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Why are Free-Desktop Developers Wedded to Linux? 528

Posted by Cliff
from the it's-not-the-OS-it's-the-tool-chain dept.
An anonymous reader wonders: "We have been hearing promising predictions like 'This year will be the year of Linux on the desktop' for the last decade. However, the Linux of today seems to be as far away as ever from realizing the expectations of mass adoption we once had for it, without significant growth in home usage since the late 90s. Clearly, if Linux is unable to reproduce a third of Firefox's end user uptake over a much longer time-frame, there are deficiencies with the direction the GNU/Linux/X/Gnome/KDE system has taken. Of course, almost all free software and desktop efforts and development remain unquestioningly oriented around Linux. Other free-desktop operating system projects which take different and innovative approaches like ReactOS, AROS, Mona and Syllable remain comparatively starved of developers and interest. An often cited reason for using a non-Microsoft OS is to avoid a monoculture, but free-desktop efforts have created a total monoculture around developing and promoting Linux, despite a decade of failure in supplanting Microsoft's proprietorial OSes with it. Why are free-desktop developers neglecting to consider an alternative to the penguin?"
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Why are Free-Desktop Developers Wedded to Linux?

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  • BSD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MythMoth (73648) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:33AM (#17539848) Homepage
    So, what's BSD then, chopped liver?
    • by dosius (230542)
      For a lot of these devs... Yes.

      Every once in a while I try my code on NetBSD and it usually works, thank ghed, because I try to code for all systems, and not just Linux.

      -uso.
    • Go Xfce! (Score:3, Informative)

      by sofar (317980)
      See also Xfce (www.xfce.org [xfce.org]), which has several key developers who work using BSD and Solaris instead of linux.
    • Re:BSD (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Cius (918707) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:59PM (#17541444)
      Cliff clearly suffers from a myopic conception of FOSS systems. He also demonstrates the danger in representing an entire ecosystem of software with a single moniker. Free and open source software is not 'Linux', but Linux is free and open source software. The distinction is important. Linux is just one piece of a grand and heterogeneous domain of software. On top of that, anyone can contribute to it, take it and do what they like with it. I don't think it quite qualifies as a 'monoculture' the way that Windows does. I also find the Gnome/KDE reference amusing considering that they use completely different toolkits and libraries.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by novus ordo (843883)
      I'm glad someone mentioned BSD because with BSD a company can just take *your* hard work and say screw you [slashdot.org]. At least with Linux you have the GPL that legally forces people to be mutualistic. So now the answer to why the free-desktop developers are wedded to Linux: we got screwed before that's why. Come join us when you feel the sting.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by j-pimp (177072)

        I'm glad someone mentioned BSD because with BSD a company can just take *your* hard work and say screw you. At least with Linux you have the GPL that legally forces people to be mutualistic. So now the answer to why the free-desktop developers are wedded to Linux: we got screwed before that's why. Come join us when you feel the sting.

        Maybe its not about being screwed. You obviously feel you or others have been "screwed" by people using you BSD licensed code in ways that the license clearly intended. Maybe sometimes people want to grant others the freedom to create closed source derivatives. Sometimes I want that people to have that freedom with my code. Sometimes I don't.

        For me, it depends on the project. For example, I have written a frontend to Access and SQLite files. On a side not I released a new version today. See the link i

  • Not really (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VincenzoRomano (881055) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:34AM (#17539878) Homepage Journal
    It is very unlikely that developers follow Linux only.
    They support some well documented and mature standards like Gnu Libc, X window and POSIX, among others.
    Infact, for example, most of the desktop software can be compiled and run under almost all OS that comply to those standards.
    Sometimes even under Microsoft's OSs.
    • Re:Not really (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kotj.mf (645325) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:53AM (#17540218)
      ++

      As far as I'm aware, neither the GNOME nor the KDE devs explicitly promote Linux as the sole underlying OS. The whole point of having an X-based desktop environment is to make it portable to different systems.

      The question might as well be "Why do the GNU people spend all their time developing the Linux userland tools?" The answer is they don't - Linux distributors use the GNU/GNOME/KDE stuff, not the other way around.

      Duh.

      The reason you find the Linux kernel in most free desktop systems should be pretty obvious - it's currently better at handling the random hardware that desktop users throw at it than anything else out there.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        As far as I'm aware, neither the GNOME nor the KDE devs explicitly promote Linux as the sole underlying OS. The whole point of having an X-based desktop environment is to make it portable to different systems.

        Not an X-based desktop, a GTK (or Qt)-based desktop. You don't need X. There are GTK+ and Qt for windows.

        The question might as well be "Why do the GNU people spend all their time developing the Linux userland tools?" The answer is they don't - Linux distributors use the GNU/GNOME/KDE stuff, not

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
          ``On the other hand, it does seem that a majority of GNU developers do their work on Linux. And why not? It is arguably the "best" Unix out there. Yes, other Unices have features that Linux doesn't, but I don't think any of them have as many of them as Linux has that they don't. The BSDs are very close (some closer than others) but Linux is the "kitchen sink" kernel''

          What about Solaris? What about OS X? Can anybody share why they do or do not prefer one of these over GNU/Linux?
          • by Nicolas MONNET (4727) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (avitlaocin)> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:44PM (#17541128) Journal
            Linux is arguably better than Solaris for the desktop, esp. as far as device support is concerned. In fact, Linux supports more devices than Windows out of the box.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by tepples (727027)

              In fact, Linux supports more devices than Windows out of the box.

