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Is a Linux desktop avalanche coming?
Feb. 28, 2007

Opinion -- Slowly, ever so slowly, the Linux desktop has been picking up momentum. It keeps getting better and better, but Microsoft's monopoly has kept many PC users from realizing that there really is a viable alternative to Windows. However, that's about to change.

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Just like a few more snowflakes can turn a quiet snowy mountainside into an avalanche, Linux is teetering on the edge of becoming a real force in the desktop computing world.

First, the Portland Project started getting Linux desktop developers to work together. No, neither KDE nor GNOME are going to go away. Rather, Portland has got the developers working on a common foundation. With that solid footing, ISVs (independent software vendors) will be able to write one application that will run on both of those popular desktop environments.

Another major step forward is Ubuntu and Linspire partnering on the use of CNR for software installation. I think a lot of people have missed just what an important step this is for desktop Linux.

Ubuntu is, without question, the most popular of the community Linuxes these days. While not nearly as popular, Linspire, with its newly opened CNR, is creating the easiest way, by far, to install software on a Linux desktop. When you put them together, you get a desktop Linux -- with broad support -- that anyone can install new programs on.

Software installation, even on some of the best Linux distributions, has long been a Linux problem child. RPMs, Debs, YaST, Synaptic, APT, yum, alien, klik... the alphabet soup of installation formats and programs goes on forever. Heck, I can't keep track of them all, and I follow Linux for a living. The Portland crew recently started working on standardizing installation routines, but I don't expect to see any big results from that until 2008.

CNR software warehouse
(Click to enlarge)
In the meantime, Linspire will be offering -- first for its own distributions, Freespire and Linspire, and then Ubuntu -- an end-user experience that hides all the existing complexity. Soon after that is done, the company will begin extending the service to many other Linux distributions.

Today, when you want to install software, you not only need to know the ins and outs of your particular installation program, you also need to have a good idea of exactly what program you're looking for in the first place. For example, if I do a search by name and summary in SUSE's YaST software installer for "word processor," I'm not going to find anything. Everyone knows that OpenOffice is an office suite and that Firefox is a Web browser, but even old Linux hands might stop, for a moment, when thinking about alternatives. CNR will make a great more of the vast Linux software library available for all users.

It's not simply that CNR will make installing any software -- free or proprietary, application or driver -- a one-click operation. It's that the newly wikied CNR will make it possible for users who don't know Jokosher from Traverso to pick out the right software. Both programs are multi-track audio recording and editing programs, but unless you already knew what they were, would you ever find them? Would you know how to install them? Would you have any clue as to which might be better than the other?

You could pull together all that information and get your program installed, but let's face it; it's not going to be straightforward or easy. To me, it looks like CNR is not only going to make installing software on Linux simple; it's going to make software installation better than it is on either Windows or Mac OS X.

And, that, I'm quite sure, is going to make desktop Linux a whole lot more interesting to all users. Get ready for the avalanche!

-- Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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