The Future of Desktop Linux

Kristian Hermansen kristian.hermansen at
Fri May 25 00:20:08 BST 2007

So the day has finally arrived ... Linux for the average consumer en 
masse :-)

Two and half years ago, when I switched to Ubuntu from Gentoo (thanks to 
a tip from Matt Ford), I would have never guessed that we would be here 
today.  Dell is selling Linux on the Desktop.  It is a very exciting 
time for those of us who adhere to the ethos of software freedom for all.

I remember one day out at UMass Amherst in 2004, sitting with some guys 
after a meeting, pondering why Linux was not successful on the Desktop. 
  The consensus was that hardware support was minimal, and that if 
manufacturers didn't make drivers for Linux (or publish specs), then the 
users were out of luck.  The usual bashing of Broadcom came up, mainly 
because I had one of their chips in my laptop, and still do.

I wrote up a list of things that could be done to get Linux on the 
Desktop of computers everywhere and presented it to Charlie Schweik, a 
professor at the University who was intrigued by this Linux culture and 
the open source movement.

The top item on my list was a hardware certification program that would 
qualify devices for use in Linux.  Basically, the thought was that users 
could make better purchasing decisions and the vendors who did not 
produce Linux drivers would be left behind.  Canonical (financier of 
Ubuntu) now offers this service, and it's highly likely that Dell is a 
Gold Partner, although I could not dig up a source.  (The Gold 
partnership agreement with Canonical would allow Dell to have their 
laptops certified for Ubuntu.)

Although we were never able to form such a hardware certification 
program with limited resources (poor students with no time), the UMass 
Linux User Group strove to raise awareness on campus.  We have to thank 
IBM for such generous support and making the investment in the UMass 
campus.  They had a lot to complete with, as Microsoft offers Windows 
products for $1 to any student on campus.  At that price, FREE is 
negligible.  Yet we pushed forward, and held many successful user group 
meetings.  We even had a near run in with Steve Ballmer on campus -- a 
few of us toting full Tux attire and handing out custom stamped Breezy 
Badger discs to all.  It was a blast, and I miss those days.

But we made our mark on campus.  As of January 2007, UMass Amherst now 
offers limited support for various Linux distributions and open source 
software applications.  As far as I know, UMass is the first University 
in the country to offer such support to everyone on campus, and not only 
the engineering students.  Maybe it is no coincidence that we are home 
of the GNU and FSF.

We must congratulate UMass Amherst and the Office of Information 
Technology on their ability to recognize this shift to Linux well in 
advance -- long before Dell made any public announcement of Desktop 
support.  With students acquiring more and more technical aptitude, we 
will no doubt see the need for Linux support at campuses all across the 
United States.  Anyone who came to the last Boston Linux User Group 
meeting already knows this.  We witnessed kids who are not even in 
middle school installing and hacking Linux for fun, because they had the 
freedom to do so.  My little brother, also not yet out of elementary 
school, has been using Linux for a couple years now also.  And they are 
not the only ones.  There are many more Linus Torvalds' sitting at home, 
programming in dark rooms, whom we have never seen.  They are the future.

In order to see into the future, you must have vision.  Bill Gates 
envisioned a PC in every American home, running Microsoft Windows.  That 
vision has pretty much come to fruition.  And so the next challenge is 
upon us.  As computers and networking become more and more ubiquitous 
over time, we must envision Linux penetrating a vast majority of new and 
existing PC installations.  This is the future of Linux on the Desktop. 
  We can already see this evidenced by the One Laptop Per Child project 
out of MIT.  Their goal is to put cost-effective computers in the hands 
of everyone in the world, including those children in third world 
nations where a Microsoft Windows license could constitute many year's 
of their salary.  Visionaries.

So, as many of our fellow Massachusettsians will be graduating soon and 
beginning to make their mark on the world stage, we must ask of them to 
envision the future and strive to make it a reality.  The African ethic 
of Ubuntu bears mentioning here.

"I am what I am because of what we all are"
Kristian Hermansen

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