              But does Linux support more devices marketed to home users that are still being sold? Drivers for server devices and obsolete devices are good for increasing bullet point counts but not for having the best live-CD experience on real home PCs.

              • Re:Not really (Score:4, Informative)

                by bigpat (158134) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:48PM (#17544632)

                Drivers for server devices and obsolete devices are good for increasing bullet point counts but not for having the best live-CD experience on real home PCs.
                Yes, the WindowsXP live CD is so much more impressive than Ubuntu Live CD! Oh wait.

                Seriously though, imagine you had to buy a Dell without Windows and just had to figure out which drivers you needed for the hardware. You will spend hours with no assurance of success, trust me. You can be damned sure that Dell makes sure that the disk they distribute with their machines comes with all the drivers for the hardware they sell you and they will only sell hardware that they know will work with Windows.

                Try one of these [linuxcertified.com] or these [penguincomputing.com] and it will be a desktop Linux that just works out of the box with the hardware that is attached to your computer, which is what matters.

                Putting the bar at the point where the OS must support the same hardware that Windows XP supports is a bar too high for any OS. Just as there is no way Microsoft would allow itself to be compared by maintaining some arbitrary parity with the hardware devices that Linux supports. I imagine there are in fact some specialized peripherals that only have Linux drivers and not Windows, but you are right that isn't the point. That way of framing the question will always puts your efforts at chasing someone else's lead.

                What Linux needs more of is more places, like the links above, to get fully integrated products that have you favorite distribution working with a full set of compatible hardware to meet your needs. And finally, all that Integration work can't make the product cost more than a few bucks more than a comparable Dell otherwise people are going to try and do it themselves like they have been, with mixed results.

                • Re:Not really (Score:4, Informative)

                  by penguinboy (35085) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:23PM (#17545298)

                  Seriously though, imagine you had to buy a Dell without Windows and just had to figure out which drivers you needed for the hardware. You will spend hours with no assurance of success, trust me.

                  Hardly. Simply go to http://support.dell.com [dell.com], enter the machine's service tag, select the desired OS, and get exactly the drivers you need. Sometimes there might be two different drives for a device category (e.g. two possible NICS), but hardly anything requiring hours of work. Dell is by far the best in this category - other vendors certainly do make it much harder to find all of the drivers needed for a given system.
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Lussarn (105276)
            For one reason or another most OS X users aren't terribly interested in Free Desktops. As for Solaris, Sun uses a non GPL compatible license (last I checked anyways). The GPL still is the free software license to be compatible with. Suns license seems to be on purpose non GPL compatible, as it is a similiar copy-left license. I think it scares off users and developers.

            But as it is GNOME (Sun makes considerable work on GNOME) and KDE works just as good at least on Solaris so I don't know what this article is
          • Re:Not really (Score:4, Interesting)

            by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:56PM (#17541366) Homepage Journal
            I can tell you myself why I don't use OS X (even though I do use an iBook). Mostly because it's slow and because it's a hassle.

            It's slow mostly because it takes a noticeable time to start processes, and this bothers me, as it's something I do a lot. Also, the GUI takes up so much memory that there is less of it left to get work done with. Once this gets up to the point where it starts swapping a lot, obviously productivity is out of the window.

            It's a hassle, because, although a lot of open source software technically works on it, not all of it is readily available. At least at the time I still used it (the situation may have improved since), there were fink, darwinports, and pkgsrc, each supporting some packages but not everything I wanted (pkgsrc worked best for me, but didn't provide binaries for OS X). Having to use different package managers and having to compile things from source are terrible time wasters. The software that Apple ships is either different from what I'm used to from other *nix systems, or it's the same software, but often an older version, which caused further problems.

            Also keeping the software up to date is a nightmare when some of it is integrated with Apple's updater (which keeps pushing "updates" for software I don't have or want), some of it is integrated with some open-source package manager (fink and friends), some of it comes with custom updaters, and some of it doesn't have any update mechanism at all.

            The final straw was that Tiger broke the ext2 driver, meaning the end of sharing files between OS X and Linux. Yes, Linux supports HFS+, but the interaction between the Linux HFS+ driver and Apple's fsck has given me...bad results in the past, so I'm not going there again.

            Of course, none of this means that OS X doesn't look gorgeous and isn't a great OS if you just want to use the great software that Apple ships with it, and maybe a handful of third-party apps. However, for a command-line junkie like me, GNU/Linux beats OS X hands down.
          • by arodland (127775)
            1) KDE doesn't run (well) on OSX yet.
            2) OSX is funky and breaks lots of Unix conventions for no good reason (yes, even compared to Linux)
            3) IPC is sloooow.
          • by orasio (188021)
            I did like Solaris, but I like Ubuntu more.
            Now that Solaris is free, or trying to be free, it's worth investing time in, but again, there is not that much of a reason to do that.
            About OSX, it's not a free operating system, it would have to do lots of interest stuff in order to get some interest from me, in the form of trying it at a friends house.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by TheRaven64 (641858)
              If you like Solaris and Ubuntu, then maybe you should try Nexenta [gnusolaris.org]; it's a Debian/Ubuntu-based system running atop OpenSolaris. You get a system that looks and feels a lot like Ubuntu, but has an OpenSolaris kernel, complete with ZFS, DTrace, Zones, etc.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by kotj.mf (645325)
            What about Solaris? What about OS X? Can anybody share why they do or do not prefer one of these over GNU/Linux?
            Yes, it really is a mystery why a GNU developer, sitting in their office at the Free Software Foundation lair, just down the hall from Richard M. Stallman, would eschew working on Solaris or OSX in favor of an open source OS. I'll get back to you when I figure it out, right here in this Slasdot article about Free operating systems.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
              Actually, a quite some GNU software is shipped with OS X, and a lot more can be installed on it. I don't know if Solaris, as shipped, contains a lot of GNU software, but every Solaris install I've worked with had a lot of GNU software on it, and people seemed to prefer the GNU utilities over the Solaris ones. In order for all this to work, some people must be working on the GNU utilities from proprietary *nix systems. I could even imagine that, before Linux, Solaris was the major development platform for GN
              • Re:Not really (Score:4, Interesting)

