The Linux Desktop

The “Linux Desktop” failing to gain traction is a perennial topic of blogs and musings by people smarter than me. But I’m going to offer my two cents worth of opinion anyway.

My Own Experience

I use Linux on the desktop myself rather frequently, but it is not the OS my system boots to by default. Why is that?

Legacy Windows Programs

It used to be that there was a large amount of inertia that kept me from making the switch completely because of legacy apps on Windows. As I look at the program icons on my Windows desktop right now, I see that is not the case so much. Except for a few specialty programs (soap making, ornament collecting, …), there are Linux versions or Linux equivalents of all of the programs I commonly use, with the exception of Evernote.

You can access Evernote from a browser in Linux, but there is no equivalent of the Web Clipper that I know of. And with Evernote’s recent announcement of price increases, I am actively looking for alternatives that work for me. (I have been a Premium user for years and have a ton of stuff on the system. Finding something that can handle that much information gracefully has been difficult. Could always do it myself I suppose.)

This is not quite the case for the programs on my wife’s desktop. I can only imagine how this would be in a family full of kids. But we’ve made the switch to OS X in the past and back to Windows without too much hassle.

Desktop Graphics

XUbuntu is my desktop of choice for Linux. Many of the other Linux desktops just look awful and are amazingly difficult to use. Combining a lack of taste with an unpleasant UX turns many people off. Including me.

Overly Configurable

This is one of Linux’s main strengths as well. But after setting up preferences related to the visuals, things start to get a little murky. Do I have the web server configured securely? Do I need a firewall? Where are the program files on this distribution?

In mainstream users, all of this configurability produces a fear of “hurting” the computer if some setting is applied incorrectly.

Opportunities

However, I think we are poised at a time when there are substantial opportunities for the Linux desktop to make inroads into the mainstream computing experience. Let’s start with the big one.

Windows 10

Despite all of the good things about this upgrade, Microsoft’s ham-fisted handling of the upgrade has pissed off a lot of people. The constant nags are not only annoying, they have gotten people wondering whether their machine is working for them or Microsoft. They don’t like that feeling.

All of the additional spying that Microsoft does in this version just adds to that feeling that someone else is trying to take control of their personal property. It is believed that Apple is more benign than Microsoft in this respect, but a lot of people don’t want the additional cost of the “Apple Tax” to get so-so hardware and software with aesthetically pleasant design at a high price.

AI

Yeah, yeah. Everybody’s talking about it. But I think there are at least two good application areas for the Linux desktop.

First, there is no “personal assistant” for Linux. I don’t want something like Cortana or Siri or Alexa or Google Assistant. Although they seem to have interesting functionality, I just don’t trust the companies that are providing them. Again, its a question of whether my machine is doing my bidding in my interests or just an afterthought as a way for some company to collect more data about me. Something like Viv might be good, as long as it doesn’t get taken over by some evil marketing-driven company.

Second, maybe an AI could handle the configuration issues mentioned above. When you add new software, it gets configured correctly. It constantly assures that your system is configured in the most secure way consistent with your desires. And it could safely make changes any time you want.

Some of this is not even the “new” AI. I believe handling things like security configuration could be handled by expert systems. Those have been around for years (decades?). It seems like there are plenty of people who know their way around good security settings, at least for the individual user.

Conclusion

Now seems like a good time for the Linux desktop to make a push into the mainstream. There are very few obstacles in terms of software (becoming fewer all the time.) Microsoft has primed people to consider alternatives. The potential for AI on Linux could help assure people that they are not being spied on and won’t “hurt” the machine.