Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Truth in Advertising

Jasper's blog (and the seeming tenor of planetkde today) seems negative. It isn't. It is the truth. The Linux desktop is, for all it's advances and neat stuff, pretty limited.

There are a few reasons for this. Starting from the premise that it, for the most part, is written by individuals or groups to scratch a specific itch:

Major parts of the infrastructure are either missing, old and outdated, or unstable.

The process of filling the gaps and getting things working has required throwing away quite a bit of stuff, requiring updates elsewhere in the stack. Which consumes resources and creates instability and raises the cost of entry.

The amount of basic infrastructural work required to write even a modestly ambitious application limits the field to the devoted and few.

Throw in the tendency for distributions to attempt to differentiate themselves by infrastructure projects that try to solve a problem, but end up being either chronically unfinished, poorly thought out because of lack of communication, and many times eclipsed by smaller projects that work well, are well maintained but refused entry by the NIH syndrome.

And because the whole thing is necessarily in flux, the cost of entry and cost of maintainership rises.

Have no fear. It will get worse before it gets better. By the time the Xorg guys are done, and the kernel guys get a file system and scheduler that works for the desktop, and all the *Kit stuff gets finished, we will have something great. In the meantime, a mess.

What all this means is that we will have new media players every week. We don't have users that require the broad range of applications and functionality, some of which will write that stuff if the basics were there because the functionality isn't quite there yet. Linux and desktop will always be a developers platform, and as the basics get sorted out, people needing specific function for vertical or specialized requirements will flock to it. For the simple reason that it is cheap and easy.

It isn't easy now. But it is getting closer. Stuff like akonadi is amazing, opening up possibilities that the pim guys haven't imagined, and making basic function easy for developers. PyQt is simply awesome as a RAD environment. The stuff I'm doing with it makes me wonder why I would ever use C++ again. Fast and stable. The nepomuk stuff is cool, and we are going to see very neat things come out of it. Not some Nepomuk Application, but making it easy for developers to sort and index and connect their data opens possibilities that otherwise would take too many resources to write.

As for attracting and expecting commercial ports of applications to Linux, we might as well wait for the moon. It won't happen. The only way we would get a stable Skype on linux is if someone wrote one. The commercial houses have no interest in doing anything but token support of linux to check some boxes for someone. And they will never fit in with our very nice packaging and updating systems. As it always has been, if we want something good, we have to write it.

I still believe in a rich and thick desktop computer. Web based applications take me back to edlin except with colors and pictures. Serious handheld applications remind me of a time at my local credit union, oh 25 years ago, watching a woman enter information into a dbase table. She typed in a bit of stuff, hit enter, and waited a while for the data to be transfered to floppy I think. When I say serious I means something I can do business with, not texting or even email. The desktop allows a rich experience, and with quad cores, 2 terabyte drives for cheap and low cost seemingly unlimited memory, the possibilities are endless. And we will write them.

Oh, and finally. The stable, well finished and usable desktops from Apple and Microsoft are as good as they are because a bunch of guys in their basements, in their spare time made fools of them. OS9, Windows95, even NT as a server were pretty bad. They were forced to improve their wares, their processes by free software nipping at their heels. That is something we can all be very proud of.

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