This morning I woke up to read something a bit disturbing. Sometime around December the iPad iOS ranked above Linux in the listing of desktop operating systems. I really couldn't believe it. A mobile OS was being used more than the Linux OS on the desktop. I wanted to discard it as just another marketing scam, but it turns out there was fact backing it up. And it was already clear the iPad has been, as all Apple products seem to do, selling like mad.
This, of course, got the wheels to turning and the mind to wandering. How can the Linux community turn this around? As usual, I think positively and think, "Yes, the Linux community can turn this situation around, but it will require the help of Mark Shuttleworth and the upcoming Ubuntu Natty Narwhal.
I'm sure everyone grown tired of hearing how Ubuntu must be the big savior of Linux, but I firmly believe, in this case, it might well be a truth some will just have to swallow. Why is that?
Along with Ubuntu 11.04, a new desktop will arrive. That desktop, Ubuntu Unity, does a great job of making desktop work easier and more efficient. Not only that, but it's unique, and the consuming world has become a "show me something newer and better" world. Ubuntu and Unity are in a very unique situation — they have the next big thing for the desktop. That next big thing is not yet another iteration of Windows 7 or the same old tired OS X desktop. The next big thing is a different, more efficient, way of using the desktop. And that, my friends, is Ubuntu Unity. The real issue is getting that desktop, and it's new ways, into the hands of the public. Here's the thing — the traditional methods have not, and will not, work. Word of mouth hasn't seemed to work to spread the Gospel According to Linux. Other efforts have failed (for the most part) as well.
What the Linux operating system needs, is for Canonical to really step it up, with the upcoming release of 11.04, and get that wonderful Unity desktop on retail boxes and tablet PCs, such that end users do not have to bother with the installation. That is the single biggest hurdle and, as much as it pains me to say it, Ubuntu and Canonical are probably the only shot Linux has of overcoming this monumental obstacle.
It's been done — and failed. Remember the nightmare that became the WalMart/Linux experiment and how the PCs sold out and then were quickly returned because the users assumed they were getting a "regular PC"? That disaster did nothing more than feed the FUD machine. For this type of sales pitch to succeed, users need to be able to see the OS in action. That means stores like Best Buy, Target, CostCo, etc., need to have Ubuntu 11.04 powered machines in stock so that users can actually touch and play with them. Slap a cheap price tag on the machines and, once the users get a chance to play with the interface, those machines will walk out of the store.
It really is the only way. How do you think Microsoft has managed to get Windows into nearly every household? It certainly wasn't by creating a reliable, secure operating system. If that were the case there would be much less need for consultancy firms and a flood of various anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-this and anti-that tools. No, Microsoft did it by getting the OS into the hands of the people. And, in order for Linux to enjoy the same level of acceptance, the same level of In your face, in your hands marketing must take place.
With the upcoming release of Natty, Ubuntu could take advantage of that ever-popular Something new. Ubuntu 11.04 does have something new to offer and it's something I believe the public is ready for. Canonical has, for the longest time, been perched on a precipice that could serve as a serious launchpad for Linux. Canonical wants to do this, wants to be this — but the big question is Will they DO this now.
It is seriously Go Time for Linux. After being overshadowed by a tablet, it is now time for Linux to stop pulling the punches and living it's life in the corner of the dance, shoe-gazing and watching the wallpaper. Canonical needs to grab the cutest girl on the dance floor and show the world its moves. Those moves, however, can not been seen if the public at large doesn't even know Linux exists. This is a very important moment for Linux as a whole and every user and fan of Linux needs to get behind Canonical and help to get Linux into the big box stores, pre-loaded on tablets, and into the hands of the populous. Otherwise, our darling OS will be outshined by every OS on the market.
Mark Shuttleworth, you need to read these words. You need to know your product is capable of winning over the hearts and wallets of the consumer. But in order for that to happen, Ubuntu Unity must have its aim set on replacing the Windows desktop on those floor model PCs in stores across the globe. Get it done Mr. Shuttleworth and the whole of the Linux community will be behind you, beside you, and thanking you.
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 jackwallen.com.