                by MoxFulder (159829) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @02:04PM (#17542780) Homepage
                I could even imagine that, before Linux, Solaris was the major development platform for GNU, but I could be wrong there.


                Yeah, that's probably about right. I imagine most of the GNU development was done under Solaris, NextStep, and AIX... in that order. The first time I got my grubby little 11-year-old hands on a Unix shell account, in 1993, it was on a NeXT box. Most of the utilities on that box were GNU utilities... GCC, binutils, tar, gzip, etc. I remember learning to unpack tarballs and running ./configure to build a GNU Bison package that I downloaded.

                Once I heard about Linux around 1996-ish, there was no going back. Here was a Unix-type operating system I could install on my own Cyrix 486SX PC, awesome :-)

                I haven't seen anything come along that's more versatile and all-around better than Linux. Sure, I think OpenBSD is great for ultra-secure servers, and they've been doing fabulous things with wireless driver support recently. Some Linux distros (cough, Mandrake, cough) have gotten way too far out on the bleeding-edge features curve and had stability and configuration problems.

                But overall Linux has become everything I'd hoped it would be and more: free, good hardware support, well-documented, high performance, good community support, and UBIQUITOUS (my wireless router runs Linux, and I'm sorely tempted to put Linux on my girlfriend's iPod).
                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by GeorgeMcBay (106610)

                  Yeah, that's probably about right. I imagine most of the GNU development was done under Solaris, NextStep, and AIX... in that order.


                  Actually, a lot of the machines at the AI Lab/FSF back in that era were DECStations running Ultrix. There was at least one AIX box (hal.gnu.ai.mit.edu, IIRC) and handful of HP/UX boxes, some BSD4.3 and a smattering of SGI boxes running IRIX. Most of the Sun boxes were still running SunOS 4.x and not Solaris. There was one NeXT cube that I remember.
  • Because there are basically 3 alternatives: Windows, Apple, Linux. Only one of these is Free/Free.
    • Except there are more alternatives. Your three alternatives are the largest out there, but not the only three.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ericrost (1049312)
        In my experience, its because any project that wants to tap any sort of decent user base on a free OS realizes that Linux is the free OS out there that's got support. Although as pointed out before, the point of X and sub's is to be OS/Platform independent. Eric
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PopeRatzo (965947)
        Great point. I'm sort of surprised we haven't seen a stronger emergence of free OS/Application packages for particular user groups. As a producer of various media (video, music), I had high hopes for BeOS. I'm sure people who only use email and surf the web (maybe write a document now and then), would love to see a package that is geared toward those uses without all the extra stuff a basic distro of Linux has in it.

        Let's see a Balkanization of the Open Source OS community!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      No. That's exactly the point of the article/question. There are far more than 3 alternatives, it is simply that the only Free alternative that ever gets any real attention is Linux, both from mainstream media and from open source developers.

      One of the main problems with Linux is the vast number of distributions, all subtly - and often pointlessly - different. While I can understand the reason for why this happens and why it represents what a lot of people like about Linux, you also have to understand that i
      • by dosius (230542)
        The thing is that for a *x user, /bin, /usr/bin, /lib, /usr/lib, /etc, /usr/local are just expected to be there. This has been true since long before I was even born (1980), and isn't a Linux thing per se (why do you think it's the same damn way for all the mainline BSDs, Solaris, and all the key players in Unixland except for maybe OSX?).

        -uso.
        • OTOH, a good question to ask is why does the standard *nix file system have such terse naming? I mean, most modern shells do some kind of name completion so speed of typing isn't an issue anymore.

          Why put binaries in /bin? why not put them in /binaries

          What is ../sbin for?
          And what the hell is the difference between /usr/local/bin and /usr/share/local/bin (or is that /usr/local/share/bin or something else?)*

          *I don't remember if these are even the exact directories, only that really similar naming in that are
        • by metamatic (202216)
          It's the same way on OS X too, actually.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Count Fenring (669457)

        Mayhaps they are thinking "Outside the box" because the box is a shape that is displeasing, and also is ON FIRE.

        The windows way of handling filesystems and drives is more familiar to more people, true... but it's also kind of brain damaged (Example: No distinction between Hard Drives and Partitions in the naming schema). Also, people are either A)Technically illiterate, in which case they navigate the computer by set, static procedures, thus making ANY change of directory harder, but also meaning that keep

      • by JohnFluxx (413620)
        You know we did this for ubuntu in the last release. We added a .hidden file which basically hid /usr etc from the user (those folder simply didn't show up in konqueror).

        Nobody liked it and it was pointless. Anyone who browsed to / (since there's no direct links to it in kubuntu) probably knows enough not to get scared by usr,etc etc
        We removed it in the next release.
      • by NorbrookC (674063)

        The filesystem of course is one thing that instantly sets the two apart, /usr, /tmp, /etc, - these mean absolutely nothing to the guy that's been looking at c:\windows, c:\program files, c:\documents and settings, since school.

