better off sending someone who knew what they were talking about, rather than someone reliant on second hand opinions and their own prejudices.

It's a shame because there is a debate to be had about "Desktop Linux" - or rather, Linux on the Personal Computer, as Linux itself comes with multiple "desktops."

Vance writes that Linux "suffers from limited driver, multimedia and power management support." That is simply untrue. In this blog, I've documented my experience in installing Linux on Dell's very latest laptop hardware. Yes, I have had to wait for drivers to get my DVD and sound working, but it only took six weeks for Linux to catch up. With hardware manufactures focused on the 90% of the PC market that is Windows, Linux driver support is remarkably good. Vance goes on "The Linux community ... may well make something Windows comparable by 2020" - which is breathtakingly ignorant.

So what is the "payoff"? The issue I've been trying to resolve for myself is what is Linux on the desktop for? For example, is it aiming to be a replacement for Windows? If it is, which Windows? Windows at home? Windows in business? Or both? However, I think I've been asking the wrong question. Linux is Linux. What Linux is for is to "manage the hardware and software resources of a computer." What people then do with Linux is an entirely separate question. Of course, the people at Redhat and Novell want us to run Linux on our business desktops: they want to sell us support stuff. What we have to ask is, is that a practical propostion: can Linux be a business friendly desktop?

The do question is important. Not least because the open nature of Linux means that you can do more with Linux than you can do with Windows. If that's something you want to do...

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