The closing down of Google's Picasa for Linux application not only ends the six-year existence of the image organizer on Linux, but it may highlight Google's flagging commitment to the desktop version of the operating system.
Picasa for Linux, which was launched just under six years ago in the spring of 2006, was unique for a Linux application at the time because it required WINE, the once-popular emulator that enables Windows applications to run on Linux. WINE functionality was built in as a wrapper for the Picasa binary, so no separate WINE installation was ever required.
At the time it was released, Google's Picasa team also contributed a lot of code back to the WINE Project--225 patches for WINE were immediately available from the WINE page at the code.google.com site.
Google Open Source Manager Chris DiBona explained at the 2006 Picasa for Linux launch that Google was able to work extensively with CodeWeavers to implement the Picasa port with WINE. With these additions to the WINE code, DiBona said, "it should make it a lot easier for other projects to get their applications ported to Linux."
But looking at that page now, it is apparent that much of Google's work on WINE seems to have faded in the fall of 2008. (The WINE Project is today hosted on GitHub, and from all appearances remains pretty active.)
It is an interesting that 2008 is the same year that Ian Hickson posted the first draft of the HTML5 specification. Coincidence? Hardly. HTML5 had the potential to be a whole new framework for web-based applications, and it is no surprise that Google would shift away from a WINE-oriented solution for its soon-to-be-born ChromeOS platform.
In that context, it's pretty clear that Picasa for Linux didn't stand much of a chance to survive. The Linux version was never really on par with the Windows and OS X versions, usually Linux desktop users were encouraged to install the Windows version (with a separate instance of WINE) or just use something else, like GIMP, Shotwell, or F-Spot, depending on their needs.
Today's news that Google would be sweeping away Picasa for Linux (along with several other projects on other platforms) is really no surprise, other than what took them so long to kill it off in the first place. It seems apparent that after 2008, Google was no longer interested in pushing a lot of effort into WINE, let alone the Picasa for Linux version that depended on it.
If anything, this just demonstrates, once again, how low a priority even open source supporters will put on Linux for the desktop. While Google will never reveal just exactly how many desktop machines running Linux they see on a daily basis, you can be sure that they have a darn good idea of what the actual numbers are.
I know that Picasa was just one app, but based on Google's overall weak commitment to native Linux services, desktop Linux vendors and advocates may have to face an unpleasant truth: the Linux on the desktop install base may still have a long way to go before it becomes worth the time and effort of software vendors and developers to build those much-needed apps for Linux.
Thanks to web-based apps, desktop Linux may eventually enjoy a huge rate of adoption success. But native-based Linux apps seem to be at best stagnant or worse, declining.
It's a reality we should all be ready to face: not the end, but a big change nonetheless.
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