The need for the Linux Proliferation Agreement
The year of Linux on the Desktop (May 1st, 2023)
“There is something brewing in the world of Linux, because this year really seems to become the year Linux makes serious headway on the desktop. For Linus Torvalds it is the addition of synchromatic memory support into the new kernel 6.4.12-28 that is a serious and major step in the right direction. ‘We now have support for voicecontrolled systems at the kernel level’. In a few months time we will also see the first distributions with ext9 as the default filesystem, like MepubianSpire and Novell Red Hat. Mark Shuttleworth, the ever active CEO of MepubianSpire, is thrilled about the prospect. ‘Wonkey Willy will be the most stable innovative distribution we present to our users and with another delay of Microsoft Himalaya at hand this is the window of opportunity to aggressively increase our market share on the desktop’.”
So, when will it really happen? The breakthrough of Linux on the desktop is expected for years now and each year we draw the conclusion that it didn’t happen. Yet. And 2007 looked promising. Windows Vista is way to expensive, requires a serious hardware upgrade and for what? Eye candy that was available for Linux 6 months ago! Well, it was available for that group of Linux hackers that could install the right drivers for their graphical cards and had no qualms adding the repositories for Beryl/Compiz. Linux mainstream will have to wait until Ubuntu ‘Gutsy Gibbon’, which may have that feature. Or not.
What is lacking in modern Linux distributions?
But let’s step back for a moment and ask ourselves the following question. “What is missing from the current generation of Linux distributions which prevent a regular and day to day use of Linux, both at home as in organizations?” And -please- don’t start pointing at your iPods. Why not? Because iPod is a relatively young technology and it is just a matter of time before support is added. It did take time for Windows and Mac OSX to properly support the new toy and every once in a while even Apple screws up an update. So, what is missing? Word processing? Calculation? Email and groupware? Access management for users in organizations? Multimedia functionality? Security? I am sorry, but I can’t think of anything that would be needed before 90% of the current Windows userbase van migrate to Linux. In fact, I am even willing to state that Linux has been ready to breakthrough to the desktop for a few years now. But why is it not happening?
Now, all in harmony: “Yeah, but what do you expect. Every computer you buy has Windows pre-installed”. That’s correct. Even a staunch Linux supporter as HP sells desktop computer with Windows, not Linux. “Indeed”, do the channel partners say, “but there is no demand for anything else”. Which is correct as well. No demand, no supply. And, vice versa, when there is no supply it is hard to get any demand as well. When discussing the breakthrough of Linux it is usually a discussion between the technophilia. For them it makes sense, gadgets will sell themselves, right?…. Wrong!
The commercial disadvantage of Linux
Microsoft is not just a dominant factor when it comes to the supply chain, with or without serious discounts to the channel partners. The people in Redmond know exactly what to do to promote demand for Windows. Why do you think hardware suppliers and the store owners where elated with Vista? You think it was the alleged technological superiority of the new operating system? Think again. Vista needs at least 1 Gb of RAM, twice the amount of XP. Plus a graphics card with at least 256 Mb of RAM on board. And… Just add to your own list. Vista means dollars for producers and merchants. Oh, and the complaints of some softwarefirms had less to do with the alleged (lack of) quality of Vista, but more the fact that they didn’t belong to the first tier partners at the Vista launch. They wanted their own spot on the Windows marketplace. Dollars….
And now Linux? Sorry, but hardly interesting in a commercial sense. Linux runs pretty well and very fast on yesterday’s hardware. But that hardware is sold already. Linux doesn’t bring a new revenue stream or an opportunity to increase prices for the same functionality.
But.. what about consumer demand? That could change things? In theory, yes, but only when there is a critical mass of users that request Linux. But consider the following:
– At teacher training colleges teachers have the opportunity to get certificates of the European Computer Drivers License (ECDL). Most text books only deal with Windows and Microsoft Office;
– For most children, the first experience with computers, at home or at school, is Windows, MSN and Microsoft Office;
– Users of internetcafÃ©s or e-centers sit down behind computers with Windows, MSN and Microsoft Office.
