Linux Desktop Strategy

Wise words from “cantsin” over at the excellent LWN weekly news site. (No, that’s not really tautologous. Read their FAQ.)

IMHO a working Linux desktop strategy for mainstream users needs to refocus from OS installations on existing PC hardware to a platform strategy similar to the Apple Macintosh: computers with 100% Linux-supported components (without the need of proprietary drivers or third-party patches), a pre-installed, simple to use, plug-and-play, 100% free distribution (Ubuntu IMHO), built as boxes that also look differently from an ordinary PC, with a Penguin logo where a Mac would have an Apple logo.

Could Linux on the desktop be pushed forward by a funky and unusual case design? If some company were to come up with one, and sell it only to companies preloading Linux, so you had “Linux machines” available from a number of different vendors but with identifiable common physical features…

7 thoughts on “Linux Desktop Strategy

  1. I have thought for a while that Linux was good enough to do something like what apple has done with Mac OS X.

    If a company sold a total solution, based on linux, I think they could make a nice profit and a great machine for the end user.

  2. Indeed, very insightful.

    Challenges based on my experiences recently of setting up Ubuntu for a friend:
    – Media support – South African online media shops only supporting Windows Media formats. Hopefully with the Real deal this issue will go away in the next 6 months.
    – Websites set up for IE only with ActiveX etc – again a problem of mentality that will hopefully be addressed, but South Africa lags here

    I think a real opportunity is open source software-as-a-service. Its nice having Google offer a calendar service – it would be even nicer if such a calendar service was built on open source software and allowed you to migrate your data around from server to server or even your own machine. Supporting apps like this could be a key advantage over prioprietary operating systems.

  3. Challenges based on my experiences recently of setting up Ubuntu for a friend:

    – Websites set up for IE only with ActiveX etc

    There are still IE only sites? Because I haven’t seen one in years.

  4. > There are still IE only sites? Because I haven’t seen one in years.

    Almost as bad, there are sites that insist on only supporting the hyperspecific OS/browser/version combinations they have extensively tested. The Department of Education in the US was, last I checked, still in this wretched category. (They don’t entirely refuse to let you into the site, but if you go into certain areas they display a big scary long error message listing supported combinations and such, with only a little tiny “continue anyway” link at the bottom that most users miss.) It takes them so long to certify a particular combination, that if you’ve updated your browser with so much as a security update in the last couple of years, you’re unsupported.

    However, such sites are rare and tend not to be very popular, and I don’t see them as a major obstacle to OS adoption.

    No, the larger obstacle is the OEM issue. There are _small_ OEMs that ship alternative OSes pre-installed, but they’re little-known outside the OSS community they cater to. There are big OEMs that are willing to ship an alternative OS pre-installed on certain models only and only if you specifically go out of your way request it, but they don’t market it, so basically they’re catering mostly to people who would otherwise probably install their own. There’s the higher-end Unix workstation market (of which Sun is perhaps the least expensive), and along those lines there’s also server space, but normal users aren’t in that market and would balk at the prices. In terms of OEMs in the consumer-oriented price range who ship something other than Windows by default on most or all desktop models (to say nothing of laptops), Apple is the largest game in town by a pretty wide margin. Most end users would rather buy a new computer (or go without for a few months until they can afford one) than re-install Windows, much less install anything less familiar in its place, so this is a real blocker for a lot of people.

    In order for it to be a real success, I do think the vendor would have to do a certain amount of customization to the distro, at least in terms of default configuration. Bare minimum, they’d want to self-brand a few things (default wallpaper, browser start page, and so forth), and probably they’d want to do rather more in terms of configuring the launchers and menus and so forth for certifiable end users — even the really desktop-oriented distros tend to focus on power users to a significant extent, and any large OEM would need to be a bit stricter about how much knowledge the default settings can assume.

    Still, I do certainly think it’s feasible, with the right approach and adequate investment in getting it right.

    Rather than Mac-like translucent plastic cases, though, I would think you’d want to let Apple own that space and go for a different look. I’m thinking perhaps anodized brushed aluminum cases. Shoot for a classy, upscale image, decking out the advertisements with expensive imported furnitures, art prints that look like they belong in a museaum, wine tastings, and so forth. This implies that the mouse and keyboard have to be similarly classy, match the case, and probably be wireless, but if you’re doing any significant bulk that would add only perhaps fifty bucks to the unit cost, well worth it for the image.

    Configure xscreensaver by default to only use the more visually impressive hacks, get the things on store shelves, run the right commercials on television, and they’ll sell at $150/unit higher than a comparable Windows box.

  5. The problem with the “smart brushed aluminium” idea is that one of the advantages of Linux is reduced monetary cost. If you try and get people to all ship and expensive case, they throw that away.