As I’m sure you heard yesterday when your local neighborhood geek started trumpeting “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”, Apple Computer has decided to switch to Intel’s processors. Of course, this has the computer/IT editorial world all abuzz, speculating wildly about the ripples that Apple’s big U-turn might have on the industry.
I read one article this morning that asserted that Apple’s switch to x86 will spell the death of Linux on the desktop by supplanting it as the “underdog of choice” on that hardware platform. Linux will, supposedly, become the “third wheel”, adopted as a daily-driver only by the cook fringe of the “free as in speech” computing world.
I’ve only got one problem with this view – it assumes that Linux on the desktop is worth something to begin with. Unfortunately, it’s not. Consider my week computationally: On Sunday, I re-compiled my operating system to add support for a new peripheral. On Monday afternoon, I re-built my web browser from source code to add support for the SVG image format. And last night, I installed Microsoft Activesync on a friend’s laptop while walking my Dad through the basics of Macromedia Dreamweaver. In the words of the vault guard from The Thomas Crown Affair, “We have … a … disparity here.”
Desktop Linux is good for those of us who got sick of paying big bucks for an unreliable, insecure, poorly-designed x86 operating system, and instead want to spend nothing for an x86 operating system that’s reliable as hell but an order-of-magnitude more difficult to configure. It’s also great for the open-source hard heads out there who won’t put anything on their computers that isn’t free as-in-speech in addition to being free as-in-beer.
But for folks like my friend the PocketPC user, Linux on the desktop is about as useful as a car that comes with the engine in individually shrink-wrapped parts in the trunk, and all the tools in the back seat. Sure, you get it for next-to-nothing, but you’re not going out for a spin ’till you assemble that engine.
All of this leaves us, of course, precisely where we started. Apple announced, to much fanfare and hand-waving, that they’re switching to x86 hardware for the Mac. But Apple isn’t planning on supporting those who run Windows on Mac hardware, nor are they planning on allowing OS-X to run on that Dell sitting on your desk. So the Mac users will continue using OS-X, the Windows users will (for the most part) continue using Windows, and we Linux geeks will continue doing what works for us.
If Linux wants to be considered a major contender on the Desktop, the community needs to ante up, bite the bullet and fix a few major problems that – until remedied – will forever banish Linux to the desktops of geeks like me…