        There is a Linux distro which takes that on. http://www.gobolinux.org/index.php [gobolinux.org] is an alternative that makes the Linux system look a little more "familiar" to a Windows user. On another front, I'm a bit disappointed that no one seems to be touting Linspire/Freespire as a distrib

  • by jimstapleton (999106) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:41AM (#17539976) Journal
    To choose exactly the same thing as they do.

    I know this will get troll/flamebait, this community does not like criticism, even though taking it into account could cause improvements.

    Seriously though, the thoughts are this:

    (1) They are enamored by the GPL license. I'll grant for certain uses and purposes, it's an excellent license, even if I don't agree with it.
    (2) Momentum - Linux is the first OSS OS to gain popularity, and it hit it off big for such things. What this means is that it has more support and developers, which provides a more feature-filled system which brings the people and culture more of what they want.
    (3) Flexibility - I'm not sure the whole background of it, partially it's the GPL, partially it's the management, but the Linux system is highly flexible in terms of development, allowing people to develop their projects how they want to. Especially at the kernel level. It may not be a coders dream environment, but it's pretty close.
    (4) UNIX Like. I know ReactOS isn't Unix like, I don't know about the others. I know BSD, which you didn't mention, but lacks 1-3 is also a Unix OS. Regardless, the Unix methidologies are very comfortable to developers because (a) they are relatively regular in setup. (b) They tend to be highly modular, making things easier to work with and build - lots of re-use of things you made or thigns others made. B can exist in other OSes as well, but it isn't as pervasive as in the UNIX environments.

    Note, there's probably a lot more to it than this, but this is what I've gathered from what I have seen and read on the various topics. and discussions.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Look, positive moderation! What's going on? I was modded appropriately yesterday myself. Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.

      Anyway let's talk about your comment. You are absolutely correct on all levels. As you say 3 and 4 apply to BSD as well but it's the 1 and 2 that really put on the heat. I haven't been a big fan of the GPL over time but I'm coming around too. I have to admit that it really is a sort of LICENSE OF THE PEOPLE, maybe a little overbearing in some situations, but then it's about f

      • 3 doesn't apply to BSD, which is probably the biggest reason why it didn't get the lift-off that Linux got, even though it had a much earlier start (as an OS), and slightly earlier start (as a OSS OS), and arguably was better than Linux for quite a while in all other respects.

        The BSD people are quite strict about the code, comment and doc quality of what goes into the kernel in comparison to those who work on Linux.

        Freedom is the ability to make a choide. The GPL is *not* about freedom. It's about Openness.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by orasio (188021)

          Freedom is the ability to make a choide. The GPL is *not* about freedom. It's about Openness. It makes several huge restrictions on what a person can do with GPLed software in order to keep it visible to all.

          Wrong.
          The GPL is not about Openness. LEt's not start a disinformation battle here.
          The BSD license and the GPL are about freedom but they choose different people to give it to.

          FreeBSD gives the most freedom to the first tier of users. The guys who get the software fromt he author have the freedom to do pretty much anything they want with it, even restricting the freedom of people they distribute the software to, or creating proprietary derivatives.

          The GPL takes some of that freedom away fromt he first tier,

    • by Bogtha (906264)

      They are enamored by the GPL license.

      I don't think that's remotely true.

      GNOME is LGPL, not GPL. In fact, they consider it an advantage [gnome.org] to not use the GPL.

      KDE libraries are LGPL, KDE applications are GPL [kde.org].

      XFCE uses a mixture [xfce.org] of the GPL, LGPL and BSD licenses.

      Enlightenment uses the BSD license [enlightenment.org].

      GNUStep uses the LGPL [gnustep.org].

      As you can see, none of the major free operating environments use the GPL exclusively, in fact half of them don't use it at all. Hell, GNOME is part of the GNU project, the

  • by Wdomburg (141264) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:42AM (#17539994)
    All the interesting stuff in supplanting Windows in the desktop is in, well, the desktop. The underlying operating system is irrelevent so long as it works, and Linux is going to continue doing that far better than upstart efforts.
  • False analogy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Noksagt (69097) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:51AM (#17540180) Homepage
    Clearly, if Linux is unable to reproduce a third of Firefox's end user uptake over a much longer time-frame, there are deficiencies with the direction the GNU/Linux/X/Gnome/KDE system has taken.
    This is a false analogy [wikipedia.org].

    Linux is an OS. Firefox is a desktop application. An OS differs from an application in many ways, including ease of installation and the impact to the rest of the desktop.

    Perhaps this suggests "alternative OSs" should make it even easier to make use of virtualization on "popular OSs" (LiveCDs are popular & this would be the next logical step).

    Of course the way to find the adoption of any software is difficult & the ways people look at browser usage compared to OS usage often differ.

    Firefox can run on many OSs, including Linux. Unless another browser becomes very dominant on Linux or Firefox becomes unpopular in other OSs, it isn't a good point of comparison.

    The fact that a browser was the basis for comparison is telling--server-side apps are becoming more important & many of these do run on Linux.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke (6130)
      Linux is an OS. Firefox is a desktop application. An OS differs from an application in many ways, including ease of installation and the impact to the rest of the desktop.

      No kidding, I thought this was a ludicrous comparison when I read it too. Firefox achieved popular success because it runs on Windows. Can Linux do that? Uh, no, barring geeky stuff like vmware which itself doesn't have the same uptake as a web browser.

