Recently, I had a chat with another member of the Linux media about what Linux really needs to do in order to finally reach the masses. It was a long discussion that meandered in and out of various topics. But ultimately one topic won out over all others as being the be-all, end-all means for Linux to gain large-scale support in both the end user and enterprise crowds.
The conclusion? The desktop. Why the desktop? Linux has already conquered the server market. All it needs to do for that portion of its audience is to continue to scale upwards and keep creating incredible, usable servers. What Linux has failed to do yet is to show the world exactly what a desktop can do for the user.
You might have noticed lately that I have been preaching a lot about the desktop. In some circles I have made it my primary (and often only) focus. Recently I read an article on Infoworld where a writer was challened to take the age-old Linux challenge. Near the very beginning of the article, the writer spouts off saying, "Give me a break! Desktop Linux is nowhere." That same author informs the reader that it had been nearly a decade since he had fired up a Linux distro.
This is a writer for a tech-based news source. Nearly. A. Decade. Yet before he took this test (and admitted how long it had been since he had seen Linux), he spouted off that "desktop Linux is nowhere." That, my friends, is a problem. Why? Because desktop Linux is far from nowhere.
I realize that a vast majority of my readers are IT pros who could care less about how cool the desktop is. That cross section of users wants their desktop to simply work. I get that. But the average user is not so concerned with how efficiently their desktop works or how much bloatware their operating system has (nudge nudge, wink wink Jaqui). The average user likes eye candy. And if the average user can be wooed by Microsoft Vista, imagine how Compiz (or Elive Compize) would affect that same user.
A 3D desktop? Wow!
It would be very difficult to argue the point that Linux has made leaps and bounds in the desktop area. Think about where it was 10 years ago (you know, the last time that Infoworld writer fired up Linux) to where it is now. Put FVWM up against KDE 4 or GNOME with Compiz and see how it fares. You can look at font rendering alone and see how far the Linux desktop has come.
And this is how Linux can finally rise above Microsoft. The desktop. But how can it be put into action? There was a slight window of opportunity missed when WalMart was selling the gOS-based desktop machines. The problem was the fact that they used gOS as the distribution/desktop. Don't get me wrong, I am fond of gOS, but that doesn't mean it was the right distribution for the task. Instead what should have been used was a desktop that, out of the box, looked and behaved similarly to whatever version of Windows was couture at the time. With a bonus. Now this bonus would have raised the price of the machine just a bit. But add to that desktop (either KDE or GNOME) Compiz and you give the user something familiar with an added twist and you'll have users oohing and ahing at what their new Windows-like desktop can do.
I've grown rather tired of hearing those self-same pundits who haven't touched a modern Linux desktop since, what, GNOME 1.x, say that Linux isn't ready for the mainstream. Linux is ready for the main stream and the main stream is ready for Linux - it's only a matter of getting the two of them together in the right way.
Now, how do we do it? I'm sure everyone here has a suggestion or two. So put fingers to keys and help the Linux community to figure out how to get the Linux desktop in front of the end users.
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.