Mitch Kapor: Linux' Journey to the Mainstream Desktop


Mitch Kapor is talking on "Linux' Journey to the Mainstream Desktop." OSAF's larger mission embraces more than just Chandler. Mitch recently initiated a project on behalf of OSAF to "take a careful look at the state of Linux on the desktop, and asked Bart Decrem to spearhead a short-term research project to assess the current situation and trends." You can read that report here (PDF).

Mitch is convinced that Linux will take a significant share of the desktop market. He takes a swipes at SCO as a company that has no business model other than taking the money that other companies have earned through litigation. He didn't actually say "SCO" but everyone knew what he was talking about and applauded. This, he says, is a sign of success for Linux. He cites several trends:

  • PC Commoditization
  • Increasing trouble getting consumer and companies to invest in continued upgrade cycles.
  • Increasing feelings that companies (Microsoft) are using exploitive licensing.

Mitch references massive deployments of Linux desktops, mostly with a public sector angle. The largest one is Thailand's decision to deploy 1 million low cost PCs inside the country.

Transactional workers, people who use computers to perform some specific task, are the next trend in Linux deployment. Call center workers are examples of transactional workers. Knowledge workers use more apps and are more flexible in what they do each day than transactional workers. Getting significant numbers of knowledge workers to use Linux will not happen until at least 2007. The total breadth of applications available under Linux doesn't suit their needs yet.

Mitch gives a report card for Linux on the desktop:

The desktopB
Desktop developer platformC-
Computer hardware supportB-
Peripheral devicesD
ApplicationsC+
Windows connectivityA

You should read the report (linked above) to understand the reasoning behind the grades. Mitch also gives a report card for the OS Desktop ecosystem. The bad grades (D) are in the areas of ISV's and distribution channels.

Much of the remaining work either spans multiple projects, or has fallen through the cracks between them. He provides a technical agenda which breaks down as 50% about office file formats, 30% about strengthening the foundations of the desktop, including a hardware abstraction layer and desktop consistency, and 20% about fit and finish. Remember this is an agenda for gaining wider adoption in the transactional worker market, not knowledge workers.

Predictions

  • MS price cuts
  • From good to gooderer
  • 10% share of desktop globally running Linux in the not-to-distant future
  • Rest of the world leads US as adopter
  • Public sector is a driver in adoption
  • Selective adoption in enterprises
  • No consumer momentum for a while.

OSAF is doing things to attack the problems:

  • Exploring ways to facilitate a desktop foundations layer
  • Funding extensive compatibility tests with respect to Excel
  • Providing fiscal agency services to selected OS projects
  • Giving resources to public sector decision makers at opensector.org
  • Building high quality desktop applications like Chandler.