Assorted Desktop Chatter

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There’s all sorts of interesting desktop commentary popping up these days. First off, as Slashdot points out, the GNOME and Mozilla groups are exploring ways to collaborate more effectively. As the meeting minutes reflect, for all of the bashing Longhorn has taken in the press for its hazy roadmap, both groups are eyeing the offering warily and potential discussing responses. Here’s what the minutes have to say of Nat Friedman’s (of Novell/Ximian fame) statements:

Nat spoke about some developments at Microsoft – the merging of a bunch of teams for Avalon/XAML. Now have a single team for web and native desktop rendering. GNOME and Mozilla needs to align to counter this. One big fear moment was at the recent Microsoft PDC, with Amazon demoing their site written using XAML and pretty compelling reasons for using it. Nat believes the options are
* Gain market share before Longhorn comes along
* Clone XAML
* Develop something new, cross-platform, and offering a rich web experience as well as a great native integration story, and getting the big players involved. With this we have a single library – the tarball is the standard. If we’re interested in a unified solution [GTK+ and XUL], how do we mix the two? How do we approach cross platform, without slowing down the schedule of each project?

It was noted that Microsoft haven’t ported many applications to XAML yet.

If we’re going to be competitive, we need to follow the open source defacto standard route, that we’re all working on, rather than being bogged down with the standards process.

Meanwhile, the other pillar of Ximian – Miguel de Icaza – has a similar cautionary tone in his Blog. (He’s also hoping that Sun picks up Mono as a result of the MS settlement, incidentally).

Does something like XAML matter? Not really. But it makes it simple to create relatively cute apps, by relatively newby users, in the same way anyone could build web pages with HTML.

Does Avalon really matter? Its a cute toolkit, with tons of widgetry, but nothing that we cant do on a weekend, right?

Does the fact that its built on top of .NET matter? Well, you could argue it has some productivity advantages, security features and get into a long discussion of .NET vs Java, but its besides the point.

Everyone is arguing about tiny bits of the equation `We have done that with Glade before!’, `Gtk/Qt are cross-platform!’, `We can get the same with good language bindings!’, `We already have the widgets!’, `Cairo is all we need’, `What do users really want?’ and of course `Dont let them define the game!’.
They are all fine points of view, but what makes Longhorn dangerous for the viability of Linux on the desktop is that the combination of Microsoft deployment power, XAML, Avalon and .NET is killer. It is what Java wanted to do with the Web, but with the channel to deploy it and the lessons learned from Java mistakes.

This commentary certainly supports our view stated in our Linux on the Desktop – The Time is Now (subscribers only, sorry) publication that Linux on the desktop has a window in front of it, with Longhorn marking the closure of that window.

What does the Linux community need to do to get there? And by there we don’t mean unseat windows we mean become a legitimate, mainstream offering. We’re often asked this by the media, and to us there isn’t one answer. If it’s the consumer market, we think that efforts like Project Utopia (be sure to take a look at their user focused use cases here) or Project Looking Glass are a step in the right direction, while the business community can benefit from interoperability projects like freedesktop.org. And certainly efforts to sell Linux through major retailers won’t hurt. Channel questions Wal-Mart notwithstanding – are another area for improvement.

But the community also needs to expand its horizons beyond the simple Windows desktop replacement arguments. Indexing is one area that my colleague James Governor has advanced recently as a potential differentiator, because at least until Longhorn is released, search and indexing is an area where the Windows experience is poor. Nat Friedman’s also discussed this recently, and his work on Dashboard is an intriguing extension of this idea. How about a OneNote (the equivalent of which is not available natively on Linux, to the best of our knowledge) analog that’s embedded into Evolution and the OS, providing seamless note taking / research functions with tight integration to related functions such as email and IM. How about a compliance oriented desktop that’s MS Office formats compatible?

The open source community appears to get this, though. Mozilla’s goals here are well beyond the browser.

So in short, better interop, better hardware support, and brilliant new user applications. Whoever said competing with Microsoft is easy?

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