Meanwhile, even common streaming technologies such as Flash--which Whatcott helped bring to Linux in his previous role as a Macromedia (and later Adobe) product manager--deliver poor results on Linux.
"It wasn't for lack of trying," Whatcott says. "At the time, Macromedia put extensive resources into figuring that out." But despite the hard work of a team of engineers "that loved Linux," the fragmentation of the Linux platform and the hurdles presented by what Whatcott describes as "alpha-quality" drivers for audio and video hardware made success elusive for the Flash development team.
The Desktop Itself May Be Irrelevant
We shouldn't be too hard on Linux, though. After all, there are stark signs that the desktop itself is becoming irrelevant.
"The war between cloud and native apps has already been won on the desktop," says Guy Ben-Artzi, CEO of Particle Code, which makes cross-platform tools for mobile-app developers. "When it comes to desktop development, everything is moving to Web technology. If I was really pushing for Linux right now, I would not be focusing on desktop applications." Instead, says Ben-Artzi, Linux proponents should push aggressively for open Web platforms.
Kevin Mahaffey, CTO of mobile security company Lookout, agrees. "Linux can be successful on the desktop if it has a great Web experience," says Mahaffey. "The growth of things like HTML5 will help to give Linux a user experience that's on par with other platforms."
According to all of my sources, if there's any last hope for Linux on the desktop, it's HTML5. As the next-generation Web standard establishes a common set of open media-streaming technologies, it will offer a glimmer of hope to those who want to maintain Linux as their desktop OS, increasing the odds that whatever content or services they want to use will work on their open-source PC. Of course, that's assuming the DRM problems magically disappear.
"In a strange way," says Brightcove's Jeff Whatcott, "iOS may save the Linux desktop indirectly." Brightcove has thrown its resources into developing HTML5 streaming tools, and according to Whatcott, "what's driving that is iOS."
But if Linux ever manages to win equal footing with Windows or Mac OS X in a cloud-centric world, it will likely be a hollow victory, made possible only through the sheer irrelevance of the operating system itself.
Our Mobile Future
"Forget about the desktop," Phil Robb, director of HP's Open Source Programs Office, tells Linux developers. "I think that's not where the effort should be put."