Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Linux' wide open spaces

Author:Doc Searls
Posted:4/26/1999; 8:59:03 AM
Topic:Linux' wide open spaces
Msg #:5307
Prev/Next:5306 / 5308

I'm the new senior editor for Linux Journal. Although my beat is business more than technology, I'm extremely interested in real-world opportunities for Linux development. The Big Press is projecting an awful lot on Linux right now, mostly because it needs to cast a worthy opponent for Microsoft. Can Linux live up to the hype? What are the real possibilities here? Can we separate the client and server conversations? Should we? All of which brings me to what you wrote in your Ben Rosen piece, Dave:

A door can open, maybe a couple of them. The first door is the migration path for Win32 apps to Linux. The second door opens Linux to Macintosh API-based apps. This is a door we want to walk through. This path should be well-groomed, I wish it were, but it's not; I bet 1000 other developers feel the same way.

Linux needs a GUI, so does the web. But this is the small picture. The big picture, the software industry needs leadership. The conventional wisdom that we don't need software is incorrect, in fact it's always been software that new directions are formed from. Right now it looks like portals drive the industry, but if you believe that portals will leverage ownership of client and content development standards, it'll all come back to software eventually.

I don't see the answers coming from any company in the Linux world -- yet.

Red Hat is clearly a leader, and Bob Young has a knack for promotion; but I'm not sure there's a There there. Caldera is actually the leader in creating an easy user experience, since they have the first truly easy installation; but they're still too much of a little Novell. Very focussed on VARs and vertical markets. The two desktops, KDE and Gnome, are both Windows knock-offs by crews of developers who reportedly care more about competing against each other than about providing a better user experience. And the office suites from Applix, Corel and StarDivision are Office knock-offs.

To be fair, knocking off Office is not a bad thing at this stage. I use StarDivision's StarOffice, which looks and acts so much like Microsoft Office that Microsoft might as well just buy them and relabel them Office For Linux. Most importantly, they produce .ppt, .xls and .doc Office 97/98 compatible files, which is extremely handy. (And Microsoft must be kicking themselves for not "de-commoditizing" those file formats more quickly.)

The problem with Linux is that most of the developers still use it in command-line mode. They really think it's better. For the adept, it is. For the rest of us, it's impossible. And the GUI stuff is full of bugs, on purpose. The source code might be open, but there's an ethos that goes with it: "here, use this and help us add items to the bug list until one of us fixes it." Last week I lost a day's work by using KDE's "advanced text editor" without first reading the bug list. In the commercial world, this editor would never have made it into the released product.

Yet the open nature of Linux and its whole development environment means that software builders ultimatley have many more tools and parts to work with (or so I assume... again, I'm not a deeply technical guy). The toolboxes and building parts don't have to come from one company. So the migration path from Win32 is not only open, but attractive. (Or that's my take on it. Corrections are solicited. That's why I'm here.)

I agree that there is room here for the hardware guys to make a move. The software guys in the Linux world (or hell, the Windows world) don't yet seem to know how to improve the user experience. Microsoft is bound up in Windows and Office 2000 development, and all its direct competitors are too small, too dead or too stuck in the gravity well of anti-Microsoft hatred. The answer may be a novel hardware/software bundle. But how and from who?

Rosen coming back to Compaq is like Jobs coming back to Apple. It restores the originator. It brings the company back to where it came from. Maybe he can do it.

The company I like best in the Linux world is a hardware company: VA Research. Larry Augustin is smart and wise. He also has some of the best veterans from Apple and other PC companies. If anybody can come out with a Linux iMac (an iLux?) that moves the whole user experience forward, it's Larry.

On the server side, it's another story, though. A much bigger and more important one. Linux seems to be turning into the server OS of choice, at least for Web services. I'm not sure about the rest of Big Infrastructure, though. Management, security, directory, database... those are the things whole businesses are built on, and NT is well established there. Or is it? I don't know.

Let's talk about it.


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