It’s been nine years since I first installed Linux on a computer of mine. It didn’t last long back then, since I actually wanted to use the computer for surfing the web, sending email, and playing games. Linux has come a long way since then, and now it’s a reliable desktop system at work. However, my system is reliable (and enjoyable) because I am a geek, and I know exactly what it needs to make it run smooth.
For example, I use a dual screen set up with Xrandr, and it works well, especially with the new composting ability in Gnome 2.22. Getting xrandr to work properly required me to edit a few lines in the xorg.conf file to allow for a large maximum desktop size. Compare this with how Windows deals with dual monitors. You plug it in, turn it on, enable it in the preferences, and there you go. Now compare that with how Macs handle dual monitors. You plug in another monitor and it works… bottom line.
I realize that there are a lot of valid reasons for this. Proprietary hardware, lack of documentation, legacy code, etc, etc, etc…
I also realize that 99% of people who use a computer do not care.
Computers should be like appliances… plug them in, turn them on, and start using them. I like the toaster analogy. I don’t care how my toaster works. I just want it to make my toast in the morning. I don’t care if I have the “freedom” to take the toaster apart and study the timing mechanisem and re-create it in yet another toaster. I just want toast. I use Linux at work because it is an amazing server. I’ve seen Linux servers keep on trucking through some environments that would kill another OS. I use Linux on my laptop at work becuase it integrates in with my workflow and scripting perfectly. I don’t use it for the freedom, I use it because it works well for my environment. My environment however, is very different from the average home user.
If Linux is ever going to take hold it needs to learn a few things from Apple. Here are a few points that will bring Linux onto Mom and Dad’s desk.
Own the hardware. Apple controls all aspects of its hardware/software relationship. I’m not saying that a particular Linux distro would only be able to be installed on whatever vendors hardware, but I’m saying that a hardware vendor should adopt Linux and fully develop the OS in house to support its hardware.
Manically control the distro. The open source nature of Linux makes this very difficult, but it also makes Linux feel… disjointed. This goes hand in hand with point 1, develop the hardware and software in tandem to support each other. Release the code as GPL, sure… give it back to the community, but control what goes into the distro and develop it in-house. Linux has a bad habit of adding features because it can. Compiz has hundreds of options for rediculous visual features that no one needs (and a few that everyone does need!), and which really distract from using the computer. Another example: Do you think KDE 4.0 would have made it past the desk of Steve Jobs? Can you imagine what that conversation would have been like? Which leads me to my next point:
Appoint someone Grand High Poomba. Someone needs to be there to say “No”. Someone who will say, yea, that’s a great idea, but we are not going to do that in this distro. At times I think that Mark Shuttleworth is that guy… and then there are other times when he decides to ship every six months if Ubuntu is ready or not. Shuttleworth could be that guy.
Provide the end to end user experience. When I pop open the lid of my laptop, I expect to be able to start using it within seconds. When I close the lid, I expect the laptop to go to sleep and wait for me to need it again. When the hardware is fused with the software, and features are controlled and perfected, the result is a very fluid, intuitive experience that brings the users back.
The last item I’d love to see from Linux is to stop adding new features. Seriously, stop adding new, untested, beta quality code and spend some time perfecting what is already there. Fix what you have first. Then, and only then start adding new features.
Linux, we’ve come a long ways, but we’ve still got a long ways to go.