Linux

Canonical showing Linux is a leader in innovation

Inspired by Canonical's Parallax, Jack Wallen takes on those that say Linux doesn't innovate. Here are some examples he uses to make his argument.

For those of you who deny that any Linux distribution innovates, I give you Parallax. Parallax is an interface, written for the Ubuntu environment, that allows the operating system to be aware of its physical context. That is, where the user is in relation to cameras. For example: The user is watching a video and the user moves farther away from the screen. When the system picks this up (via cameras) the image on the screen then pans out.

These ideas are far from being put into any sense of practicality. In fact, these are, at the moment, ideas. But they are ideas that are being mocked up (check out this video demonstrating what Parallax can do), in alpha stage, or about to be released.

Why I bring this up is simply this: I hear, from many people (readers, Twitter followers, etc.) that Linux developers do not innovate. The justification for such claims are just as insane:

  • "They are so far behind the hardware curve, how can they innovate!"
  • "Linux doesn't have enough market share to warrant innovation."
  • "Linux doesn't have the developers sharp enough (or paid enough) to innovate."
In fact, this particular blog entry sums up the entire thought process behind those who think they "get it". That particular user actually had the AUDACITY to claim it would only be a matter of time before Linux ripped off Windows' Power Shell. Ummm...do I really even need to comment on that ignorant mistake?

I've heard them all. But the truth is, Linux does innovate. What is happening at Canonical is only a tiny fraction of the innovations that have taken flight from the Linux community. Let's take a look at two desktops that have seen serious innovation over the last couple of years. Both KDE and GNOME are, quite easily, re-defining the desktop. They aren't borrowing or stealing other ideas; they are creating new ways to interact with the desktop.

KDE 4.5 Desktop Activities is an astounding way to organize your desktop into multi-dimensional workspace. GNOME 3 plans on bringing to the Linux user a complete desktop reboot. If you haven't tried GNOME 3 (aka GNOME Shell) you should - it's where the desktop is heading. It may not be the definitive version of the next evolution of the desktop, but it is the first major step in that evolutionary ladder.

And you can not even consider Linux desktop innovation without adding Compiz into the mix. If you think Microsoft is the leading innovator on the desktop, you only need look at compositing to find out the truth. Compositing didn't show up in Microsoft Windows until Vista which was released in 2007. Beryl (The compositing window manager that led to Compiz) was released in 2006. When Vista was released the compositing it offered came in the form of translucency, shadowing, and minor 3D effects. Compiz, on the other hand, took compositing to much greater heights...far exceeding what the compositing of Vista (and eventually 7) could do.

But I would argue that open source, in and of itself, is an innovation. The very nature of open source development leads to nothing but innovation. Open source says to the world, "Take my code and create something new and wonderful with it." Open source leads to innovation by allowing anyone access to the code of a piece of software. Of course many would argue that a "fork" of a product is not innovation. The very history of Compiz is a perfect example of that (it's also rather confusing).

  • Beryl was a fork of Compiz
  • Beryl and Compiz came together to form Compiz-Fusion
  • Two forks of Compiz were created (Compiz++ and NOMAD). Compiz++ ported Compiz from C to C++ and NOMAD focused on remote desktop control.
  • Both forks joined Compiz-Fusion and together the whole was renamed Compiz.
  • The innovations from Beryl, Compiz++, and NOMAD were all integrated into Compiz.
None of the above could have been possible had Beryl or Compiz not been open source. Oh sure there could have been some purchasing of intellectual property or even the purchasing of a company. But a forking and re-merging such as you see above, would have been a tactical nightmare. And without the above scenario, we wouldn't have Compiz as we know (and love) it today. Over the years I have seen so much innovation come out of the Linux development community while at the same time I have seen that same community NOT get the credit they deserve. To those naysayers that deny innovation comes from the Linux community I say, "Use it or follow it and you will see just how much innovation comes out of the minds of open source developers."

I used Canonical in the title of this blog entry not only because Parallax was the inspiration, but because Canonical has been a serious innovator to the whole of Linux by pushing harder than any other company to make Linux a household name on the desktop. And if Canonical continues innovating like it has been, it will succeed at that task and Linux will be a household name.

To all of the Linux and open source developers out there I say, "Bravo" to the innovations you have brought to the computing world. Keep up the hard work...some day the world will stop doubting and recognize those contributions.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

23 comments
bsauer
bsauer

Again, a Linux Devotee that is trying so hard to get non-beleivers to finally take a look at Linux. Innovation on any computer system is still and always will be constrained by the hardware that it is running on. You can only do so much with existing hardware technology. The innovation starts with the hardware manufacturers making new features and functions available. Then the software gurus can work their magic. The Kernel of any operating system exposes these new features and functions. So technically the hardware is more responsible than anything for allowoing innovation to take place.

kpthottam
kpthottam

while the late 90s to mid 2000s saw consolidation of the desktop OS , we are now in a period when de-consolidation is taking place. Yesterday reviewing the web traffic to the primary web site of the government , I noticed a definite trend away from windows and away from the desktop. Without a doubt Mac OS is making in-roads and I see linux next thing after Mac.

ted
ted

Remember Linux is a kernel. The true innovation is what many of the application developers are doing. These should not necessarily attributed to Linux.

