Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Linux: where is the killer application?

OK, let's start with a question: what do these Open Source applications have in common: Firefox,, Apache, MySQL, PostgreSQL, GIMP, Perl/Python/Ruby interpreters, Rails, Eclipse, SPE, GTK with Glade, EMACS, and bash?

Answer 1: they are probably the most popular Open Source applications - generally, if you are a Linux user, you spend 90% of your logged-in time using these software.

Answer 2: all of them have a Windows version too.

Answer 3: usually the Windows version is easier to install and configure, and often packs more features.

Compare, for example, installing and configuring MySQL + Apache + PHP on Linux with the one-click graphical installer of WAMP.

Compare that on my Windows box at work offers to create new documents when I right-click the desktop, but not on my home box running Ubuntu Breezy.

Compare that it took me hours to install and configure Ruby + Ruby on Rails + MySQL + RADRails on my Ubuntu Breezy box until I gave up, googled around and found that you have to install some MySQL dev packages. Should Claudio not write this very useful article, I'd never have Rails at home as I was really close to giving up. Now, just compare it with the one-click "Instant Rails" installer on Windows.

Don't misunderstand me: this is not an anti-Linux rant. I am using Linux for more than four years now, started with SuSE 7.3 and then went for UHU 1.1, Gentoo 2005.1 and now I have Ubuntu Breezy. I like the Linux culture because I value idealism over profits, freedom over restrictive licences and gift cultures over quid pro quo. I am willing to accept my share of suffering Linux often gives me in exchange for having this nice warm feeling of being part of an idealistic and humane culture. (Although I often feel like a damned masochist as on my office box running Windows everything works click-click-click while at home I always have to dig-dig-dig to get things done on my Linux boxes, but hey, idealism alwas demanded a price. No free lunch.)

I also think that based on the amazing level of usability development Linux applications went through in 2004-2005 (consider GAIM, for example), Linux will become at least as usable as Windows by 2007-2008.

But the killer application is still missing: all the important Open Source applications are also there for Windows. If you are a user and spend you time browsing the web in Firefox and working with spreadsheets in OpenOffice and drawing with GTK, or you are a programmer and hack Perl code for Apache in EMACS, are you really interested what operating system you are running on? Is the OS important anymore?

And if the OS is not important, are there any really good reasons why a desktop/notebook user should switch to Linux? Where is the killer application, where is the strictly Linux-only application that gives you so much benefit and is so uber-cool that it justifies the considerable investment in learning and re-adjusting your customs that switching to a different OS requires?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The killer app is probably games. I repartitioned my Linux laptop so I could play World of Warcraft on windows, and found myself in windows so much that I wiped my Linux partition.

If you are referring to Linux-the-kernel then it's unlikely it will ever rise to challenge windows, since most of the developers are openly hostile to any environment that isn't a command line.

Incidentally, way to move from "Open-Source Applications" to "Linux culture" to "Linux applications". Yet another blogger pays too much attention to the whiny self aggrandising Linux developers. It's just a kernel, get over it already.

12:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

apt-get install apache2
apt-get install gimp

emerge apache2

urpmi apache2

vs. vs. vs.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Shenpen (HUN) said...

No, it is not so easy. Yes, these commands give you a basic install, but you usually need more. Compare what I have written for installing Rails. The problem of most distro is that the packages are designed to be minimal, instead of the "bundle everything into one installer" approach of many windows installers, such as ActivePython, WAMP, Instant Rails, LISP-In-A-Box etc.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the killer app is the OS itself. i found myself so frustrated with windows either crashing, or demanding that i must reboot now or "later" after updates etc. etc. that i ended up installing linux on my workstation. i have not rebooted once since i installed linux 3 months ago.

since a lot of windows centric things go on at work, i'm now using vmware for windows-only musts, and keep windows minimized most of the time. as you point out, i'm glad all of the most common apps are also available in linux, so i can have linux handle the memory management and such for almost everything, and windows doesn't crash if it's only running ms word.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Shenpen (HUN) said...

If the OS in itself is the killer app, consifer this: why does everything need be harder on Linux, even the same open source application being harder on Linux than on Windows?

Compare the graphical next-next-next installer of PostgreSQL on Windows with the install on Linux. It took me for a while to find out I have to run postmaster -D databasename...

Don't misunderstand me, I like Open Source. But isn't there a fundamental problem somewhere in the design of the operating system itself, because what is the reason the same open source applications a whole lot harder to install/configure/use than in Windows?

2:28 AM  
Blogger Silent|Storm said...

sorry but, if you did not learn to add a template from gnome -> places -> templates in 4 years and can not simply create an empy "new empty odt file" please do not use that o.s. for 4 years. or if you want to use that os please knopw its capabilities and then talk. please, please.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Shenpen (HUN) said...

Sorry, no templates menu item in the places menu in Ubunty Breezy...

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm glad everything is harder on linux. we don't want clueless people polluting our community of power users. why do you think there are no spyware for linux?

10:13 AM  
Blogger Shenpen (HUN) said...

That's acceptable, but in that case how to achieve world domination? :)

6:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think you have to install a freebsd, or minimumm a debian to "feel" un*x...
for a server admin takes max. a half an hour to configure a webszerver with apache2, php, mysql (ftp, mail, etc.)
i think that you're using since 4 years linux doesn't matter, 'couse U R using that like a windows :)
try to own an OS from command line, and don't cry if applications are configurable under linux

2:31 AM  

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