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.