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How Ubuntu can save the Linux Desktop

Having already written on why I believe the Linux desktop has had it’s day and admitting that while Linux has changed the world of IT for the better  it seems that after comment’s from some very notable industry players over the last week might have sparked an interested in Linux, specifically Ubuntu as a viable third alternative.

I’ve been using Linux long enough to see many years of it being the year of the Linux desktop with the Windows Vista release being the most viable time for the the Linux desktop. Now lets be very clear here, i’m not talking about people like me using the Linux Desktop, i’m also not talking about the mum, grandparent, kids who occasionally i get feedback from telling me how because they are using linux, or they know someone who is using linux then it must already be a viable OS.  Linux accounts for 1% of PC usage and lets be realistic about that number, there are not thousands even hundreds of  companies with 100+ employees choosing to run Linux as an OS out there on the CEO to the Secretaries desktop. If you are a home user and a PC gamer you are not choosing Linux as your OS of choice either.

The main reason Linux has not opened up into these key areas is software, from a company perspective as good as LibreOffice is, and even knowing that 85% of Office users use 15% of Office features LibreOffice doesn’t cut the mustard for all use cases, Evolution is a viable desktop email client, however if you’re tied to exchange like many companies are it’s not still a viable real world alternative it’s very very flaky still. No mater where you turn the commercial grade software isn’t quite up to it. Don’t get me wrong software on Linux has improved hugely over the years.

I’m not writing this without experience, I have experience of Linux software in a corporate environment and user bases of 1000’s of users so i Know the pitfalls. I’m also aware what can be done with the OS and Love it.

There is a spec of light on the horizon hoever, as it appears Microsoft’s ruffling a few feathers out there with its Metro Skinned Windows 8 systems. Already this week when speaking at a conference Gabe Newel a 13 year Microsoft veteran who is now founder and chief executive of Valve the company worth $3 bn and developers of steam made the following comment while being questioned on stage by Microsoft’s former vice president of game publishing, Ed Fries, “I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. I think we’ll lose some of the top-tier PC/OEMs, who will exit the market. I think margins will be destroyed for a bunch of people. If that’s true, then it will be good to have alternatives to hedge against that eventuality.”

This came after Valve announced that it would be bringing the Steam system to Linux. However he was very clear to state that this was Valve hedging their bets.

“The big problem that is holding back Linux is games. People don’t realise how critical games are in driving consumer purchasing behaviour,” said Newell. “We want to make it as easy as possible for the 2,500 games on Steam to run on Linux as well. It’s a hedging strategy.”

Valve who’s Steam is basically is an app store believe that the impending Windows App Store has the potential to cut the margins made by some OEM’s so much it will have them leave the Windows OS as a preferred preinstalled OS and start looking at Linux as an alternative as a preinstalled OS.

Following on from these comments the head of Blizzard also had a few comments

Rob Pardo, the executive vice president of game design at the Diablo 3 studio, quoted Newell’s comments on his personal twitter account before adding that Windows 8 is “not awesome for Blizzard either”.

Discussion on the value of Windows 8 has hitherto been relatively quiet among games designers. Yet Newell, the co-founder of Valve Software, sparked debate on the subject by describing Windows 8 as “a catastrophe“.

nice interview with Gabe Newell – “I think Windows 8 is a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space* – not awesome for Blizzard either

It appears that his claims were centred on criticisms that that Microsoft will want to have more control over various applications and purchases made through its next operating system. The full details have not yet been announced by Microsoft.

“There’s a strong temptation to close the platform,” Newell said, “because they look at what they can accomplish when they limit the competitors’ access to the platform, and they say, ‘That’s really exciting.'”

While this isn’t a call to arms for Linux, or even a guarantee that Linux Desktop still has a chance what it is is proof that while Apple has built a hardware and software ecosystem and can get away with it’s App store, Microsoft’s Windows platform works under a different model and in trying to emulate the success of Apple, Microsoft could end up  causing it’s own eco system to implode around it if they feel they are not getting the best deal possible.

It’s not just the software guys who have been putting the boot in into Microsoft, tech press criticism has been pretty damming as well.

The critics who have been using Windows 8 are extremely negative on the new look and feel of the operating system:

  • At SlateFarhad Manjoo writes, “In my time with Windows 8, I’ve felt almost totally at sea—confused, paralyzed, angry, and ultimately resigned to the pain of having to alter the way I do most of my work.”
  • At Marketwatch, John Dvorak says, “Windows 8 looks to me to be an unmitigated disaster that could decidedly hurt the company and its future … The real problem is that it is both unusable and annoying.”
  • Long time Microsoft observer Matt Rosoff said, “I still think it’s needlessly confusing and hard to use … I’ve spoken to other people who have been testing Windows 8 for months. A lot of them found it puzzling like I did, and it’s getting worse, not better, with each beta update.”

If Windows 8 is as bad as all the early critics say it is, it really could be a disaster. (Defining disaster as a significant hit to its market cap, and the beginning of the end of Windows dominance.

So how does this work well for Linux? Well initially it won’t, however it could for Ubuntu, because Ubuntu love it or hate it is Desktop Linux, very few other distro’s come close to it’s marketing capability and many non technical people have at least heard of Ubuntu. And if Linux is progress and get up some positive numbers in the desktop space. It has to get behind a brand, it has to get software development behind that brand, and it has to convince other companies like Valve that Ubuntu is a viable platform. Canonical has done a good job of getting drivers for hardware

Reality is Windows 8 will sell in huge numbers, it will be preinstalled on enough PC’s and Tablets to provide Steve Balmer with the rah rah microsoft we sold this many speech next time he gets up on stage. However it’s possible just possible if Canonical can convince companies like Dell and HP that they can get a bit more margin if they sell AND market Ubuntu PC’s one last gasp for the Linux Desktop could be had.




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