      Plus when he talks about the Linux desktops being wedded to Linux even though Linux h
  • Some do (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew&gmail,com> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:51AM (#17540182) Homepage Journal
    Some do consider alternatives, and that is why programs like ReactOS exist. Most of the smaller alternatives aren't really designed to be desktop replacements for the world, but rather small niche desktops. Of all the alternatives, Linux is the best candidate to supplant Windows on someone's PC.

    Firefox used aggressive marketing in quick blitz. It had a great name. And Firefox had rapid growth because of that.

    Linux is associated with geeks and carries plenty of negative baggage with the average person. When Mozilla became Firefox, it was able to be reborn in a marketing perspective, and may someday win the fight that Mozilla never could.

    If Linux gets a similiar marketing facelift, you could see similiar adoption rates that Firefox had. It is a much bigger adjustment for people, but in the wake of Vista, more people may be looking for alternatives. However, the majority of the Linux community is quite content to cater to themselves rather than try to cater to the outside market. For mass consumption you would really need:

    1 major primary distro for home users.
    1 major desktop
    Easy conversion wizard to help people convert Microsoft documents, desktops and settings.
    1 major form of package management, and thusly one major package repository

    Remember the GetFirefox.com campaign? Remember all the CDs thrown around?

    Imagine a LiveCD distribution campaign that did the same thing, but also helped you convert/migrate? Give it a snappy name, and a cute mascot and there you go!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ericrost (1049312)
      Only problem with that is the VAST difference in philosophy between distro's. I run Gentoo because its scalable, portable, and has the best package manager out there. However as any new Gentoo user will tell you, it's a bitch to get going the first time. It made me learn though. I had a technical background in computers and networking in the Windows environment and bloatware holds you by the hand so much that when you're faced with an OS that can do anything you want it to, you cry out for help. Once I go
      • Not trying to start a flame-war here, but I loathe Gnome. I point most "typical-users" to SUSE, but with the Novell fiasco, I'd point them to Kubuntu likely.

        Both show great promise to that end. If the community weren't so completely fractured, we could develop a magic bullet.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by orasio (188021)
          KDE and Gnome cater to different users.
          Former expert windows users sometimes prefer KDE, because it resembles mswindows better.
          Gnome is, in my opinion, better for completely new users.
          The magic bullet is that, Kubuntu for switchers, and Ubuntu for everybody else.
      • I'm a big advocate of Gentoo as well, though lately I've been frustrated with the lack of updates in Portage for certain packages. They sorely need more package maintainers.

        But Gentoo is not the magic bullet to spark the Linux revolution for the typical user.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AeroIllini (726211)
        Nice to see a fellow Gentooer admitting that not everyone should run Gentoo. I run Gentoo on everything I own, but it's a power user's OS, not Joe Average's.

        The average user wants to click Yes and have everything run. There are a few distros out there for this, but they have their problems as well (security, portability, package management).

        Well, sure. But Windows suffers from all these problems and more. For every "I couldn't get my digital camera working in Ubuntu" anecdote out there, there is a similar

    • by MagicM (85041)
      Isn't this exactly what Ubuntu is doing (minus the easy conversion wizard)? They "throw around" CDs [ubuntu.com], and even try to send you more CDs than you need so you'll hand them to your friends.

      So all they need is a snappy mascot. I nominate him [ubuntu.com].
      • They are making installing Linux fairly easy, though I think Suse has the best installer, and YAST is great for new users.

        I don't think Ubuntu is a sexy name, the mascot isn't sexy, and I don't care for the color scheme. It seems to be the fastest growing Linux distro on the planet, but I don't think it is a marketing home run either.
  • by itwerx (165526) <itwerx@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:52AM (#17540198) Homepage
    Here's the Flamebait/Insightful reason why Linux will never be a desktop OS: 99% of the development is driven by developers. Developers are geeks. Developers have their friends and the rest of the OSS community test their stuff. If they ran it by their grandmothers once in awhile maybe we'd make some headway...
  • I know that the question concerns other operating systems, but I've had the same questions concerning the portability-layer projects like cygwin (windows) and fink (osx). I tried in vain for a few months to get stock garnome to compile and run on cygwin. As for fink, KDE seems to run, albeit in a crippled state.

    IMHO, if the desktop layer of OSS becomes too coupled with the kernel, then we've shot ourselves right in the foot. However, if OSS can continue to develop a somewhat uniform desktop system across
  • by HighOrbit (631451) * on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:54AM (#17540234)
    I disagree "free-desktop efforts have created a total monoculture around developing and promoting Linux" because KDE, Blackbox, XFCE, etc, etc.. all compile on pretty much any implementation of Unix, of which Linux is just a clone. Solaris now runs Gnome (branded as Java Desktop System) as the prefered desktop.

    Unix is probably popular with developers because it is "open" and standardized in the specifications and widely know and taught in computer science departments.

    So the "failure" to catch on is wider than Linux. Solaris/SunOS alone has been deployed in probably every large corporation in America and Western Europe since the '80s, but has never broken out of the specialist server/workstation market and into the general desktop market. And during all that time, SunOS/Solaris has gone from OpenLook, to CDE, to Gnome. The various X-Windows desktops really didn't get off the ground in a meaningful way until the mid-1990's with CDE (which was announced in 1993, I first saw it myself in 1996 on HP-UX), by which time Win3.1 and Win95 were already entrenched. Also, compare Win95 and FVWM circa 1995, and you'll see why Windows was the only desktop game in town at the time.

