Tuesday, May 22, 2007

ObsidianLake: Another quarrel with my good friend...

In Paul's recent post about whether Linux is ready for the desktop, he debates whether there is a demand for Linux, and asks:

"Should or will Linux become a commercial product?"

I think we should look at how Linux started out, where it is now, and where it is heading.

For a start, the Linux kernel was started with entirely different goals to the components that make up the rest of a GNU/Linux system. Linux was not begun with intention of being free (as in freedom). It was a personal project of Linus. For GNU on the other hand, the philosophy came first. Ten years ago there was little commercial worth in either of these ventures, only once they were combined into a usable system would things start to gain interest and momentum.

GNU/Linux in the present day is doing quite well. It has taken a long time, but it is now ready for the desktop. GNU/Linux is earning recognition from both hardware and software makers, and the number of users is snowballing. I have to say this is in no small way helped by Ubuntu and a couple of other easy to use distributions. It is important to note that all of the most popular ones are free. Now that Linux is comparable to Windows in practically every way, what else is there to compare on, except the price? This is why I believe that free distributions will always be the most popular. Commercial distributions have their place almost only in the enterprise market.

Into the future? GNU and Linux will remain free, and Microsoft will have no choice but to switch away from its reliance on Windows being the dominant OS if it is to survive. Windows was the first easy to use OS, and it brought the possibilities of computers to those who would otherwise never have had it. This is the only reason it is on 99% of PCs today. Now that GNU/Linux is a competitor, with the added advantage of being free, Microsoft have no choice but to re-think their business. Very soon Haiku is also going to raise the BeOS community from the (un)dead, and this will only stir the mix even more.

Concluding by returning to the original question, is Linux a commercial product? No, at least, not while we are talking about the home-user's desktop. Should it become commercial? Well, supposing it did, it would lose one of the best things it has to attract people on the OS centre-ground - its freedom.


Sebastian said...

Thanks for at least agreeing that Linux would not gain from becoming a commercial product, at least on the home-user's desktop. Nice post :).