Today dawns a new era of discussion. In the past, Paul Ferris and Dean Pannell (FeriCyde and DinoTrac) sparred impromptu in the talkbacks of many a respectable (and otherwise :) website. Today, for the first time, they make it official. The format is called Penguin Counter Penguin, and the subject random. Today the debate is on the slighter side of the Linux Desktop. Is the Linux desktop really ready for prime-time? Who knows for sure, but you can bet that Paul and Dean have their flamethrowers tuned for the finer points of the debate!
You Say Tomato, I say Desktop!
Dean Pannell and
Paul Ferris, LXer.com contributors.
Paulie, Paulie, Paulie, you dear, sweet, naive little puffball. I've read
your recent ramblings, and see that you believe the Dawn of the Linux Desktop
is upon us. Well, wake up, Toto, we ain't in Server anymore. Not only is
this strange new land of Desktop ruled by the Wicked Witch of the the
Northwest, all the little Redkins seem to like it that way.
Unlike Server where People Who Know What They're Doing carefully (we hope)
select hardware configurations and set up systems, those cute little Redkins
expect to pick up any old piece of hardware at the local Cheap-Mart and have
it work in their machine. If they hear about a piece of software, they
expect that it will run on their box. Never mind that reality and
expectation don't always line up,
Desktop is a place where people don't like
to be told "You can't do that!" Not only that, they expect to do everything
short of launching the Space Shuttle (After all, even NASA has trouble with
that one) without knowing anything beyond their own name, rank, and cereal
Dean you ignorant ----! -- Wait, wrong forum.
Dean, as usual I can count upon you to predispose yourself of disposing of
my predispositions before I can even begin imposing them. I'm not trying,
after all, to suggest that people can start using Linux like a supported
operating system. I'm suggesting it for people that need a box that can surf
the web or check email somewhat securely. I'm saying, in other words, that
the day of the sub $200 (US) Linux box is here.
Windows has become such a liability, that it needs to be relegated to the
box used to run only Windows applications. People need the Web and Email more
than ever, and today that, I'm saying, is the killer Linux app. Linux can do
that -- so can Apple for that matter. What has Apple recently released -- go
Why? May speculations abound, but I'm sure it's so people can find out
what a blessing it is to just do the simpler things in life and not worry
about having the bank account info mailed off to Hong Kong in the process.
Paulie-boy, methinks you've spent way too much time trying to pass the
Bunny Hill on
Surely you haven't forgotten the "Golden Age
of the Web Appliance", a glorious era era lasting maybe three months
back in 2001. You won't see any I-Openers at Best Buy, little guy,
and the only Ipaqs they sell are PDAs, not the Keyboard with an LCD
MSN-surfers that Compaq was trying to move at the time.
Admittedly, there were price & technology issues, but the biggest
issue remains: People don't like to be limited. That little $500 Mac
you mentioned (OK -- with a keyboard, mouse and monitor, we're talking
more like $700) may be small, but it's still a Mac and you can do a
whole lot more with it than send an e-mail.
So -- let's presume you can build a Linux appliance for $200 -- still
a pretty tough price point 4 years after the I-Opener became
I-Wide-Shut : what'cha gonna do with it?
You, Paulie, you geeky little bouncer of bits and bytes, might try
hooking the thing up as a firewall for your Internet-enabled electric
toothbrush, but most folks aren't going to do that. They'll stare at
the thing and say, "Now what?" Maybe a friend will turn them onto a
USB-attached toaster oven, or some really neat piece of software
analyzing whether McDonald's has sold more hamburgers than Bill Gates
And that's the rub. People might believe they can do cool stuff with
a Mac because Apple has spent years selling the Mac as a smooth box
for well-heeled non-geeks. Linux = Unix = Huh? What you talkin'
And we're not talking wild speculation or exotic software here. Just
walking into any BestCompCityMax store and you'll find stacks and
stacks of TurboTax -- which, by the way, doesn't run on Linux.
Hmmm... While your points about the web appliances are sharp ones, so is the
one on your head! I'm starting to wonder if you've had too much management
experience to see clearly now, because the sub-200 dollar Linux boxes are
all around us. You can get one from
Linspire, or from
selling these on-line, but you have to "drill-down" on their web site to find
But the point I'm sticking to is this -- that there remains the most
enormous problem of Windows security. Linux continues to
get more secure while Windows exploits sprout faster than ugly little
pimples on a teen-agers face. The exploitation of these security holes has
become a cash cow for tons of people (for Crooks, Anti-Virus software makers,
and now Microsoft since they're also selling anti-spyware software -- you
can make a point that at least 2 of the three on that list are
hard to distinguish).
A decent KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) switch can be had for $30, and
a second network card for a PC, $15. Make the thing an in-line firewall with
an intelligent KVM -- bundle it with the KVM soft buttons so that a user can
snap it into a working broadband connection. The final piece would be an
intelligent Samba configuration that simply made the box's filesystem
open for the user on the friendly side of the Linux box. The
appliance is for the most part, transparent to the user.
KVM switch? Second network card?
You might as well be talking flimflamgizmotron, my little wide-eyed friend.
That's exactly the kind of thing I mean when I talk about the desktop
being harder than the server room. Geeks inherently understand
servers and the people who run them. They forget that desktop users
tend to be a whole lot less interested in all that nitty gritty stuff.
And - security as a driver?
Maybe. After all,
has really taken off thanks to the gaping
holes in IE. What's it up to? Maybe 5% of the browsers out there?
If you consider that a major hunk of the Firefox users are on Linux,
that's not a huge chunk of Windows users. Still encouraging, though.