    Windows owes it sucess to the ubiquity of MS-DOS in the 1980s-early 1990s. MS-DOS owed its ubiquity to the "street-credit" granted to it by IBM's endorsement. Had IBM implemented their PC with Xenix or some flavor of Unix capable of running on an 8088, then we would all have unix desktops.
  • by Coryoth (254751) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:56AM (#17540274) Homepage Journal
    I think the simple answer is critical mass: you need a sufficient number of developers developing not just the platform itself, but applications to run on it. Without a sufficient base of applications you're going to inevitably be perceived as a minority player and fail to attract many users, and hence many extra developers. Past a certain threshold you can be roughly self sustaining - Linux is across it, and so is MacOS X, but I don't think the projects you mention are even close. There is simply too much software built up on the GNU and X11 toolchain (and increasingly on GNOME and KDE) that people would have to leave behind to move to a new open source OS - it just isn't that tempting when the alternatives look so application poor.

    To succeed you really need some base to start with (as Apple had when they moved to MacOS X, although even they lean on X11 and apps built on the GNU toolchain to some extent), or you need to support the toolchains of the applications (see OpenSolaris and BSD, which lean on X11, GNOME, KDE, etc.). Depending on what it is you wish to get rid off things can go from easy to very hard. Just ditching the Linux kernel is feasible - see the BSD and OpenSolaris options, among others. If you want to get rid of X11 as well... well that's trickier, but if you have a graphics system that will run GTK+ and or QT you might get by because you'll still have the rich supply of GTK+ apps, and can probably get KDE ported. If you want to ditch everything up to GNOME and KDE... well that means rewriting all your applications from scratch, and really that's a huge and incredibly daunting task. It's not just the big applications like web browsers and email clients, its all the different little niche applications that make the environment so rich. Its that that keeps many people on Windows - the one little application that few other people have any interest in, but happens to be vital to them; because everyone has a slightly different vital niche program it adds up to a lot of applications to reproduce before you can truly draw a large user base.

    Linux has crossed the first threshold: it has enough users and application developers working on it that its self sustaining. It has yet to cross the next threshold where it provides a rich enough ecosystem of applications to entice the myriad of home users. It is, however, slowly crawling toward that goal.
  • From the tone of the summary, it seems that a failure to challenge the Windows monopoly - and to do so succesfully - is grounds to abandon a project you enjoy contributing to.

    I use Linux because I prefer it, not because I want to spite a business. Same reason, I think, that many developers work on Linux. They like the system; they don't (all) feel the need for penguiny desktop domination.

  • why am i not interested in developing for platforms other than linux? a short list:

    - linux is what i use on a daily basis for work. if i'm going to write software on my own time, it's going to be for a platform that i use
    - i know enough linux apis that i can be useful (e.g: posix, qt, opengl, etc.) whereas with most of the alternative OSes that you've listed, i'd have to start from scratch learning pre-alpha APIs. no thanks.
    - i have the right tools under linux to get the job done, while the OSes you've ment
  • 2 answers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mnmn (145599) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:09PM (#17540496) Homepage
    You have posted two questions, why are all free software developers headed towards Linux and why Linux has not supplanted Windows as a Desktop OS..

    Answers:
    1) Most free software developers I know gravitate towards standards, not an OS. Their programs will run well on a GNU BSD system and cygwin. That's their goal. Every developer whose motivation for development is philanthropy or ego will aim to maximize compatibility rather than being exclusive to Linux.

    2) Linux cannot take over the desktop for a few simple reasons. First and foremost is the lack of standards. Theres gnome AND kde. And there are several popular distros to develop and test for to make sure installation is smooth and seamless like in Windows. Windows is a single distro and extremely predictable in that regard. Developing and deploying a desktop app for it is much easier.

    Secondly there is a lack of opensourced drivers and directx doesnt exist. DirectX makes things much easier than opengl plus other api.

    Once a real and effective standard is settled upon in Linux (api, distro, installation and package maintenance mechanism) I suspect Linux would be much more popular on the layman's desktop.
    • "Theres gnome AND kde. "

      I think you make a good point here. Moreover, i really wish app developers would try to make apps that have kde and gnome flavors, at least. I prefer Gnome, but i love Amarok. I know that i still can install amarok, but it gets a little squirrelly using it in gnome. It would be nice if there was a direct port to the different desktop (not a knock off like listen or exaile, although they are nice).
      • by cyclop (780354)

        I never understood this "I like app X but it's for desktop A and I run desktop B so it's bad". Not in the last 2 years, at least. I run a Gentoo desktop with XFCE (based on GTK), I run GTK based browser and mail client (firefox+thunderbird), but most other apps I use are KDE apps (Konqueror, amaroK, K3b, Kate) etc. - they all play nice with each other. At work I have a Kubuntu KDE desktop where I use GTK apps (firefox,thunderbird,synaptic,inkscape,gimp) inside the KDE desktop. Seriously, where is the proble

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Many of the direct interfaces do not work as well. In KDE, you can do some intuitive things - like dragging an .mp3 from the desktop into the playlist. From GNOME to Amarok, I found there was some difficulty. Admittedly, it has been more than a year since I used Amarok in Gnome. I've been using listen, which would be my second choice...

          I know this is not a very detailed answer, and certainly this is not the only thing that i saw that wasn't quite right. Its the best example I can think of this far down the
    • by DaveV1.0 (203135)
      Once a real and effective standard is settled upon in Linux (api, distro, installation and package maintenance mechanism) I suspect Linux would be much more popular on the layman's desktop.


