I’m a Linux user. So I always like to strain my ear to hear news about Linux. But this I didn’t expect.
Caroline and I did a bit of computer shopping before going to watch a film together on Saturday. While we wandered the aisles in the nearby Futureshop, she turned and asked me what I knew about Linux. I was surprised. Caroline is a very smart and talented girl. She finished statistics at the University of Toronto after all. But she is not a person who follows computer tech. She further told me that her mother told her that Linux was the future of computing. And then she asked whether Linux was for her. To top it off, we bugged the local salesperson… and I had an intelligent conversation about what computer she should get. (No offence to the smart Futureshop employees out there, but a good chunk of your coworkers are not all that knowledgeable about computing as they should.) And the salesperson, said he that his life would be easier if PC came pre-loaded with Linux. I took this all in… amazed. After some thought on what she would be using the computer I told her to stick with Windows for now. Why?
Linux and Linux-related technology looks like very much the future of computing. Thanks to the free software licensing, active communities and flexibility of open source development methodologies, many vendors are looking toward using Linux. For a vendor Linux provides a way out of the per unit licensing problem. Also it lets the vendor to control the build out of a product from top to bottom. Linux appears creeping into non-desktop computing platforms. We hear about Linux competing with Windows in the netbook market. We hear of Linux taking on cellphones with projects such as LiMo, OpenMoko and Google’s Andriod. The hyper-fast development pace makes Linux progress in leaps and bounds past its competitors. Nokia heavily invested in Linux with their Maemo-powered Internet Tablets. Intel invests in Linux with drivers and Moblin. nVidia and ATI both crank out graphics drivers like no tomorrow. Dell and HP are each trying to outdo each other selling Linux servers and laptops. News articles compare Ubuntu Linux on the same level as Windows XP & Vista and Mac OS X. So forth and so on. Five years this was unimaginable. When I installed Linux on my laptop and desktop machines in 2002 and 2001… I could not imagine Linux being more than a cool minor alternative. Something to play with, and use for fun computing.
So with all these cool developments, why did I not sell Linux to Caroline? I could of. Linux could work for her. But I didn’t because Linux is the future of computing. Linux exists in the present of computing, but the technology is still in a transitionary stage. The next few years is where we leap the chasim from novel innovator toys to mainstream consumers. However along the way there are growing pains. Graphics and sound need to get up to par. Support companies need to spring up around the technology. We are getting there. But right now, I feel uncomfortable offering Linux to a mainstream consumer and leaving them to their own devices. If I were to support the system, I could easily setup a Linux system that Caroline could use and enjoy. A Linux system could be setup to let her do her surfing, watching TV, connecting her digital camera and media organization. But she could only turn to me for help if something goes wrong. This is not something I want to inflict on either her or myself. In a few years time, yes, Linux will work for her. But it will most likely be everywhere and work for everyone.