Desktop Linux apps abound, but Linux vendors and communities need to do more to make them accessible.
The best and the worst attributes
of Linux as a desktop operating system involve acquiring and maintaining
software applications. If Linux is to pile up more desktop adherents, the
vendors and communities that back the open-source platform need to work
together to accentuate those positives and shrink down the negative aspects of
getting and managing software on Linux.
On the positive side, the fact that
all the bits that make up a typical Linux distribution are divvied up into
software packages makes Linux modular enough to integrate code contributions
from many different sources while keeping the software installation and update
processes streamlined and under control. As long as you stick to software
that's been packaged up for your Linux distribution of choice, there's no
better platform for staying in control of what runs on your system.
On the negative side, the desktop
market share of Linux is pretty small compared with that of Macintosh or
Windows. Making things worse, this slender share is divided up among many
different Linux distributions, most of which require their own software package
versions. As a result, with many open-source and even more proprietary applications,
Linux must often make do with messy and unmanageable software installation
To preserve the competitive advantage
that software management can provide for Linux, the platform's stakeholders
must pool their existing efforts around packaging open-source software, and
step up their outreach to proprietary software vendors.
For instance, Ubuntu is (and has
been for a couple years now) my desktop Linux distribution of choice due to its
large catalog of packaged and ready-to-install applications. Ubuntu owes a debt
to the Debian project on this front, as it has been cranking out software
packages on a volunteer basis for years now.
I'd love to see Novell and Red Hat
figure out a way to work with the Debian project to reuse the packaging efforts
that its members are making to broaden the range of software packages available
for easy installation. It would take some work to translate the Debian
packaging efforts to work with Novell's and Red Hat's RPM-based
distributions, but Novell already has Build Service, a project under way that
is capable of building packages for SUSE-, Red Hat- and Ubuntu-based
It's also important that major
Linux distributors make it easier for proprietary software vendors to package
their wares for Linux. I know that many in the open-source community have an
allergic reaction to proprietary software, but if open platforms such as Linux
are to realize their potential, they must host proprietary applications just as
well as, and maybe better than, proprietary platforms do.
Again, Novell's OpenSUSE Build
Service seems to offer a decent foundation for moving forward. While the
OpenSUSE-hosted version of the service is limited to open-source software,
Novell makes the service available for download and self-hosting, so
proprietary software vendors could use this code to produce packages for
multiple distributions, particularly if Canonical, Red Hat and other Linux
vendors began pitching in to help streamline the process.
Finally, considering the
chicken-and-egg issues that desktop Linux faces regarding the relatively small
market opportunity it offers to ISVs, I find it surprising that distributors
haven't put more effort into advancing the state of Web application delivery
and management on Linux. For instance, I'd like to see more Linux distributors
embrace site-specific browsers, such as Mozilla Prism, which can provide
isolation for Web applications.
By focusing unique Linux attributes
on package-based and security-enhanced software management, the platform's
stakeholders can turn one of its most often-cited disadvantages into one of its
primary competitive strengths. eWEEK Labs Executive Editor Jason Brooks can be reached at email@example.com.
As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. Jason's coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.