      I don't see that happening any time soon. Too much ideology wrapped up in those things.
    • by jonasj (538692)

      Linux cannot take over the desktop for a few simple reasons. First and foremost is the lack of standards. Theres gnome AND kde. And there are several popular distros to develop and test for to make sure installation is smooth and seamless like in Windows. Windows is a single distro and extremely predictable in that regard. Developing and deploying a desktop app for it is much easier.

      I'm gonna sort of repeat what I just wrote in reply to paltemalte earlier in this thread: What if instead of thinking of "Linu

  • Linux was developed around a very open and collaborative concept and it succeeded in drawing the attention of tons of developers and a growing number of end-users. NeXT was an innovative concept, supported by the some of the brightest minds around. But it did not succeed. Some it found it's way in other desktops. BeOS was a great concept. It is one of the fastest desktops ever with a very high performance. Yet, it did not succeed in the market place (MonaOS looks like BeOS). Amiga? Same thing.

    We can't bla

  • For the past year or two I've half-jokingly told people that I think that Linux has as much as 35% marketshare when you discount people who use nothing but a web browser (since in this case the OS doesn't really matter, so the user doesn't have to make a choice). I'm curious what the real number is. Does anyone here know how to find out?

  • Though i've lived an internet connectionless home life for well over a year now, so havent actually had anything to show for it for a while. The goals of AROS, aside from promoting a warm fuzzy feeling amongst amiga stalwarts, are a small, efficient, multitasking, modular OS. and by small we mean less megabytes than you can count on one hand. and by multitasking we mean being able to process more than one thing at once, which lets face it, windows sucks at 20+ years after AmigaOS 1 came out.
  • Of course, almost all free software and desktop efforts and development remain unquestioningly oriented around Linux.

    No, no they aren't. No critical functionality in KDE or GNOME relies on the Linux kernel, and both desktops will run happily in the various BSDs. So maybe a more accurate question for Ask Slashdot would be, "Why are Free-Desktop developers wedded to the X Window System?"

    I'm not particularly knowledgeable about the merits of X, but there are a number of advantages to using it that I can think of off the top of my head:

    1. It's based on an open standard.
    2. The most often used open source implementation of
  • a simple theory (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Yaddoshi (997885)
    LINUX has readily available development tools that do not cost the software developer anything beyond hardware and an internet connection to access, therefore they can maintain the lowest possible overhead while developing their free desktop applications, and because LINUX can be run on older computer systems, the cost of hardware can be kept significantly low as well.

    When you are creating something that is going to be offered to the general public as "free", the only significant investment you wish to co
  • Excuse me for saying so, but the submission is a load of bollocks.

    ``However, the Linux of today seems to be as far away as ever from realizing the expectations of mass adoption we once had for it, without significant growth in home usage since the late 90s.''

    Where do you get your numbers? People all around me have switched to GNU/Linux, and some more are currently making the switch. Ubuntu, in particular, has worked wonders. If the fora are any indication, a lot of people have started using Linux thanks to
  • Mu (Score:5, Insightful)

    by swillden (191260) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:38PM (#17541018) Homepage Journal

    The premise of the question is that Linux' lack of desktop market penetration indicates some failing with Linux. I think that premise is flawed. I think Linux has achieved more desktop market share than could reasonably be expected in the time elapsed, and that all of those who have predicted more widespread use were simply fooling themselves.

    See, every bit of desktop market share that Linux achieves must be taken away from the Microsoft desktop monopoly (plus maybe a bit from Apple, but that's a tiny corner of the market and one that is very hard to crack). That means that Linux has to deal with the fact that pretty much all of the desktop software in the world, and all of the PC hardware in the world, is built for and around Microsoft Windows.

    Look, for example, at the reasons why people here on /. commonly say that they don't want to (or can't) switch to Linux:

    1. Hardware support. Some bit or piece of their system doesn't work properly under Linux. While these problems are rarer than they were in the past, they'll never go away completely until Linux is big enough that hardware vendors do what's necessary to make sure their hardware is supported on Linux.
    2. Software support. Whether it's games, photo or video editing tools, Microsoft Office, or whatever, the other major complaint about Linux is that it doesn't have whatever app the user wants. The Linux community's response has been to try to build Free versions of everything the user might want. That's great in many cases, but in many others what the user wants is *exactly* the particular app they like on Windows, rather than something similar.

    Looking beyond the slashdot crowd to the more general PC user base, Linux has another, even bigger obstacle: Most people don't install their own operating system, ever. They buy a PC with an OS already on it, and that's what they use. What OS comes on every PC on the shelf? The latest version of Microsoft Windows, of course.

    Given that these are the real problems holding back widespread desktop adoption of Linux, what is some other OS, that supports less hardware and has less software available, and even less mindshare among PC vendors going to do to fix the problem?

    Not a damned thing, obviously.

    Desktop Linux will make its breakout, if it does, in exactly the same way that Desktop DOS and Windows achieved theirs -- via the business desktop. In the more-controlled corporate environment, where hardware is less varied, the IT support staff is better educated (i.e., there is an IT support staff), application sets are more limited (e.g. no games), and there is a stronger focus on cost containment and security, Linux is beginning to make some inroads, and will continue to make more. Linux is getting serious attention as a preferred desktop platform by governments, both for reasons of openness and for reasons of cost management.

