Ubuntu distributor says Linux future doesn't lie in Windows compatibility

By Justin Mann on May 5, 2009, 1:56 PM
Canonical's leader Mark Shuttleworth has recently chimed in on an important aspect of desktop computing when it comes to Linux. Going over the role that Linux plays on the desktop and where its future lies, Shuttleworth specifically commented on a question issued about Wine – which as many of you may know, is the most popular way of running Windows-based programs on Linux. It's a very useful tool when migrating from Windows to Linux, and often is a mainstay of any desktop Linux distribution; as often there are cases when a program is more easily available under Windows.

The question tossed at Shuttleworth was how important he believes Wine to be, and the role of Windows compatibility projects in general, as well as how they compared to native Linux ports that didn't require any sort of abstraction layer. His answer was short, but still very interesting. He cited the importance of Wine, but tempered that with a reminder that free software needs to “thrive on its own rules.” He claims there is a fundamental difference between proprietary software and free software, and therefore the platforms should succeed or fail on their own. Perhaps most interesting, he said that if Linux is only used as a medium to run Windows apps, there is no possible way for Linux to succeed.

While he was referring specifically to the future of Ubuntu, his words can easily be translated to any use of Linux on the desktop. As others have pointed out, attempting to emulate Windows won't do much good to capture market share. What would help is to focus on what people want or need to do, at its core. There may be difficulty in luring people away from apps they are loyal too, but software changes and is replaced as time goes on. The future of Linux on desktop doesn't lie within Windows app compatibility, but rather making the Linux desktop something people want to use due to its own merit.

User Comments: 4

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RDSchaefer said:
I always have a *nx distro installed as a separate, bootable partition but, because I game a lot, my main OS is still XP.When Wine can run games like F.E.A.R., or when vendors publish games like that for *nix is when I'll switch permanently.
Rick said:
In the end, I'd like to think that is true. But for people to actually transition, I think Linux needs a way to migrate from Windows. Running Windows apps is a great way to ease the transition.Open source can't realistically close the gap with closed source since proprietary software often doesn't provide the tools necessary for third parties to support it. It's a shame, but in a way, it's like open source plays by the rules and gets slapped around while proprietary crap gets away with all sorts of dirty tricks that lock you in. It is an unfair playing field... But things are slowly changing.This guy's idea is that open source will 'win' based on the idea that the open source community will make something BETTER than Adobe Photoshop, better than Microsoft Office... Better than... you get the point. This is subjective, but it simply hasn't happened IMO. GIMP and Open Office are nice - but they just aren't perfect substitutes. If even some of the best open source projects can't aspire to be as good as (let alone better than) closed source counterparts, how are open source projects going to overcome the current entrenchment of closed source software? From a user perspective, I like some of the innovations that open source has offered in software titles, but as a whole, it just isn't as good (although certainly more bang for your buck!)HOWEVER, as more and more standards are supported and more and more stuff lives on the Internet, operating systems become less important. This is good for Linux - because the Internet is (read: can be) platform agnostic. I don't think it is unreasonable to believe that in a decade your OS won't matter. Just look at Quake Live and Google Apps etc... It isn't as good as native alternatives, but it won't take very long to get there. Perhaps that will be the year of Linux on the Desktop. :[Edited by Rick on 2009-05-05 19:18:14]
carlleigh said:
I remember a time when there was no Windows. No Office. No etc! When Microsoft came out with Windows x.x people didn't want it because the applications available didn't work as good as the other commercial products out there.They didn't wait till Window products were the best or even better. They started to buy when Windows and the applications were good enough. At first they were also cheaper.Linux and free applications are good enough for most of the population. They are also cheaper. Microsoft had lost by 1999. Its just a matter of time........ Tough noogies!
greenfrogct said:
History bears Mark Shuttleworth out on this one. Remember an operating system known as OS/2 Warp? In the mid 90's after Microsoft had abandoned development of OS/2 in favor of Windows NT, IBM attempted to bring OS/2 to market as a Windows competitor. In an effort to overcome the dearth of native OS/2 applications, IBM supported the installation of a Windows 3.1 subsystem running inside OS/2 ("Warp for Windows") which permitted running Windows applications.While this may have sounded like a cool idea for "ease of transition", it also obviated the motivation for developers to release native OS/2 applications. If you needed to have a copy of Windows to run the apps you use, why bother to use OS/2 - especially if the Windows subsystem isn't as stable or completely compatible with many of the Windows applications? (Which it wasn't).I have always maintained that including support for Windows applications was a significant factor in the failure of OS/2 to emerge as a successful competitor to Windows.
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