Jaqui
Jaqui

for open source innovation: Mozilla's tabbed browsing, since 1998 [ finally led to Microsoft making IE 7 have tabbed browsing. ] Google Chrome browser, that led to Microsoft trying to duplicate it in I.E. 8 The ODF [ Open Document Format ] that led Microsoft to create and ignore the OXML office file format in competition. Open Office itself has pushed MS to make dramatic changes to Microsoft Office to try to keep it ahead of the OOo user base. [ and the "ribbon" backfired, fueling the loss of MS office users instead of bringing them back ] Open Source has been the leader in innovation since at least the mid 1990's and the PROPRIETARY software houses have been playing catch up with open source since 1998.

Kent Lion
Kent Lion

Too bad the problem has nothing to do with innovation. Compositing is eyewash. Microsoft doesn't innovate, they change for the sake of change, to force their customers to "upgrade". They don't make the best product, they just have no competetition. As long as Linux continues to try to compete with Microsoft by providing more eyewash instead of rock solid performance, security and simplicity, they're not offering anything better. Why should anyone switch? After a recent TR article on how great Fedora had become, I installed it. By default, it set me up as a server, and it took a while to figure out why I couldn't access files and printers shared on my Windows Network (at least Ubuntu set that up correctly the first time). The average user would have been lost installing Fedora, just because of that. As long as getting Linux to work properly requires going to a terminal window and using Unix commands, Linux has nothing to offer the average user (remember, most of them get Windows with their machine, so it's also "free"). The average user doesn't think about the fact that Windows will slow to a crawl in 10 years or less.

nwallette
nwallette

This probably wouldn't be a good fit for a desktop PC. I can just imagine my computer changing virtual desktops every time I crack my neck. ;-) Also, losing functionality of your webcam to control your UI (or vice versa) is kind of a bummer. But, this type of interaction has serious practicality once we look at PCs as appliances. Imagine a wall-mounted display for home automation. Walk up to it and the touch-screen lights up. (This could be plain IR or ultrasonic rather than camera-based, though.) Or, maybe face recognition instead of passcodes for keyless entry. (We'll see how secure it is.) And of course, games. ^_^

jeffsilverm
jeffsilverm

Has anybody heard of a beowulf cluster? The Beowulf cluster was invented in 1994, a full year before Windows/95!!!! If you look at the 500 fastest computers, http://www.top500.org/list/2010/06/100, you have to get to #24 before you see Windows HPC.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

Tabbed browsing was first used by, IIRC, a browser called InternetWorks, in like 1994 or so. NetCaptor was used in 1997 as a tabbed interface for IE...I used a little front end on Win95 called "Simple Web Browser" that offered tabs as alternative, that was in 1998 or so. Opera had tabs in late 1999 or early 2000...Mozilla didn't incorporate them until around 2003, relying on similar frontends that IE used.

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

I would agree the ribbon is a bad idea, but you do know OO.org is working on a ribbon of their own?

nwallette
nwallette

Performance isn't either. (Else why isn't Linux the king?) Neither is ease-of-use. (Do you own a Mac?) When you look at the groups responsible for USB, Firewire, HDMI, ATA, etc. Whose name is on the list? Microsoft. Toshiba. HP. Sony. No Red Hat, no Canonical, no Linus, no Theodore T'so, no Paul Vixie. (Although he is probably championing some standard in ISC.) Linux will always be playing catch-up, because MS is a part of just about every major forum and can have their driver/kernel teams writing code before anyone in OSS-land has even heard of it, much less seen it or started reverse-engineering it. By the time working, stable drivers are available, it's already commodity hardware. (Unless of course the HW manufacturer is willing to donate code or at least binaries.) The Linux devs have their work cut out for them, and are always scrambling to fix Bluetooth or WiFi or whatever. MS points the boat and manufacturers fall in line with driver support A.S.A.P. You've seen the outcry when ATI fell behind offering XP drivers for new Radeon chipsets. Linux users just expect it. "It'll get there." I just don't hold much hope for commodity Linux Desktops. Not until industry representation and driver support are there. It's certainly not a lack of technical ability or innovation holding it back.

apotheon
apotheon

You start out by saying that "eyewash" is not important innovation for Linux-based systems, and that other factors should take priority if developers for Linux-based systems want to entice users away from MS Windows, but then go on to complain that "average" users will not switch to Linux-based systems as long as they might have to do something without the "eyewash" mediating their use of the system. So . . . developers shouldn't work on "eyewash", but they should. What does that mean?

