Back in June, I quoted Michael Dell as saying “If the Linux desktops could converge at their cores, such a common platform would make it easier to supportâ€¦”. Basically, as an ISV, what option is given to you if your company chooses to support Linux? Do you make an RPM, a DEB, an ebuild, or one of countless other packaging formats? It makes very little business sense to maintain more than one package, let alone for multiple operating systems, and no sense at all to release multiple packages for the same operating system. Something has to give, because ISV’s clearly are not producing software for Linux. Windows strongest point has always been its platform consistency, and backwards compatibility. Linux has in every way imaginable lost this category.
Early December, the Linux Standards Base held a summit in Berlin with representatives from Red Hat, Mandriva, Novell, Debian and Ubuntu to discuss this situation. The end result was a draft API that would enable ISVs to write a single package that would be installable by all platforms conforming to the API specification. One package for everyone using Linux! This is heavy, but seems to have gotten surprisingly little attention. Since the API is still being drafted, widespread support is not in place in the communities, and the earliest fruits of this labor would occur sometime in 2008. The good news is with representation from the top distributions, the adoption needed seems to already be in place. With software vendors forced to alter existing products to be compatible with Windows Vista, more thought than usual might go towards viable desktop alternatives.
One of the concerns already vocalized in the Linux community is that this is a subject that doesn’t need to be addressed. There are already different packaging standards in place (per distribution) that would allow an ISV to distribute software if that company wanted (say, if they were masochists). Others believe ISV’s are not wanted / needed, as they represent proprietary code in an otherwise open system. To these people I would only say that without ISV’s, Linux will never achieve a mass market share, and Linux might have even died a long time ago. Enterprise software is in demand, and no matter how good GIMP gets, it will never be Photoshop, as the analogy goes. Open source software cannot seem to gather the resources needed to compete with profit-driven software – at least on the desktop.
It seems the long silence posed by Michael Dell’s concern is finally being addressed. As Linus vocalized over the recent debate of removing non-GPL’ed modules from the kernel, it isn’t anyones place to dictate how they should be using Linux. If it suites your needs, you are welcome to use it. Some want to see it go enterprise and gain traction on the desktop, others want a completely free system. Both camps want progress, and this is a step in the right direction.