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Linux Needs Golden Applications

Tuesday, 24 October 2006 gpl linux oss

To be successful in the short term, Linux needs to gain user from closed systems by having its own brand of unique applications.

My definition of a golden application

To be considered as a golden application, it has to meet these criteria:

There are a million and five different viewpoints on this subject and here’s mine: Linux will not overtake Windows unless it gains some “essential applications”. Ones that people have to use Linux for.

At the moment, there are a lot of computer enthusiasts moving around the operating system marketplace trying various versions of various operating systems but the majority find themselves coming back to one operating system. The reason for this is simple: there are one or more applications that are only available for that OS and without it, they’re lost.

This is not to say that Linux doesn’t have enough applications. There are billions out there but people that are trained professionals in a certain application will never be able to (or at least want to) move to another development/production environment unless it offers equal or better features. These applications are often extremely expensive ones too.

This is most true with Windows applications. People tie themselves into big applications where the only versions (at least the most current ones) are limited to it. This means they have no chance to change OS and keep their applications the way they know them. Who is to blame for all of this though?

It is paralleled for premier Mac OSX software like iLife. Software that makes things so easy and simple for users and its only available on one platform. The only reasons for that are a) to attract more people to that platform and b) because they don’t care for the users of other operating systems.

Resistance From Redmond

Microsoft are not taking all this migration lying down. Their main defence amongst this is the .net framework and its growing popularity in businesses. Its a superb framework and the languages aren’t bad either. The problem for Linux is, when paired with free and equally superb development environments (the Visual Studio 2005 Express editions), Microsoft are making significant gains in developers.

The framework only runs on Windows and you need the framework to run your .net applications, but this is slowly changing too. Novell are bank-rolling the mono project which serves as a replacement for the Microsoft version of the .net framework. It doesn’t support everything, and its unlikely that it ever will (seeing that version 3 adds a load of presentation layers that are quite different from Linux window managers) but it does serve as something for .net developers to check out. See if you can compile and run your applications for mono because if you can, you’re able to open your applications up to a myriad of platforms.

What needs to happen?

Developers need to realise that Linux makes up the second most used desktop OS around these days. If you’re trying to decide what OS to develop for, you need to acknowledge that there is more than one OS.

This applies to all application developers. A game is an application too and game developers are criminally slow in porting their software to Linux. iD have come the closest to a simultaneous multi-platform release (for a major title) with Quake 4 when they produced a Linux version just days after the Windows release and they look like they’re committing their engines to be multi-platform in the long haul.

But this is just making existing dual-platform users that bit more comfortable… For Linux to really start stealing users away, it needs golden applications. It needs exclusive content that you cannot get elsewhere that is actually better than all the other applications in its field. The main problem with that is the open-source framework. Keeping things proprietary is frowned on by the masses but unless you do, it makes it too easy to port back to Windows and before you know it, you’re just developing another Windows application.

For this developer-migration to happen there needs to be a large company make the move and start making software that people need that will only run on Linux.

At this moment in time, Novell are probably the most likely people to develop (or at least fund the development of) something that will only run on Linux and has have the development time and effort to make it better than all the other applications in its field.

It’s a completely vicious circle though. At the moment, people are following the time-honoured “if we want to make money, we make it for Windows” approach. As soon as someone can release something for Linux in the same sort of model, developers should flock to get in on the action.