Still -- Do you think people will understand the concept that an OS
can be architecturally resistant to attack? After all, Movies from
DieHard to Ocean's Eleven have created the idea that a good hacker can
get into any system just by plugging in and typing a few magic
incantations. Just this season, 24's Chloe asked why a workmate
didn't just hack into a highly secure government system. If people
believe that the NSA can be hacked just like that, how do we convince
them that there's a real difference between Linux and Windows?
Good point about the misperception of hackable operating systems! I always
get blank stares when I talk about not using anti-virus software on my home
I'm suspecting, however, that you may have missed something about FireFox
While getting people to use Linux is difficult on a desktop system, getting
Windows users to download and love FireFox is an entirely different matter.
Most of the growth coming out of the FireFox usage crowd are Windows users --
not Linux users. OSS is making it's way onto the desktop, just not the Linux
I do see what you mean about getting people to understand operating
system level security as a feature -- but they instantly do understand
appliances. They will buy, for example, a hardware router with a built in
firewall without much cajoling -- which is more to my point about the $200.00
Speaking of which -- why doesn't Linksys simply expand the distro on a
to include the ability to use network storage from an SMB share and some
Xwindow Linux stuff? They could embed an entire desktop in there.
Of course, they might need to up the RAM to
a lot higher value and so on -- but it'd be a Linux desktop in ROM with mainly
two features: Web and Email. Yes, we're again back to the Internet appliance
territory of 2005 -- with two major market differences:
- Cheap broadband abounds.
- Viruses and Spyware, literally, everywhere.
Attach a monitor and keyboard and away you
go. Optionally use the USB port for local storage, and it's a PC with a
router and wireless capability. This is the kind of thinking I'm proposing --
yeah it's out of the box (there is no damn box anyway) but look at what I'm
aiming at -- security minded appliances that people can use right now in
conjunction with the desktop they have. Give this new appliance the right
kind of tweaking: The ability to easily add applications from an on-line
The idea is really not out there at all.
Everything exists today but the vendor
who will step up to the challenge.
Well, Paulie, I can see that the stray particles zipping out of that
display flickering in the dim light of your basement hasn't zapped
away all of gray matter.
Yes, a router could definitely be a little itsy-bitsy Linux machine
with Samba and the works, but then you've missed the whole starting
point of the conversation. That ain't a desktop. People like to do
things with their desktops. Some people will be happy with limited
functionality appliances, but, so what?
Are we planning to win the desktop by giving up on it?
Paulie, you pessimistic little peanut you, we don't have to think that
small. There's nothing wrong with appliances. More power to them, bu
the desktop is there for the taking.
I know it's seemed that the desktop was Just Around the Corner for
years now. But things really have changed, and Linux is beautifully
has matured into a very comfortable working environment.
is still there, but KDE is ready to embrace Windows refugees.
is getting ready to launch version 2.0, which I expect to
be a serious shot over Microsoft's bow.
You already know about FireFox.
Should we forget that OpenOffice and FireFox, along with other free
software like the
Blender, and who knows are
cross platform products that work happily on Windows and on Linux?
People who use those products on Windows don't have to fret over
software at all!
And -- an ace in the hole: the Wicked Witch of the Northwest has been
pushing .Net programming for the last three years or so. The purist
crowd turns up it's nose -- even though .Net is freer than Java at
this point -- but lots of work is being done on that platform.
Why is that an ace? For all of the guff Miguel de Icaza has taken for
the last few years, the
has gone 1.0.
Novell is pumping
money into it. Mono code runs on Windows. The vice versa is still a
little dodgy, but Mono 2.0 is rounding into shape and will contain
Forms support. At that point, we'll have a lot of Windows developers
writing applications that run on Linux.
Our guys just have to remember:
- Some of the desktops are already ours.
- More desktops could be ours today.
- We just have to believe, to keep our eyes on the prize, and, perhaps,
to adapt the Air Force motto: The difficult we do right away, the
impossible takes a little longer.
- The Desktop is hard!!!
- It ain't impossible
Hey, who's on what side here! I was the one saying that this desktop thing
was too complex for the moment, or was I? I'm confused (what's new :).
I do think there's room for a good Linux desktop -- and maybe not just on
Intel. A fellow Ohio Linux'er, Henry Keultjes,
has an a rather persistent
belief that possibly PowerPC based Linux's time has come.. I'm a bit
on the skeptical side there but stranger things have happened. I'll leave
room in my list of potential realities for this one, as I do think there are
price points and power consumption issues that haven't always been in the
forefront of the typical PC choice.
As for what the "desktop" is -- who is to say? If we let Microsoft define it,
it's going to be something akin to a security nightmare, bloated and complex.
The problem with a word like "desktop", after all, is that everyone can have
a definition. So maybe I started off on the wrong foot by calling a
security appliance a desktop.
Regardless, let's disagree to agree here on the points you've made:
isn't easy, but the stuff in a well-bread Linux distribution (KDE for sure)
makes for something fairly easy to use for beginning users.
Free Software and OSS are
making their way slowly onto the desktop, even in some surprising ways when it
comes to Windows ports of Free Software projects.
How much time will it take to make a sizable dent in total "desktop"
This, my fellow penguin, is the $200.00 question...
Paul Ferris (fericyde) is an IT professional with over 15 years of *nix experience, and over 5 years of that implementing Linux in enterprise-class situations. He has been discussing
Linux for more than 7 years in various publications, on-line and in print. He's an engineer, Linux community member, husband, father and more. Lately he's been contributing to LXer.com to the general discomfort of the folks in the Northwest.
Dean Pannell (dinotrac) has been nourishing a general lack of any trades for
years. Once a performance geek in BIG mainframe shops, he's been
horsing around with Linux since 1998, and writing about it since 1999.
Clearly brain-damaged along the way, he dropped out to attend law
school and became a lawyer. Fortunately for the world, he has come to
his senses since then. Of course, he does keep the license up to
date... Wonder if therapy would help?