Monday, June 25, 2007

What does Linux really need ? What can we learn from apple ?

Today i read two articles(here and here) that made me think.They made me think about several things but mostly they made me think about what is it that Linux really needs to "make it" to the desktop. I thought of making a comparison and viewing this question while keeping osx in mind.Lets have a look at some well known facts (hopefully from a new perspective :) )

  • Linux is an OS that costs absolutely nothing and offers a pretty compelling solution compared to windows with some clear advantages , as well as disadvantages
  • All you need to know to install and try linux is knowing it exists (duh) , how to get it and some relatively limited expertise on how to partition the disk.
  • Some modern distros can be very user friendly but still different from what users are accustomed to.
  • Linux market(desktop) share is extremely small (probably under 1% , even though noone can be sure)
  • Many companies dont seem to consider linux as a serious platform for commercial apps/games
By looking at these facts one may reach some of the following conclusions :

  1. The disadvantages outweigh the advantages so that is why people dont use it and that explains the small market share.
  2. The prerequisites for installing linux are not common in the general public so ,few people use linux and that explains the small market share.
  3. People dont switch because there are not enough commercial apps for linux and therefore windows/mac offers functionality that linux doesnt
  4. Linux is hard/different to use so people dont switch
  5. Linux is a mess (changing APIs incompatibility amongst distros etc) and commercial companies dont want to get involved
  6. Commercial companies dont want to get involved because linux users have no purchasing power because of their small numbers and/or a stereotypical profile of the linux user.

I could add other points to that list but those should do it.I want you to keep these points in mind and ask you a few questions:

  • Do you have anything to add to these two lists ?
  • Do you disagree with any of these points ?
  • Which ones do you think are more important ?
  • What solutions would you propose ?
Now lets do the same thing for OSX

  • OSX is an os that offers a compelling alternative to windows with advantages and disadvantages.
  • OSX is not free but it costs less than windows.
  • In order to use OSX you have to purchase apple hardware that is usually more expensive.
  • OSX seems to be widely considered as clearly superior to windows (even by windows and linux users) as well as easier to use and offering a "smoother experience"
  • Many of the people mentioned above dont make the switch
  • OSX has a small market share but much bigger than that of linux
  • Its market share is increasing slowly but steadily
  • OSX is considered as a profitable platform by many companies but not to the extent of windows

*NOTE* I have never been a mac user so i appreciate any feedback

  1. People have a very positive view of OSX but they dont switch because of the overpriced hardware and/or limited application availability.
  2. People that do switch do so because they find the mac experience more congenial , they consider OSX to be superior to windows easier to use and more pleasant.
  3. Smaller software availablility is caused by small market share
  4. Since market share is increasing software availability will follow and so more people will make the switch.

Now lets compare the lists for linux and OSX

In a way , installing linux is easier than OSX.It costs nothing , it can be used with your existing hardware, and you can do it without even getting up from your chair.On the other hand , you have to install it yourself, so it requires some effort.If someone knows about it and tries a livecd he will probably decide to go through the whole process only if during that time, which probably is going to be very short , he or she sees a feature that makes linux an attractive choice.

Linux market share seems to be increasing but by a very small amount.OSX on the other hand seems to increase its share at a bigger rate and has managed to create an "aura" around it that affects non mac users too.Linux on the other hand seems to retain that "geeky" characterization that it used to have some time ago but doesnt do it justice anymore.

OSX gets far more publicity than linux.Apple nowadays is ubiquitous and has managed to take over a huge part of the mp3 player market to an extent that some people use the word "iPod" instead of "mp3 player" Jobs's keynote addresses are a major event in the "popular IT culture" and are covered extensively by the press.

All the above points lead many people to believe that the apple "model" is very successful and we should be trying to move in that direction.But the big question for me is: What is that direction ?What made OSX such a popular os and changed the mindset of millions of people ?Is it some innate characteristic of the os ? Before the imac and OSX people would watch macs and turn the other way , but now they always stop to have a look and inadvertently some of them buy one.What made all this possible ?Why dont we see the same thing happening with linux even though access to it is even easier ?

There are many possible answers to all these questions and i would like you to give me yours.But i want to focus on one subject that for me is more important and is one of the main reasons OSX and apple caught on.Read on

Consider two "average" windows users A and B who have never had close contact with a mac looking at a mac before OSX and after.Since A doesnt know that much about it his reaction is indifferent and since macs are considered popular only for desktop editing etc this doesnt concern him.Its just an OS like the others and none of his business.User B on the other hand looks at something very different.He sees a beautiful ,dare i say sexy, desktop.Elegant and smooth it looks new and refreshing , unlike anything else.He is instantly attracted to it.Maybe it is his business.Maybe this could be his next desktop.He is not indifferent anymore.The "aura" that surrounds the mac isnt so boring and dull anymore.Its new , innovative, it looks cool and sexy, people start talking about it.Its trendy.That instantenous attraction makes the difference.Its hard to resist because its an emotion.People start talking about it considering buying a mac and some do , that creates publicity and momentum.

