Advocacy gone wrong

I read an article yesterday advocating desktop Linux, and immediately had issues with the credibility of it.

The fact that it bears the word ‘pwns’ in its title is the first sign of trouble, but I decided I’d try and see if the author had valid points to make. A few problems.

The article begins with the usual fact that Linux is more secure and less vulnerable to attack than Windows, as proven by several studies and contests. I won’t argue this as it’s clearly true. Where the author almost immediately goes wrong though is making the complaint that to bring a Windows system to a secure state requires “six extra hours to tweak every registry setting, install antivirus, spyware/adware software, set up email scanning, and all that,” in his words.

I must ask the question, how long does it take to configure a Linux system to even function as a desktop operating system? The author partially answers the question himself in the next point. “With Linux, you may have to actually invest some time up front to get stuff to play nicely,” he relates.

This is just the start of a directionless rant on how great Linux is and how much Windows sucks. I couldn’t determine who the target audience was supposed to be, or for what main purpose the author was advocating the use of Linux (although one assumes it’s for use as a desktop operating system, as per the name of the website).

I gave this some thought after having read the article and came to a couple of interesting conclusions.

First, the article shows a lack of understanding of the issues surrounding the design of a desktop OS. The operating system has to be designed for use by its intended audience, you can’t expect the audience to break out a UNIX manual to figure out how to turn up the sound volume or install a webcam driver (and no, you can’t make the excuse that it would be pre-configured by a technician. What if Jimmy or Sally bought a webcam or a printer on their own?).

Second, it’s this lack of understanding of the requirements of a desktop OS that permeate the open source community and currently prevent it from achieving success on the desktop. But this isn’t just a point I came up with on my own, it’s a well-known issue. The Linux world needs one desktop environment, one development environment, and one way of doing everything. It needs to get past the idea that every developer has the right to go his own way and play in the same sandbox as everyone else. The community only hurts itself.

An article in the Economist, referenced by slashdot points this out. Only those open source projects with a sense of direction ever produce anything worthwhile. People who work as a team and have common goals, and who are more interested in realising an end result than having their own personal preferences satisfied.

Corporate involvement with the Linux desktop (Novell, RedHat, IBM) are beginning to fix these problems, and that’s a good sign. Hopefully the rest of the open source community (and people like the author of the “pwns” article) see the light and help out instead of continuing to hurt their own cause.