December 30, 2001

Linux needs focus not whiners
I recently read an article in LinuxWorld by a guy who I think is very representative of many Linux (and other open-source software) zealots. I'm sick of constantly hearing about the Evil Empire from Linux and Open Source zealots. Grow up! Are you saying "The Man" is keeping you down? Do you take no responsibility for your current condition? Are the rules of the game unfair?

The reason Linux is floundering, if at all, is that there is no unified Linux vision. There is no strategy, no marketing -- not even a targeted market segment. Who is leading product development for Linux? Who has identified and profiled the target users and their needs? Can anyone tell me, even in general terms, who Linux is designed for? So much Open Source development relies on the concept of evolution -- but evolution takes too long. In business, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there".

If success for Linux were defined as being a great, cheap, open source *NIX-like OS, then Linux has already succeeded many times over. The problem is that UNIX was never meant to be a broad-base desktop environment -- just like Cray's aren't built for gamers. So if you've defined Linux's success as domination of the desktop computing market, then you've probably started with the wrong product -- Linux was not designed as a desktop computing product for the masses. If Linux ever does become a Windows-killer for average computer users, then it will fail to deliver what most hard-core Linux users want today -- a free and powerful *NIX clone.

The question is not "Is Linux ready for Joe Sixpack?" nor "Are you ready for Linux on your desktop(s)?", but rather "Who's desktop is Linux designed for?". As far as I can tell, Linux is designed for people using Linux...since Linux developers add features they would like for themselves. Of course most business and home computer users are nothing like a highly technical software developer -- especially not in the ways they understand and use software.

The Linux community needs to determine what their goals are, get organized, and quit whining and blaming others for their situation. If all the energies of that community were focused, I'm sure they could make huge strides toward a better product and higher market share -- in whatever market they target.

Disclaimer: I'm not an MS hack -- I've installed and run both Slackware and Mandrake versions of Linux dating back to 1997...I use UNIX and Linux regularly. I was an OS/2 fan, and still crave the power of DOS and UNIX command line interfaces at times. I have seen the wonders that are PERL, awk, and grep and marveled at their beauty and power. And for all you conspiracy theorists: I also grimace at many of the things MS does. but Microsoft is an I/T vendor like all the others. I loved Netscape in the early days but was disappointed in them many times. I've seen both the up and down sides of IBM, Oracle, and other's always a love/hate relationship. When usability and security take back seat to profits and market share, the idealist in me cringes -- but the realist in me reminds me that I'm free to NOT buy MS products, and I'm free to build my own alternative if I so choose.

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