In short thats one very important thing that linux needs , a cute face and airtime as well as a good reputation.Of course i am not saying that hardware support ,app availability,quality applications and all that isnt important but when you have people whos needs are covered by the already existing software
and have compatible hardware but are not switching , isnt there a problem ? Isnt there a parameter missing from the equation ?Yes , the problem is that even though linux may be a better solution for their needs IT IS NOT RELEVANT to them.We have to make it relevant just like apple did the same thing for OSX. Look at all this buzz around the iphone.It hasnt even become available and its already labeled as easy to use , innovative and its being marketed as the next thing.It has succeded before it even launched.Cnets n1 reason to buy an iphone:it looks good ! Everybody knows about it and it looks good , thats what makes people want something.We have the product and we have the quality , but those two things alone wont get us far.

I bet by now (if anyone ever reads this) people will be saying that i care about superficial issues and am ignoring the real substance.No i am not , quality is always important but all i am saying its that its not enough and we have already witnessed that.

So , what can we do ? I think we should make linux look much cooler than it already does.When a user that heard about linux once or twice pops in a livecd to check it out , if he sees a desktop looking like ubuntu's default desktop or any other similar disto he will probably try surfing the web , playing media and some other tasks like that and he or she is going to dismiss it."Big deal,i can do all that with windows too" Thats what i mean by irrelevant.We have to make them want to have it.They have to start using it first , then they will be able to see what its all about.The problem is that if to them its irrelevant they wont even get that far.I have seen people considering buying macs without even knowing the first thing about them just by looking at an imac running OSX.You cant tell me that there was any reason other than attraction.It was sexy , they wanted it.If it was for free they d surely get it !

What makes on os sexy is another big talk and i have to admit i am not very sure but i am not saying we should copy OSX , maybe we can do it better.Beauty also doesnt necessarily mean super cool 3d bloat but also elegance and harmony.A good widget style and a good icon set that go well together can go a long way !

Also: publicity
I am always surprised when i hear windows users going on and on about how advanced OSX is.Isnt that weird ?Many of then havent even played with it !I dont know if that is actually true but dont you think if all those people could get it for free , they would do it ?Why cant linux fill that gap ?We need more and better publicity and i d love to listen to your ideas on this subject (as well as all the others)

People act on emotion and not rationally.Apple knows that and its using it to its gain.Why shouldnt we ?I ve heard many people wondering why linux isnt making it and i used to do the same thing.Its free , safe , secure , reliable...What else do you want ?I think thats whats missing.Mark Shuttleworth said beauty is a feature and i absolutely agree but i dont see him doing much on that side of things.Maybe we should.

There is alot of room on the field.Compiz/Beryl and KDE 4 as well as other projects can bring that to linux and we really need that.It might really give us the edge we need.

I know this post is really big and incoherent at times and i also know i am repeating myself more than once but its off the top of my head and besides...I am not that smart :P

I ve noticed people tend to read articles and flame the author about a tiny detail that was completely peripheral to the article.If you dont agree with me on something just let me know but what i really want is feedback on the issue at hand.Thanks

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Does Open Source move fast enough ?

I ve decided to keep away from very controversial issues so this time i am going to ask another question that has been in my mind for a long time.Does FOSS software move fast enough ?

This is obviously a very ambiguous question so let me clarify.When i say move i mean evolve , progress , adapt to new needs and new technologies.And when i am saying fast enough i mean compared to its greatest opponents , namely ms windows and apple osx and their respective available software.

For a long time i ve been reading in articles and listening to podcasts that open source is moving much faster than closed source and that soon (or perhaps already) it will be open source thats doing the innovation and closed source that will be doing the catching up (talking about desktop computing of course).

Even though there is alot of truth to that (since the time i tried linux for the fisrt time , almost 10 years ago until now theres has been a huge progress and its silly denying that) , i believe this views are exaggerated.Sure configuring hadware , installing codecs and drivers for ntfs , connecting to wireless netowrs and all that have become much easier , but is that all ?Take beryl/compiz for instance.Many people are claiming that the linux 3d desktop is superior to that of vista or osx and takes up fewer resources as well.Even though it definetly uses fewer resources and it can definetly look very fancy i cant agree with that view.Why ? heres why:

Beryl can be extremely problematic

Heres a list of most (but not all) the the problems that i am facing with beryl under feisty:

  1. I cant view videos while beryl is running !
  2. I cant run 3d applications (eg games) while beryl is running
  3. I cant run some 2d applications while beryl is running !! (amaya,mathematica)
  4. Sometimes when i rotate the cube all my windows dissapear completely

