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OSDL's Cherry: Toppling Linux desktop app development barriers

There's a good opportunity today for Linux desktops to attract knowledge workers, but more apps are needed, says OSDL's John Cherry. Too many distros are slowing down development.

The biggest barrier to Linux business desktop adoption is Linux itself, as too many distributions make it harder for developers to port to or create applications for Linux, according to John Cherry, initiative manager for Desktop Linux (DTL) at Open Source Development Labs Inc. (OSDL) . OSDL is a nonprofit corporation that supports Linux developers and users.

There's a good opportunity today for Linux desktops to attract knowledge workers, but more applications are needed, said Cherry.

In an interview with at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in Boston, this week he discussed the Portland Project's efforts to knock down adoption barriers and explained why Linux shouldn't be pitted against Microsoft in the consumer desktop marketplace.

What Linux desktop adoption trends do you see happening now?

John Cherry:Traction has been gained on the desktop in task-specific applications, such as kiosk and point-of-sale applications. Those are characterized by having very few applications involved. You don't need much running on your machine to run an ATM or a kiosk. It's just one application.

Adoption is starting to move towards the workstation user and knowledge worker. Your prime applications now are e-mail clients, browsers and office product suites. Those are becoming more mature.

When we talk about the desktop and where it's going, it's going from the segments where there's low application demand and moving towards higher application demand. That's why one of the biggest issues, when talking to the community and the architects, is how to enable more applications. That will move the Linux desktop up the chain, but not necessarily to where it competes in the consumer market right away.

Do you think it's a mistake for Linux desktop to try to go head-to-head with Microsoft in the consumer market?

Cherry: Last time I heard, there were around 35,000 applications available for the Windows consumer environment. Applications are where it's at when you move into the consumer space, because users are more applications-dependent than operating systems-dependent. Competing with that [Microsoft] application suite is pretty difficult. It's going to happen over time, however.

Linux would have a hard time going head to head right now.

So, what is the next step for the Linux business desktop?

Cherry: The knowledge worker is the target. That's the next step up -- with a limited set of applications. Basically, the applications for knowledge workers are e-mail clients, browsers and office suites. You add more applications, then you move into different markets.

In your opinion, what are the biggest barriers to Linux desktop adoption?

Cherry: The challenge is to make it easier for independent software vendors (ISVs) and application developers to port to and integrate their products on Linux.

More on the Linux desktop:

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Breaking down barriers to Linux desktop adoption

When developers look at the Linux landscape, they see two or three major Linux distributions and probably a dozen other minor distributions. On top of the 12 or so distributions they could choose, there are two major desktops -- KDE and GNOME -- and a handful of others that the fringe players use. Naturally, the developers are asking, 'Which one of these do we port to? How do we get our applications into the Linux market space?'

At this point, an application vendor says, 'Okay, I've got 12 distributions multiplied by two or more desktops. It's a lot easier just to port to a single platform.' That leaves Linux out of the picture.

How is the Portland Project, a group of Linux architects, trying to knock down this barrier?

Cherry: The Portland Project addresses the part where ISVs and application vendors have to deal with multiple desktops. Instead of having to customize for KDE and for GNOME, they'll only have to customize for Portland interfaces.

What do you see coming out of the May 2006 discussion of the Portland Project?

Cherry: This follows up on the first meeting, primarily. There are big issues, such as ISVs, the developer environment and drivers that include printers and wireless.

I see work happening on adding more definition in standards, consistency in audio and multimedia support and consistency across multimedia and standards. It's up to the market and what the architects and developers come up with.

What do you see happening with Linux in the business marketplace in the next five years?

Cherry: In the server space, we've seen sixteen consecutive, double-digit growth quarters which is pretty incredible. So, there is widespread adoption of Linux in the server space. Equipment vendors -- like IBM, Intel, AMD and HP -- are seeing their businesses expanding tremendously in that fixed-function kiosk, point-of-sale areas. That's going to continue to grow.

I think we're going to move into the knowledge worker areas where we'll have a more reliable office suite with features like integrated calendaring. We're going to start moving into middleware that will enable more markets. MySQL and other open source products will challenge the likes of Oracle, SAP and other big name middleware vendors.

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