The Linuxsphere is a wild, wonderful and adventurous place. By its nature alone, Linux is often considered a maverick. It’s been my observation that Linux users tend to explore and take more risks when using their computers. For better or worse, it appears that Linux users have been associated with the hacker elite. I’ve even thought of it as being the wild west of tech. I’ve referred to using Linux as computing without a safety net.
There were days past when I let my idealism and fervor dictate my thoughts and actions. I saw magnificent potential in Linux as a desktop operating system. With all my heart and soul, I evangelized for a competitive presence of Linux on the desktop. Like many idealists, I ignored the facts and barreled ahead as if by sheer will I could blow obstacles to dust that would dissipate in my wake.
That didn’t happen. Pure intentions or not.
You and I have talked about Linux in the marketplace a good deal over the years. We’ve examined why it can’t be profitably marketed and we’ve discussed how that lack of everyday exposure to the everyday computer user has kept Linux on the desktop from succeeding. To be honest , back when Microsoft was twisting arms and making deals with the OEMs at large, Linux wasn’t ready for the desktop.
I’ve spent a good share of my time asking myself what would have to change in order to make Linux on the desktop a viable choice for the mainstream user. I became curious enough to ask you a question: if you could wave your magic wand and change only one thing about Linux or even the Linuxsphere in general, what would it be? Let’s take a look at what some of you had to say.
Thomas King, server meister extraordinaire gave some serious thought before answering:
“My opinion is definitely going to be a bit unpopular: the linuxsphere needs depth in many different areas. Stop reinventing the same applications (I read a couple weeks ago of a brand new file system manager. Seriously, stop it!). Improve what we have and find ways to stretch their features and integrate into other parts of the os without creating dependencies or regressions.
“Demand more out of your desktop than pretty themes, a package manager, a browser, and a working wireless.
“Linux is pretty rock solid (i.e. years of uptime). Its services are solid as well. Now make the services work smartly with each other but not dependent on each other. Whether that means services become more aware of each other and can automatically work with each other if allowed, that’s up to other visionaries. Increase the depth not the width, and definitely don’t create more silos.
“We need more moments of ‘Now why didn’t I think of that’ in Linux.”
My buddy Tom touches upon something that has been true ever since Linux became functional. A unified package/software management situation would at least diminish one of the barriers to new users. When the new user decides to try another distro, he’s often faced with a different way to handle packages than he’s used to, be that .rpm, .deb, YaST, Portage or Synaptic. To the new user, this is chaos and it’s not difficult to see how this thing in particular can scare a new user off.
Spencer Hunley brings up a topic that falls into my field of vision, so to speak. I am dealing more and more with older folks. Some of them have physical conditions that make it hard to use a computer the way you and I do.
I can relate personally and here’s why; chemo and radiation treatments left me with some challenges in sight and focus. I can’t look at a monitor with a backlight for more than five minutes without becoming horribly ill. Someone in the Linux community stepped up and altered a 32 inch Samsung monitor so that it uses side lighting instead of the normal backlight. That’s the only way I am able to sit in front of my monitor and share this with you now.
Spencer voices his concern here:
“We need more accessibility and assistive technology software to include and incorporate people with disabilities into Linux. While there are fantastic examples available today (orca, etc.), we need to keep improving and offer an alternative for those who may not be able to afford and/or want to avoid being locked-in to certain devices and companies. That, and as +Paul Bucalo stated, possibly more marketing.”
Let me add that text to speech is being improved by great leaps in the Android development world. Spencer noted Orca, a GNOME screen reader. I appreciate the work and I kneel before the absolute genius of Mark Mulcahy, the original programmer for Orca. Sun Microsoystems took the project over when he left, but then Oracle found it in their laps. I wouldn’t count on Oracle to do anything to improve Linux-at-large. I simply hope that this work can get done without the corporation hindering the development of great tools like this.
I’m not the only one that thinks the corporate world can do more harm than good. Fellow Google Plus guy Alessandro Ebersol feels that corporate control can be a bad thing for the Linuxsphere:
“I would love that corporate influence be kept off GNU/Linux, since their influence is never good for the communities, but for themselves (the corporations)”
I’m not saying that all corporate influence is bad, but with more and more businesses entering the realm of free and open source software, abuse of open source code is bound to occur. Overt actions such as removing open source code or using code outside of its license isn’t rare in our realm.
Something I’ve really never thought of was also mentioned when I asked your opinion on the one thing that could change the status of Linux on the desktop. Ryan Gallagher put it this way:
“Leadership. The kind that inspires loyalty and unites people in pursuit of a cause. I’m not thinking exclusively in terms of an individual human either. Google has (arguably) made Linux the most widely used consumer mobile OS. They’ve done such a good job of streamlining the user experience; most people don’t know they’re running Linux. But implicit in the responses above, people would like to see desktop Linux enjoy the same successes as Android. Setting aside the argument that the desktop is dead, the only way the PC market will be won is if the battle is led with the same focus, vision, drive and cold hard cash as the phone wars.”
Others offered their short but accurate suggestions.
“WAY more Microsoft Windows compatibility” — Ben Vrooman
“I would love to have a good, competitive video-editor. There simply is none in GNU/Linux.” — Axel D.
“Less dependence on CLI tools for software management.” — Bojan Landekić
“Proprietary graphics drivers need to be improved. In addition, +NVIDIA need to stop holding back features in Linux just because the same feature doesn’t work in Windows.” — Claire Farron
And these three guys are men after my own heart…
“I would go back in time to the days when IBM had Linux commercials and steadily build from there. It was a sad day when they stopped promoting Linux and just started marketing their services. They might have given Microsoft some competition over the years.” — Bob Pianka
“I think the best thing that could happen to Linux is early adoption of the ideas behind open source and lowering the barriers that seem to exist in tech. Get the kids involved, make them aware of what the challanges are and see if they are willing (with guidance) to meet them head on. I think we’d be surprised at the outcome.” — Chuck Green
“My personal preference is to have Linux install apps as a self-contained unit in its own directory. Also, I’d like to see apps be able to be installed in a user’s home directory if it’s for their own personal use. That way there isn’t a need to have root access to run certain programs.” — Chuck Cave
So yeah, if wishes would be fishes…
Still, the things talked about or offered here are not without value. If I wanted to brag, I could point out a couple of changes that took place after we talked about it here, but I won’t. This isn’t about any particular writer or website. This is about affecting change for the better.
Affecting change for those kids coming up behind us. They’ll be here before we know it.
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue