September 07, 2012, 10:39 AM — The much-hyped release of Amazon's new line of (Android-based) Kindle devices could be the model for a new way to market and successfully sell Linux on the desktop.
This thought popped into my head last evening, as I was reviewing the events of the week past and lamenting a bit the fact that I had not given the release of openSUSE 12.2 any attention in this column.
It's not that I don't like openSUSE--on the contrary, I use 12.1 myself and am happily going to update to the new operating system as soon as I have the time. The problem was this: for all of the cool new features in the new release of openSUSE 12.2, I just didn't want to do "hey, here's what's new" article that would be outdated in a week or two whenever another distro was released with all new bells and whistles.
How to get excited about the progress on the desktop? Because it's not just Linux, I don't get terribly thrilled about updates to Windows or OS X, either. What interests me is what people do with technology.
So when I read how home DIYers are using Ardiuno open source hardware components to build homemade radiation sensors, Android devices may be used in micro-satellites, or open source software is being used to survey massive amounts of data faster than ever before, I get pretty excited.
It's not the technology that's the cool part… it's the cool things that people do with the technology.
In yesterday's press event, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said something that actually crystalized the thought for me.
"People don't want gadgets anymore, they want services," Bezos told the audience. Bezos was referring, by the way, to all the other Android-based tablets out on the market that aren't getting a lot of sales traction right now.
This would explain much about the path of Linux: it's widely adopted because people use it as a basis to do really innovative things with it. But the Linux desktop? Not so much. Again, this is not to take away from any of the hard work put in by the desktop developers. If you want a general purpose environment, that's been done by Microsoft and Apple already, and it's already on the computer you bought.
People who switch to desktop Linux either care more about software freedom or have more discriminating criteria on how they want their desktop to work.
If there were a goal or a specific implementation of the Linux desktop, would that generate more interest and adoption? I have a strong feeling it might, but not much evidence, anecdotal or otherwise.
The Chromebook and Chromebox are close to what I am thinking of: Linux-based all-in-one platforms that use the browser to tie into the Internet and Google's cloud-based services. Simple, direct, and specific implementations. Maybe too close to the notion of a general-purpose desktop to take off (or not close enough, since Google's productivity apps are on par with LibreOffice/OpenOffice), but it's definitely close to what I'm envisioning.
I would also be interested in seeing sector-oriented platforms. Why not build a decent laptop tailored just for teachers? Put all the software in they would need, and point them to an app store where they can easily find and install more applications. Or a system for small business owners?
The ultimate flexibility of Linux and the low cost of the software would make such platforms easy to configure and less expensive to sell. Even if the initial devices weren't much cheaper than a Windows alternative, you could still make the case for all that pre-loaded software that would cost a Windows user a lot more to buy and install later.
If users are more interested in the services that a device can perform, than this is an avenue worth exploring for Linux on the desktop.
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