It is the beginning of a new year, welcome to 2007, and the time to look back and reflect on things. DesktopLinux has finished its annual Linux survey, OSDL has made its annual round up of strategic analysis and Distrowatch Weekly has summarized the movement in the Linux world among Linux distros.
The move for Linux from the dominating server environment onto the desktop has been going on for many years, maybe even from the very beginning. No doubt it finds popularity this way, and that more people familiarize themselves with this alternative OS as Linux has evolved into a useful desktop OS.
The gained respect is not without challenges as a desktop meets much higher variety of requirements than a traditional server OS, and it must live up to a very diverse personal taste, sometimes taking unfair critique from users who do not show much understanding why things have to be different from what they are used to.
It is a valid point that although Linux based desktop systems are nowadays easier to use and more reliable than Microsoft Windows (R) for most common applications, users still fear the difference. Let us have a closer look to what our Linux desktop aimed to be, and become.
This paper has been posted on the internet pages of Linux+DVD magazine.
You can read this article here:
Requirements for being a suitable desktop and the underlying OS
A Desktop is per definition a flexible workspace for users of various computer end-user applications for almost any purpose. This end-user can be located in either a private home or in a business situation.
For private users it appears as if communication with others as in Internet browsing, Emailing, Messaging is of highest priority. At least I recognize this from my own personal use of the computer at home and analysis made by DesktopLinux seems to indicate this as well.
As late as December 2005 the most critical applications for a desktop user were - and I will assume this is still true:
No 1. Email client, rated critical by 62%
No 2. Office, rated critical by 51%
No 3. Web browser, rated critical by 50%
In the past a word processor for writing letters and stuff as well as a spread sheet software for basic budgeting and accounting has had a high priority.
This was later superseded by office suites, which might include some graphics software, database software, slideshow presentation software and potentially more specific business related software. Office suites are not a natural choice for private users, but rather a choice of a workspace (like the small office / home office) where needs for semi-advanced functionality and software interaction, as well as colleagues working together appears to be a natural extension of your personal desktop at home.
On a second thought, even private homes today appears to have multiple computers and users nowadays, and office products could extend the functionality for several private users within the home, but my personal experience is not in this direction. Rather I have used office suites at home because I could share some documents between work and home.
Today the office suites are on their heels with applications that are working in web browsers. We are about to experience a new era where the office suite is competing with these online applications. The winner depends on traditional competition parameters like ease-of-use and flexibility / completeness, but also new factors like availability anywhere of both the application as well as the more complex data management issue versus security and privacy requirements.
Competing with the "online" accessible software and data libraries we have the hardware storage that we bring with us in the shape of USB pens, MP3 or MP4 players with Gigabytes of space, as well as Linux distributions intended for installation on these medias for boot and access anywhere on any computer (Linux LiveCD's as well as compact distros like Damn Small Linux) potentially integrating into one component with our cell phone and more (all-in-one smart devices).
We can see that the first Linux distribution has already "seen the light" and has changed the perspective toward the online direction (Ulteo). This move indeed explores the question; how much do we need on the desktop computer (or whatever preferred data storage) and how much can we leave somewhere else and rely in a more or less thin client.
There is no safe bet here, but the desktop will survive as a platform for our future computer usage and it requires an extreme degree of flexibility on the underlying OS.
Besides internet browsing, emailing and messaging + the office suite, many users find other usage of the desktop computer for purposes like:
- Calendar features and personal information managers (address book, etc.)
- Document viewing (PDF viewers, and other formats)
- Burning DVD's and/or CD's
- Storing data like music library and photo albums
- Internet Telephony
- Internet Radio
- Internet TV (soon to become more of a hot topic)
- Gaming and other entertainment
- Software development (compilers, interpreters and tools)
- Creating and viewing graphics with art software like GIMP (bitmap graphics) or Inkscape (vector graphics)
- Multimedia playback as well as creation of your own, with sound editing and movie editing being dominant, but also sheer composing your own from scratch.
Let us go through a couple of options that are less obvious as well:
Educational software. Most often we think about children that can be challenged by intriguing software, but watch out for the next generation of educational software, for adults (why not improve your skills in programming or graphics art etc. this way), supplementing the conventional book.
Desktop Publishing no longer has our attention as it did in the old days and therefore is not as flexible or versatile because most users have settled with Word Processor functionality (which also did grow to embrace what most users needed).
Computer Aided Design (CAD) is still too heavy for a thin client. This entirely depends on how much data we can transfer. Some things will always lend itself to a wired solution, which would be anything that demands 100% - either because it in itself is very resource intensive or because its service is to be utilized by several users. For example, why put a file server on a wireless setup - a file server will always experience periods of major access from multiple users in a home or business environment.
Besides CAD there's other specific software for technical tasks or for social science tasks, religious tasks or other specific needs, but CAD along side with 3D graphics (like Blender) puts specific extra demands on your computer and the underlying OS, like fast graphics and e.g. OpenGL features for rendering.
Creating an overview of what data you have is a most difficult task and search engines etc. that provides not just overview of the files (by their names) but also content is evolving (e.g. Beagle).
For a while the versatility of desktop computers has given us the computer based media centers in our homes, something that could hook up to the internet as well as our TV in various ways. I do believe that desktop versus media centers is not a conflicting situation and that the desktop will not disappear in favor of a TV thing. Instead I see a future where you add a box to your TV and it supplies a link between your TV and your computer (as well as functioning on a stand-alone basis).
Possibly this TV add-on will take over our gaming, as we have seen it with the Sony Playstation and the Microsoft XBOX. These concepts might expand into what we really need by the TV, including the DVD drive for watching movies, the hard drive recorders for saving TV shows, but also handling the game and entertainment in general with on-demand TV, pay-per-view, reading (or hearing/seeing) news from the world.
In a similar (or completely same) way we will find micro-servers in the home. One for the house alter (the TV) as mentioned and one for file-sharing (including music and video/movie library). Admittedly these other micro-servers can be integrated into the media center for a more compact setup. We might have another server taking care of telephony, necessary surveillance etc. This has nothing to do with Desktop Computing, but the desktop computer has to be able to interact with the rest of the universe at home.
Media centers as well as the desktop computer will continue to co-exist. Where as the media centers will become entertainment centers and take care of entertaining people, the desktop will maintain its position as a workspace for people's creativity.
As long as we're talking about hardware, the desktop computer is valid for handling hardware of several different kinds, like:
- Your telephone (cell phone, IP phone, whatever phone)
- Your music player (MP3 - or MP4 video player)
- Your printer, scanner and maybe a fax machine (or a multi purpose small office device)
- Your digital camera or camcorder
- Whatever device you'd like it to interact with
No doubt that desktop computers are becoming diversified, and maybe will continue to diversify. The only way a desktop OS can maintain a leading position is readiness for the unknown. Luckily the hardware interfaces already available seems to cover any need we might have with wireless network connection and hotplug devices that do not necessarily require additional drivers to work.
We have talked a lot about user expectations to the applications and what they can handle and do with the desktop computer. Today's computers also requires maintenance, which seems a specialist job and I wonder if the maintenance will continue to be an issue, but for now I see that a good desktop computer must provide nice graphical interface for easy setup and update of a wide variety of hardware and software.
It can be debated whether the desktop computer as we know it will disappear (size wise) and be replaced by small handheld power packs. I doubt it since the convenience of a large screen and keyboard in itself speaks for the desktop (including laptop) computers, but I realize that this observation is highly subjective and it is too early to conclude on this development, but for now the desktop appears to be in a competitive state.
The requirements for a desktop are therefore highly liquid and highly individual.
I hope you enjoyed reading these thoughts.