Needless to say i am not using beryl very often...If having a 3d desktop under linux can cause all or some of these problems can we honestly say that the linux 3d desktop is better than vista or osx ? I dont think we can.The real problem though to me isnt beryl.The problem is that beryl (compiz to be exact , which causes similar problems) has been around for almost 1.5 years and its offering effects very similar to osx which has been doing that for along time.Is that progress ? I guess it is since at the beggining it was even worse but is it satisfying ?Not to me.By the time beryl is stable enough to be included by default its gonna be old news and the competition may have come up with something better.Shuttleworth said that maybe it will be included by default on gutsy but what if it doesnt ? Then it will take one whole year for Gutsy+1.By then leopard and vista sp1 will already be old.

Again , beryl is an example.Another one i think is indexing.Beagle has been giving me a very hard time and doesnt integrate with the desktop as well as google desktop does for xp.It has been decided that it wont be included by default in F7 (because its too buggy) which is a feature regression!The same goes for distros.What new feature did feisty include that i would find usefull ?Sure it added several features that help new users but there are seasoned users too who have needs as well.

I dont want to sound negative so thats why i want to close with a positive comment.KDE 4 is at the moment my best hope that open source can innovate and produce a piece of software that can add the wow factor to linux.If KDE 4 is close to what the developers are claiming (and i dont see why it wont be) then i am definetly switching and hopefully many windows users are too.KDE 4 to me sounds like the promise of open source progress and innovation coming true.It seems to me that KDE 4 is the only product that contains true innovation and features that can be usefull to all users (not just newbies).Judging by what i know so far its the only thing in the linux world that has the potential of winning people over to the linux side(even though i am wondering how win and osx versions of kde4 will affect that).So , i am looking forward to it !

Do you think that open source is moving fast enough ?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Flood of pointless linux articles

Is it just me or the online linux press is beginning to get flooded by an endless torrent of pointless articles that usually aren't longer than one or two pages and are obviously written by biased people who most of the time don't even know that much about the subject at hand ? Why do people in the open source community have to be so passionate and leave that passion of theirs to cloud their judgment and ultimately lead them to posting articles or blog entries that provide no meaningful information and are clearly not objective nor accurate ?

A characteristic example is the "I hate Ubuntu because of *insert random fact-interpretation* , PCLinuxOS can do everything ubuntu does and much better.

I followed the advice of these authors and played with the 2007TR4 livecd.While it is clearly a very newbie frindly and polished distro , PcLinuxOS just didn't do it for me for the following reasons:
  • My laptop media buttons didn't work,even though they did under ubuntu
  • The internal mic didn't work (ok that didn't work under ubuntu either!)
  • I had to log out and in again for the changes to take effect
  • Some times those changes didn't take effect at all !
  • I couldn't install gaim without enabling extra repositories (no problem for me but if i hadn't used synaptic before...)
  • The versions i found in the repos were a bit older than the ones in the ubuntu repos

Yes picasa and google earth were available for download without enabling their google repositories but is it worth it ? It does have a centralized configuration center but how does that make it bettter than ubuntu ?Is clicking yes twice and typing your password so horribly complicated so that all the codecs have to be installed by default even though there are legal issues ?

Dont get me wrong i am not an ubuntu fanboy trying to defend my favourite distro (even though i am an ubuntu user) , that is not at all my point here.My point is that just because you have reasons to dislike Ubuntu or canonical and perhaps reasons to like PCLinuxOS doesnt justify unsubstantiated rants about how much ubuntu sucks and PCLinuxOS rules.Some things work for some hardware and some people and some things work for others.Granted , ubuntu is not at all perfect but neither is PCLinuxOS or any other distribution for that matter.Arent we missing the bigger picture here by focusing on minor unimportant details and flaming over them ?

Instead of these articles i would prefer to see something like a point by point comparison of these two distros.Is indeed PCLinuxOS's hardware detection better ? Not from my experience but people seem to be claiming that all the time! Why dont we put these beliefs to the test ? Why cant we make a sober assessment of the facts and draw our conclusions without all this emotion getting in our way ?

I d like to stress that Ubuntu vs PCLinuxOS is but an example.This trend applies to other issues like: is linux ready for the desktop ? Is Ubuntu a viable alternative to vista ? and various articles about kde 4 and its "sorry state" (even though the developers made it quite clear that that alpha1 is nothing like the final version and all this time has been spent in developing the API's and these final months will be spent in developing the real frontends and applications...At least wait until some beta version or something before you start dissing the developers!)

Well that was my little rant about pointless articles.Maybe i too exaggerated at some points but i feel the people who are writing these articles are waisting my time and achieve nothing but polarizing the community and diverting its attention from real issues that need be addressed.

What do you think ?