Spreading Linux as a Scientific Endeavour

I just read Vlad Dolezal’s blog entry about why Linux doesn’t spread. The debate about the reasons why people don’t adopt Linux and a free open source desktop, has gone on for years. Vlad just dredged up the old its free therefore not useful argument. An easy counterexample are what mobile providers: get a free cellphone, pay for the service. Most Linux/open source companies make money from Saas (software as a service) too. In fact most large scale enterprise deployed software firms, do SaaS or SOA (service-oriented architecture). So while I wish Vlad luck with selling copies of Linux, a far more interesting comment turned up.

One commenter on Vlad’s site mentions their luck with “selling” the idea of a free open source Linux desktop as a scientific endeavour. Linux and software libre started off as ventures of interest only to computer scientists. Look here is a neat little OS I wrote on top of Minix (Linus Torvalds). And look here is a way we can run a UNIX system without NDAs, and restrictions of proprietary vendors (Richard Stallman). It was only until Eric S. Raymond started working on convincing developers and business decision people, that free software named as open source, that Linux started into its present course of wider adoption. A good chunk of open source projects are initiated by academics in computer science and communication fields.

The term open source was invented to defeat the argument which Vlad reiterates. Read Eric Raymond’s book, The Cathedral and the Bazaar for more about the idea behind “open source”. Removing the word “free” helps to lift the semantic confusion around the term free software. And treating the open source eco-system as part scientific community, part computer hobbyist club, and part client-oriented commercial paradigm, will all help remove the negative aura that sometimes surrounds Linux and the open source desktop.

The idea of getting involved in a grand experiment in science, appeals to some individuals. But probably only to those affiliated with academia, or in love with the romantic vision of science. Neither this idea of Linux a child of “computer science love” or any one thing will increase Linux adoption overnight. There will not be any mass exodus from Windows to Linux. However we can lower the cost of entering into the world of Linux.

Far more difficult issues face Linux and the open source desktop other than what Vlad mentions. The open source desktop lacks in ease of use, marketing and third party support. Dealing with these issues, will lower the cost of entry to the open source desktop for more computer users. More about this in future articles.