The end of the Linux desktop wars

The desktop wars may be finally ending, but not quite as expected.

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The desktop wars may be finally ending, but not quite the way we may have expected.

Take the GNOME Shell interface, which reviewers admire for its general direction but have some issues with the actual execution within GNOME 3.

Meanwhile, Ubuntu's Unity continues to be a strong influencer in the interface arena, seeking that mobile device sweet spot.

Over on the KDE side of the house, the interface is doing just fine, but everyone is wondering what the fate of the Qt libraries will be given Nokia's ever-growing commitment to Microsoft Windows Phone 7. This guy thinks that with the phasing out of Symbian, Qt is doomed to fail.

I am holding out more cautious optimism, mostly because the Qt community has always been more than just Nokia (and yes, Aaron Seigo may have had to beat me over the head with that fact a few times), but also because of the work being done to port Qt functionality over to Android, as one example.

Still, I have to wonder about the timing of it all. As HTML5 continues its inexorable march towards standard-hood, it seems to me that all of this ruckus about making a better interface together for any platform (PC, mobile, web, what have you) is about to be seriously blown out of the water.

That means "disrupted" for all you market-speak folks out there.

As loathe as I am to use the term, disrupted may well be the best descriptor for what HTML5 may mean to GNOME, KDE, as well as proprietary interfaces in the market today. There's nothing quantifiable about this, mind you; just a lot of anecdotal evidence that seems to point to a small but growing movement to use HTML5 as an application development platform instead of native apps. For instance, this developer has a project going to implement Gtk3 interface tools within HTML5.

The big draw for HTML5, of course, is that it lets app developers build one app for multiple platforms. Developers can put them together and deploy them how they wish--they don't have to use an app store if they don't want to. And HTML5 apps can be licensed anyway the developer wants. Native apps have their own advantages, too, like better hardware access and faster speeds. HTML5 is behind enough in these areas that it can make a dent in plans to deploy in the web-based platform, particularly if the app in question is graphic-intense or needs to render data quickly.

As HTML5 keeps advancing, the performance gap between native and web should close. If that kind of closure happens, then it becomes a wide open field as far as interfaces go. Native apps will still have their place, but how much developer effort will be needed in KDE or GNOME if HTML5 apps do take off?

The irony of this is that Linux, with its more stable and secure properties, offers users and OEMs a much better platform to use and sell, respectively. It is well-suited for netbooks and PC-based platforms, and its Android cousin has shown it has what it takes to kick butt and take names in mobile space. Because of Linux' proven capabilities, HTML5 apps would do very well on Linux-based devices... and potentially minimize the importance of Gtk- and Qt-built native apps and the environments on which they run.

If interfaces do become little more than glorified web browsers, we may all look back at the GNOME vs. KDE arguments and wonder what it was all really about.

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