Recently I was involved in a conversation on a Linux mailing list regarding the current state of the operating system. Outside of all the glad-handing and back-patting (well-deserved, I must say), one of the issues that was brought up was emulation. Not like WINE (and I know, Wine Is Not an Emulator), but in the sense of whether or not Linux should emulate Windows or Mac. Because it is so simple to configure the Linux desktop to look and behave like either Windows or OS X, there are many that espouse doing so.
I had to step in and ask the question that I had hoped was on everyone's mind.
When one decides to emulate either Windows or OS X that assumes that either choice is doing it right and that there is really no other right way to do things. That could not be farther from the truth. If you think about it long enough you will find a litany of features and functions that are dead on in both Windows and OS X. This also holds true for Linux. So why would one feel the need to make the Linux desktop look or feel like Windows or OS X when Linux has plenty of equally strong candidates for the desktop itself?
Let me suggest this to Linux developers across the globe:
Focus on Linux, not a Windows or OS X clone.
I can certainly understand, in some instances, why the Linux community would want to borrow an idea from either Windows or OS X. Some of their ideas are quite good. Just like both Windows and OS X would borrow from Linux.
This week Ubuntu 10.4 will be released. I have been using it since the first alpha came out and I have to say it is one of the most impressive releases to date. Along with this I have been using GNOME Shell (which will eventually become GNOME 3). I am equally quite smitten with this desktop. During the early period of GNOME Shell experimentation I began to miss my E17 desktop. There are features that I have grown quite accustomed to (mouse menus being the biggest). But eventually I started enjoying the uniqueness of GNOME Shell and realized it was just as much Linux as E17 was. Very soon after that I no longer missed mouse menus and task bars and notification areas. I had come to realize that GNOME Shell was doing things a little differently than everyone else and what they were doing is just as right as the Windows desktop, the OS X desktop, KDE, E17, and any other desktop around.
The GNOME development team focused on the things the Linux desktop does best and expanded on them. They didn't try to be Windows, they didn't try to be OS X, they didn't try to be KDE. In fact, they didn't try to be GNOME. They decided to take the desktop on a different route all together. And guess what? It worked.
What Linux does best is bend without breaking. It's so flexible it can be whatever you want it to be. That is the key strength of Linux. But what Linux shouldn't do is bend in the direction of another operating system with the hopes of fooling others into thinking Linux is something it's not. I have seen the attempts at making Linux look and act like XP or OS X or Windows 7. Why bother with that? Just because it can do it, doesn't mean it should. Who said one desktop is better than the other? What matters is which desktop is right for the user.
So developers shouldn't bother trying to make Linux into something its not. Linux is Linux and that, my friends, is good enough.
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.