The other day I read a commentary from Linus Torvalds boldly claiming that Linux was the do-it-all desktop OS everyone is dreaming of. It went something like this:
Nope, I don’t use either [Windows or Mac OS X]. OS X is kind of pointless (pretty much anything it has, Linux can do better) and Windows offers stuff that I don’t much care about (mainly games — and I’ve got games machines for those).
This is false for many reasons, not the least of which is the sheer lack of high-quality desktop software for Linux, and its stumbling inability to play nicely with consumer electronics and peripheral devices (you still can’t go to Staples and buy a random printer or webcam, plug it in and print. And I don’t want to hear your success stories about it either. :P).
There are many reasons for this, the most important of which is the fact that there are no stable development platforms on which to create and ship commercial applications and drivers that will run on every Linux install. In a previous post Slam-dunk for Linux – a review of Fedora Core 6, I mentioned:
For the software industry at large to adopt a new platform, it must be shown to be mature and capable of supporting the design and release of commercial applications. It also has to demonstrate that it can be comfortably used by average people, and computer manufacturers have to be confident in this to the extent that they’ll market their computers with it. It has to be compatible with competitive products, allowing users to share files and other information with users of Apple and Microsoft systems. Most importantly, the platform must prove itself to be stable and reliable over the long-haul.
The last sentence is most relevant here; this is in reference to Red Hat’s (in this example) adherence to standardization, something Linux zealots have attempted to discredit it for. They ship a product and provide only security updates, meaning both drivers and applications designed for a Red Hat based distribution will run without library linking errors or kernel API/ABI mismatches for years to come. This really is what Linux needs to move forward. However, even though Red Hat is pulling its weight in the Linux world on the standardization and stable API front, deal-breakers like Ubuntu flourish and are promoted by unwitting backers who have no concept of the damage they’re doing.
This is only the technical side of things, the side I’d have expected Mr. Torvalds to be most painfully aware of. On the end-user side of things, Jeremy Jones has an excellent opinion piece on Oreillynet which I encourage you to read here.
But the spirit of what he’s saying seems just dead wrong.
Truth 1: Anything that Windows and Mac can do, Linux could do.
But the sad story is that Linux is not currently doing a lot of what Mac and Windows is doing.