So, when do you think the critical mass of Linux users is reached to make a difference in the market place?
Moving towards critical mass
Let’s make a few things clear. Right now there are more than enough distributions that can be used by endusers at home and in a business environment from day to day. The remaining problems with hardware and software can be fixed quite easily. For a small group those problems can be a good reason to postpone a wholesale migration. We don’t have to, shouldn’t wait for the next generation of new features in Linux. And it definitely is of no use to wait for the box builders to see the light and watch them exchange Windows for Linux. Linux will not breakthrough on the desktop because we wish it so. What do we need to do, other than wait until 2023, for Linux to make it to the desktop? We need to do more.
The development and distribution of Linux is mostly determined by two groups: the developers and the companies that use Linux as a competitive tool towards Microsoft. We can see some local and national governments contributing by ‘demanding’ the use of open standards and open source software. It’s a start, but -again- we shouldn’t wait for nor trust in it. More than one government reversed it’s decision to migrate to Linux and who knows what happens after the next elections. As long as Windows is dominant in the public domain (education, e-centers, internetcafÃ©’s) we will hardly see a change in it’s use. We – the Linux desktop users- are but a marginal group. Some of us try to convince friends, relatives and neighbors and we are almost jubilant when we have made a ‘convert’. We almost ‘live’ in Linux forums and IRC channels to lend a hand to newbie users with problems. And please, keep on doing that.
To reach a critical mass of Linux endusers takes time. What we need is the establishment of an international community, a movement that is dedicated to the worldwide promotion and distribution of Linux as a system for endusers, analogous to the international developer communities that made Linux possible as a system. Why should it only be the hackers that altruistically devote their precious time and energy? Don’t you think it is time for us – the early adopters- to follow their example in a structured and organized way? I seriously endorse launching a Linux Proliferation Agreement, a charter which will the basis for a pro-active promotion of Linux by qualified endusers.
The Linux Proliferation Agreement
What should the Linux Proliferation Agreement entail? In short: to make Linux ubiquitous in the public domain. This means establishing public e-centers, well maintained, with constant personal support and where people can get training and courses in the use of Linux and open source software. It means offering low level training and courses in community centers and on schools, for children, parents and professionals in branches other than IT. It means using all sorts of media to make Linux visible, in the local media and targeted media. No general purpose articles, but indepth articles providing Linux and open source solutions for real day to day problems in organizations. It also means developing educational tools for LPA courses and training, but also for use in schools. We need an ECDL that is completely build around open source and with which candidates can get certified.
The Linux Proliferation Agreement shouldn’t be a rag tag band of volunteers, but should be organized analogous to the Debian Project. The LPA charter sets out a clear goal and purpose and quality should be first and foremost. The organization and it’s reputation needs to be build in such a way that enlisting the help of an LPA volunteer is synonymous with getting a high quality endresult. To achieve this the LPA needs a system of internal training and coaching. Plus some form of certification. Organizations should have access to an online register of certified LPA volunteers. Branding is one of the key tasks of the LPA organizations, with the development of marketing kits etc. The quality and the network are required to attract funding and sponsorships.
Towards a roadmap
What does it mean for you and me? Well, maybe we are asked to assist in our local e-center a few hours each week. Or to provide an extensive training in OpenOffice.org in our local community center, on Saturday afternoon, for the next 20 weeks. One thing needs to be clear from the outset: joining the Linux Proliferation Agreement brings a new set of obligations. But is it different for the developers of Linux? When there is a serious problem with the kernel, don’t we expect a solution or at least a quick fix within hours? I will work on a roadmap for the Linux Proliferation Agreement in the months ahead. Who will join me?
Tags: Linux, education, Linux Proliferation Agreement