Desktop Linux Summit Day 2

Part 2 of a 2-part report. Part 1 is here.

Tuesday morning started for me in the ‘Using’ track with an interesting talk by Peter van der Linden on his adventures in partitioning and multiple installs. I thought I was doing well with a 3 distro boot system, but Peter got up to 33. Then he admitted that he uses Mac as his default desktop! Mac uses the EFI specification for booting, more details of which can be found here. Geoffrey Moore‘s keynote was next up, and the focus here was firmly where Desktop Linux fits in the business world, or more specifically into the broader product life cycle. Perhaps rather shockingly to the audience, Geoffrey said that Desktop Linux is becoming less and less relevant. The real innovation these days is in areas such as handhelds and VOIP, and users are choosing these devices more and more over the PC. We’re moving towards a more ‘cloud’ (Internet) based architecture, with multiple devices having access to the data. And a point raised in this talk, mirrored in other talks, is that the lack of standardisation is natural to Linux. Microsoft should not be used as a reference point, and diversity is its strength.

I then went to see what Michael Robertson has been up to lately. Michael is the founder of Linspire (formerly Lindows), but these days is focusing on other ventures such as SipPhone, ajax13, and mp3tunes.. The main focus of this talk was the ‘ajaxX’ group of applications that have been appearing lately, including ajaxWrite and ajaxTunes. The basic idea is to move traditional applications off the desktop into the ‘cloud’ using AJAX technologies. The underlying platform here is the browser, and currently they only work with Firefox (the Mozilla ‘platform’ is something I advocated in my talk, and this is one example of it). When asked if other browsers would be supported, rather than committing to that, he put forward his preference for Firefox to be more widely adopted because it’s a better browser. A laudable goal, and something that many of us support. Whether it will happen or not is another story. The ajax13 applications are free, so the real revenue model will come from storage offerings. I gave my talk in the afternoon, and then to wrap up the day I went to see Tim Griffin talk about some of the nice things his company Userful is doing with multiple-user desktops.

To sum it up briefly, I’d say that the general mood at the conference is that Desktop Linux is in a very healthy state despite low adoption rates. Some of the things preventing greater adoption include lack of standardisation across distros, incomplete hardware support, a shortfall of enterprise applications, and a perceived geeky image. These are being tacked head-on in some circles, but the great strength of Linux is and always has been its ability to adapt. It always finds niche markets. Linux should not be competing, but innovating, evolving and focusing on its strengths.

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