    When a significant percentage of the world's desktop PC users use Linux at work, then you'll start to see significant home market penetration as well. And that business desktop penetration is happening, but it's going to be a long, slow process because it's a fight against a very deeply entrenched and very powerful monopoly.

    I think Linux is doing an excellent job of getting there. The Free desktop environments and application suites are in excellent shape, and are continuing to improve rapidly. I think KDE and GNOME are both much *more* usable than MS Windows, each in their own way, and I can cite numerous Free applications that rival or even exceed the best of their commercial competition. Linux is *ready* for the desktop, and has been for quite some time. But being ready isn't enough to displace Windows. There have to be other advantages, to counter the massive juggernaut of Windows inertia. And there *are* other advantages, but even so, it will take time. Lots of time.

    People don't focus much on the other a

    • The problems the stated will get non-win32 operating systems nowhere.

      No one *wants* to change simply to substitute one OS for another. No one! They switch when there is a problem with their computer that they get so sick and tired of dealing with, they go to another platform.

      My Dad (an aol user no less) switched when I told him I won't fix his Windows box any more. Switched to Linux, got AOHell working and never looked back. He wanted a new PC, so he got a mac mini. Why? Because I won't s
  • Haiku (Score:4, Informative)

    by 11223 (201561) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:59PM (#17541438)
    Don't forget Haiku [haiku-os.org], the free BeOS reimplementation. What's been done so far is impressive for the number of developers working on it; if a few more developers joined the progress, I (personally, IMHO) think R1 could happen this year.
  • by kimvette (919543) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:02PM (#17541488) Homepage Journal
    Other free-desktop operating system projects which take different and innovative approaches like ReactOS(snip) remain comparatively starved of developers and interest.


    It seems to me, in theory at least, that every Free/Open Source Software project developed for/ported to Windows is in effect developed for or ported to ReactOS - at least once ReactOS actually works.

    Maybe the reason it is not well supported and tested is that the driver installation process is an absolute beast. Ever try to get an All in Wonder card set up in ReactOS? I got partway through and quit out of sheer boredom.

    Why?

    Here is the process:
      - Install a clean Windows installation (Win2K for this situation)
      - Dump the registry
      - Capture a file listing of the entire system. Don't forget to include meta data such as file size, date, and version
      - Install the All in Wonder drivers/software
      - Dump the registry
      - Capture a file listing of the entire system. Don't forget to include meta data such as file size, date, and version
      - Diff the registry dumps, create a patch file (a properly-formatted .reg file)
      - diff the file listing, figure out which files $vendor changed, note location
      - Import the registry into ReactOS
      - manually copy the files over
      - watch it croak. Use depends or another dependency checker to figure out what else needs to be copied from Windows to ReactOS to make it work (and if you do not own a Windows license, at this point copyright law becomes an issue, especially if you want to offer a "free" and *cough*"100% compatible"*cough* Windows alternative to customers)

    Why does ReactOS enjoy more support, including developer, tester, and user? Gee, I don't know. That's a tough question.
  • A simple principle that holds up when the bull (real one) is charging at you as well as metaphorically.

    The road is littered with technology panaceas spanning the gamut from programming languages that are the "greatest" and "will make developers far more productive" to operating systems that never went anywhere, e.g., BeOS.

    Call me jaded, who cares about the others you mentioned. LINUX still sucks on the desktop for average users, largely because the software ecosystem that surrounds Windows is so massive an
  • by codepunk (167897) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:05PM (#17541554)
    In order to dominate the desktop the monopoly currently strangling the market needs to be removed. The linux desktop does not dominate only because of the noose on the OEMs and it is also the reason BEOS got no where.

    I am no Mac fan but I actually think that apple currently has the ability to shake the market to it's core. They now have a intel version of the operating system, increase the driver support and put it on the shelves and I think it could really create a explosive impact on the home desktop industry.
  • Linux sucks less. Mostly.
    Besides, did you have a better plan? And why is it better? Anyhow most mature OSS projects strive for some measure portability, so this question smells pretty rhetorical.

  • And I imagine on almost anything that implements the right libraries and hooks. I think it is up to the advocates of a particular OS to port in the desktop, not the desktop developers.
  • A desktop is all about the device. Linux will always have better device drivers htan any other open source os.
  • Thats not clear, at all.

    A web browser and a OS Desktop are very different things, and require very different reasons to switch. Perhaps most importantly, whereas many users have noticed that IE began to suck (with viruses, popups, et al), Windows just is; for non-Windows users, its always sucked. For Windows users it just has been; and 95-98-XP, it has gotten better. The Firefox marketing campaign has been "Take back the web", not "Get a brand new web that you don't know about".

    The effort to implement a switch to FF, from IE is 5 minutes. And to become just as proficient as a user, from a couple of hours to a couple of days. For Windows to some other Desktop, days and months. The "undo" time for FF is 0, IE is still installed. Undo Linux may be 0, or as much as a few days too.

    To repeat myself: browsers and Desktops are very different things; users annoyance with them is different, the effort to switch is different. Comparing the relative "success" of OSS versions of these different things is blatantly wrong, and a disservice to hackers on both teams.
  • by Enahs (1606) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:42PM (#17542360) Journal
    Why, when you have an OS that has support for a lot of hardware, modern niceties such as hotplugging hardware, building blocks such as X11 and standards-compliant building blocks such as CUPS, why must that be ditched in favor of a from-scratch effort such as ReactOS? Or why should it be a necessity to target a server-targeted OS such as FreeBSD?

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