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

The Average User can not read the prompts and follow them correctly? You could be correct there but it's just as likely that the person who was installing Fedora thought that they knew better and that they didn't need to read anything as it was going to install the way that they wanted it to. I've had lots of different problems with Fedora but installing the Server Version by accident was never one of them. ;) [i]The average user doesn't think about the fact that Windows will slow to a crawl in 10 years or less.[/i] Yes exactly the Average User doesn't even blame the OS for the problems that they have with their computer It's always the [b]Computers Fault[/b] because it's not doing what they want it to, and Windows is solely responsible for that by pushing the idea that you don't need to read the Manual or have courses to use a computer. In other words [b]Learn to use the thing.[/b] While Computers remain no better than [b]White Goods[/b] all you are ever going to hear are complaints about the [b]"Computers"[/b] and the outrageous prices that the repair people want to charge to get back whatever was lost. After all why I only dropped the thing and a new HDD is $120.00 so why should I pay that Criminal who wants to charge me 56K to recover my data? All Repair People are thieves who are out to suck me dry end of story. [b]I just want my Photos of the Grandkids back I don't care about the Data.[/b] As if there is a difference. Without understanding what is involved and being educated they will never get beyond that stage and will continue to accept Windows as if it's Perfect and it's the Computers that are crap not to mention those Thieves who claim to fix them. After all I paid this guy $25.00 and the thing was no better when it was returned than when it left. Well yes I could open Windows but I still couldn't do what i wanted so it's wasn't repaired. Col

Slayer_
Slayer_

Duck to dodge bullets, etc.

jfreedle2
jfreedle2

Tabbed browsing is a stupid idea and one that I turn off immediately!

apotheon
apotheon

OpenOffice.org is almost as atrocious an abomination as MS Office.

Jaqui
Jaqui

they have no meeting ground. the macos has NEVER been easy to use, not since I FIRST saw it in 1982. that alone makes your post junk you know. then add the ignorance of the fact that it's very FEW hardware vendors that do NOT support GNU/Linux makes the balance of your argument spurious garbage spewing very outdated information.

Kent Lion
Kent Lion

It means doing the same thing Microsoft is doing is getting the same results (bloated, quirky or buggy software), and will not effectively compete with Windows. If you want to make headway opposite Microsoft, you'll have to try something different (like reliable, easy to use, software that does what it is supposed to), and then hope that people who aren't tech savvy gradually also notice that it's better. Microsoft is doing what they're doing because it's dicated by a business model. Linux doesn't have that constraint, but is following the same path.

apotheon
apotheon

I don't think he likes anything remotely Unix-like -- including emacs, which is only remotely Unix-like.

apotheon
apotheon

That explains a lot. In another discussion, you claimed that Unix hasn't improved in thirty years. I guess you might get that idea if you intentionally ignore all productivity-enhancing software improvements.

apotheon
apotheon

> the macos has NEVER been easy to use, not since I FIRST saw it in 1982. That depends on your definition of ease of use. For technophobic grandmothers, it's pretty easy to use. > it's very FEW hardware vendors that do NOT support GNU/Linux Perhaps so -- but it's very many commodity PCs that do run into such issues. Note that there are no open source drivers for NVIDIA or AMD/ATI graphics adapters, for instance. I wouldn't call nwallette's commentary "garbage" the way you did. It's just taking a more consumer-oriented perspective than yours.

nwallette
nwallette

Who peed in your Cheerios? Don't misunderstand: This isn't an anti-Linux post, or an Apple-fanboi post. When I discovered Linux, I was amazed by how cool the desktop environments are. Some guys here recently changed my perspective on distros, proving that maybe the chore of package management isn't impeding adoption. But still, I see tons of development effort go into just getting things to work. If the dev community could ever get out from under the race against hardware changes, they could finally make headway. I just don't see it happening any time soon. Look at the Intel integrated graphics drivers. Man.. those are always broken or missing some feature, and Intel has been involved in Linux driver development for a while now. (Although even official Windows driver quality is sometimes iffy.)

apotheon
apotheon

Actually, "Linux" is just the kernel -- and many Linux distributions (the actual OSes) are not doing the same thing as Microsoft. It's just the most popular Linux distributions that are chasing after the bloated ghost of Microsoft-style "user friendliness". Well . . . the Linux kernel in general seems to be bloating up a little bit, too, but not nearly to the same extent as Ubuntu Linux in particular.

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