Disruptive Technologies that Affect Desktop Linux

Wednesday Mar 26th 2008 by Matt Hartley
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A number of applications, both emerging and established, are playing a role in the development of the open source desktop.

Perhaps what has given desktop Linux its biggest shot in the arm is the evolution of various disruptive technologies that have, by design, made desktop Linux adoption just that much easier.

The following are some of the most disruptive examples of disruptive technology on the Linux platform – including current technologies and those whose adoption is coming just around the corner:

WINE - Using Windows applications without needing to fall into the Windows licensing trap. Thanks to WINE, end users on the Linux platform are able to run a number of Windows applications without needing to utilize any sort of Windows emulators of any kind.

How is it disruptive? WINE's very mission of allowing users to run software on their terms, regardless of the license that the software happens to use is particularly disruptive. Closed source, open source, whatever – it just works. What makes WINE such a killer app is allowing Linux users to use their existing Windows software without needing to purchase a copy of Windows to be run inside some sort of virtual machine.

There’s no question that this disruptive technology has been a boon to desktop Linux adoption.

NDISWrapper - I appreciate and admire the hard work in the NDISWrapper project's attempt to support made-for-Windows wireless adapters. Unfortunately, NDISWrapper is also lending support to the enemy – by supporting made-for-Windows wireless devices. These wireless devices are produced by vendors who have worked very hard at being as uncooperative with the Linux community as possible.

Using ever-changing chipset revision numbers for the same device models, refusing to release any code to the community for Linux development, I am astonished by anyone foolish enough to further enable this kind of behavior.

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How is it disruptive? NDISWrapper as a project, provides a means of making incompatible wireless cards compatible with Linux, albeit with mixed results. I have used the NDISWrapper utility both successfully and unsuccessfully in the past. It has allowed a fair percentage of desktop Linux users to use their existing wireless hardware in lieu of supporting the few wireless vendors that actually provide made-for-Linux wireless cards. I do not support NDISWrapper in any way, even considering the honorable intentions of its developers.

Virtual Machines – VMWare, Parallels, etc. Today's OS emulation tools have truly picked up on instances where access to another OS is a must. For Both OS X and Linux users, being able to emulate a Windows desktop from within the host OS environment is of huge benefit to the end user.

Speaking for myself, having access to the Windows desktop without needing to create a separate partition for it in a literal sense on my existing hard drive means I’m not jeopardizing an existing boot record should something go wrong during my partitioning or installation of the second OS.

How is it disruptive? Having the ability to run an operating system from within another one is quite powerful. When executed right, it allows the end user to break free of any platform restriction issues they may have faced previously.

Unlike WINE listed above, using a guest OS means there are almost no restrictions set forth due to compatibility with the software being used. While some applications, such as those requiring DirectX, might not work well in a emulation environment, generally speaking this is not the case when using software run with a virtual machine.

Fluendo restricted codecs - Up until recently, most users were really left to their own devices when it came to finding and installing what is referred to as "restricted codecs" on the desktop Linux platform. Here in the U.S., certain codecs, such as various Windows Media codecs, MP3, and other formats created a lot of problems from a distribution angle, since it’s widely perceived that a fee must be paid ahead of time.

Thanks to Fluendo's Web store, desktop Linux users have a choice if using restricted codecs is something they wish to pay for.

How is this disruptive? By providing users a choice of purchasing a license to use these restricted codecs in a way that’s safe for U.S. distribution, everyone wins. The disruption begins when users find they have a means of using restricted codecs that are Linux-compatible and don’t present any licensing/legal concerns.

Flash 9 - Most people think of Adobe Flash as available for free, for all to use. What about living in a world where it’s not? For a healthy chunk of time, Linux users stuck with Flash v7 felt like Flash as they knew it on other platforms was unavailable, due to Flash v7's poor audio/video sync performance.

Today, desktop Linux users are enjoying Flash v9, which has made watching Flash video a much less frustrating experience. No longer are users subjected to out of sync video/audio when using Flash to view video content.

How is this disruptive? During the era of Flash 7 and before, Linux users were largely finding it difficult to take desktop Linux very seriously, especially with Flash becoming so important with so many Web pages. Once Flash 9 rolled out of beta, however, Linux users found that one of their big hurdles had suddenly disappeared.

Moonlight - Like its closed source counterpart, Silverlight, the Moonlight project will add another dimension to multimedia technologies.

At this stage, the Moonlight project might be best labeled pre-disruptive, as its need has yet to surface. The closed source implementation Silverlight technology is still gaining its land legs. Therefore it may be another six months to a year before we see Moonlight becoming something of a "must have." That said, you can quote me on this – Moonlight is going to be a “must have” here in the not too distant future.

How is this disruptive? Considering that the Silverlight team has zero intention of releasing Linux version, once Silverlight technology becomes a commonly used Web based and software standard, Linux users would be out in the cold overnight. Countless Web sites using Silverlight technology would be inaccessible without help from the Moonlight project, which provides Linux users a means of remaining in the loop as Silverlight technology increases usership.

Access to Moonlight on the Linux platform would disrupt any potential slowdown in desktop Linux adoption as Silverlight gains ground. As Web applications become more important, the Web is fast becoming a battle ground between Linux and proprietary-based companies like Microsoft, along with their proprietary technologies.

Proprietary software on the Linux platform - It has been said that software availability defines the success of a platform. So it makes sense that the same applies to software titles made available for the Linux platform in this instance.

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As select games and even a few applications such as the Opera browser make their way into the open source software universe of the Linux platform, mainstream users find themselves becoming more interested in desktop Linux as an alternative to expensive alternatives like OS X.

How is this disruptive? For many people, the remaining block to adopting a desktop Linux lifestyle is native applications that truly mirror the experience seen on proprietary platforms.

When the push becomes more valuable for software vendors to make a native Linux option available for users, the overall value of the Linux desktop becomes stronger for the end user needing the proprietary application in question.

Industries most affected by this need for proprietary applications on the Linux platform are mostly business users. Some of them might be able to use WINE or some sort of emulation option. Despite this, important progress is being made in creating native versions of these proprietary apps for users of desktop Linux.

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