03 March 2013

State Of The Linux

I think it's time to stop hating on the Windows and the OSX! I think it's time to look at ourselves! And by ourselves I mean Linux. I feel like we are all too comfortable with the state of open source, and I'm not sure we should be. There are several factors that play into this post and the need to write it. Windows 8, Ubuntu focusing on mobile, ORACLE told to go to hell and steam for Linux.

In order for a system to take market share it needs to be useful, known and available. Some people would ask about available. Usually in the technology industry there are two factors. Technology and marketing. Technology is the usefulness of the system. Marketing is the promotion and sale of the system, advertisement to make sure that the system is well known and then the distribution of the product on the market. In the computer industry there are three separate markets. Server, desktop and mobile.

In the server realm, UNIX-like is king. Linux is a UNIX like OS and it pretty much is dominant in that realm. The consumers in this realm are the IT people, technically literate system and network administrators make a case for the purchase of hardware and software products on the basis of an objective evaluation of the technology. There is of course a cost benefit analysis and a consideration of the skills of the staff. If you have a team of Microsoft certified professionals you probably won't buy enterprise Linux. On the other hand there is no way and or reason to buy enterprise Linux, instead you buy support and you invest in Linux specific training for the staff. Probably the main reason for the domination of Linux in the server space is exactly the expertise. The Internet grew because of small companies. And if you have ever tried to start a busyness, then you know how much better it is if you don't have-to buy operating systems and specialized hardware. So Linux fits the bill, a free OS that you can install on any hardware you have. Not only would Linux not be what it is without the Internet but the Internet wouldn't be what it is without Linux. This has been true for as long as Linux and the Internet have been around. So it grew on Linux and the know how and expertise for the .com was developed on Linux. I have a few old DELL server systems that have Windows Server 2003 stickers and win server 2003 support. I tried to install Windows Server 2008, and it didn't work. It turned out that the new 2008 version does not support the RAID controllers. I did get it working without them but I didn't want to throw the old disks and controllers away. Fortunately openSUSE didn't have a problem with the old RAID controllers. There is no reason for concern on the server side. There are some changes coming but nothing scary. First it's the cloud, ooh cloud. Well the cloud works on top of Linux and you can run anything on it so the skill set is the same. It really doesn't make a difference to an administrator logged into a system through ssh or some web tool. The known and loved LAMP(Linux Apache MySQL PHP) model is about to change into LAMP(Linux Apache MariaDB PHP), so even the abbreviation won't change. MariaDB is presented as a drop in replacement for MySQL. Nobody is going to jump ship to MSSQL because of that. Now when we talk about the server we are also talking about the enterprise. And when we talk about the enterprise we are talking about RHEL and SLES. And MariaDB is going to be the default database for the next openSUSE and Fedora. And that means that most likely the next RHEL, CentOS, SLES and the hippies are going to switch too on the next version. So ORACLE is about to experience the same thing they experienced when OpenOffice was kicked out and replaced by LibreOffice. I still haven't tried MariaDB, I will look at it when I try openSUSE 12.3 in two weeks. But as long as it is usable it is proof that the server ecosystem build around Linux is resilient and will persevere regardless of ORACLE, Canonical, Red Hat or NOVELL. So on the server Linux is the most useful(in most cases), it is the best known, and as it is available as a free download...

In the desktop realm we have an entirely different market. Here the consumers have mostly no idea of the technology. And on top of that the marketing is much more direct. The war for the desktop is fought on two fronts, productivity and entertainment. Productivity is systems sold for the purpose of work. In the productivity spectrum Windows and OSX share the graphics design market. But that isn't because the operating systems are in some way suited for that work, it's because Adobe decided that Linux's market share is too small and the investment to make versions of it's products for it wouldn't be justified. We have the same with Autodesk, so there are no versions for Linux of 3ds Max, Maya and AutoCAD. So Linux isn't useful for that work since most professionals have a skill set build on top of those products. We have inkscape and gimp and blender, but they recently reached a level at witch they are to be considered competitive with the proprietary offerings so it will take time for them to be adopted by the industry. In Bulgaria (where I am from) we have several software companies that sell retail and invoicing software that is inline with local laws and regulations. One of them when asked about Linux said that "They don't need clients who can't afford to buy an operating system!". And this is weird in an environment where nobody buys an OS, everything is pirated. The last production use I can talk about is programming, and here Linux is on par with the others but there is a small problem with that since apart from the web and android you should use the platform you are developing for. And for iOS you use OSX since you don't have much choice. We have lost the war for production, since Linux isn't actually useful there. We have some positive movement in entertainment. We have steam now. Or at least I though we did. Windows has a huge install base because it was the first that was available world wide and it was initially based on DOS so it inherited a ton of software. Somehow the games industry decided that the fragmentation caused by DirectX isn't a bad thing and windows is getting all games. That fed the install base. Now we have steam but no tittles. But we actually don't have steam on Linux. I have a 64 bit openSUSE 12.2 and a 32bit Ubuntu. On openSUSE I got it from an unstable package and it seams like it works but the only free games I found (I will not give a cent to test this stuff) were some Dwarfs stuff and it doesn't work and Team Fortres 2 has no audio(WTF). On Ubuntu I got the .deb from steampowered and when it starts it cries about the old version of my drivers. It asks me to install a not recommended version of the graphics driver. Yeah, go to hell. Alternatively we have desura but the goal is to get the tittles, and neither desura nor steam have solved this problem(yet). We have Urban Terror as our only tactical shooter, and it sucks. I installed steam on windows and got Blacklight retribution which is a great free to play pay to win tactical shooter. We have nothing like that on Linux. And this is the tragedy, the technology is there but the usefulness isn't because we have neither the production tools nor the game tittles. The Unity game engine and the unreal engine are coming to Linux but this will not translate into game titles soon enough to leverage the failure of Windows 8. Some idiots claim that thanks to android Linux has become known, no. It is like saying that GNU has become known thanks to Linux. The Linux community knows that android runs on Linux, the rest just know their phone runs android. Android isn't Linux, android is shit on top of Linux. So as much as you can hear about Linux in our circles, the average consumer doesn't know about it. Many people don't know about Windows XP or 7 or 8, they maybe know that it's windows(maybe they don't). As far as available is concerned, a free download that just needs to be burned on a disk and installed. And the task of downloading an ISO and reinstalling the system is a gap that the majority of users can't cross. So Linux is entirely unavailable for most people.

Mobile. We know what is going on with mobile. Android is king. As I said before, android is not Linux. Canonical is about to shoot themselves in the face with a push for ubuntu on mobile. First, why? Second, good luck. When I say Linux on mobile I mean maemo meego and tizen. Have you heard of those? As far as useful, I have no idea. As far as available, it is free. But you can use it with two smart phones. What if I don't have an N900? And tizen was supposed to breathe new life into these mobile platforms and it ended up being a development framework something.

I read some positive articles about Linux and I think, we are the same place we were 5 years ago. So don't feel to comfortable, stick to your guns. The developers can do what they have been doing. The consumers can keep voting with their wallet by supporting paid Linux products and making donations and now that steam and desura are selling games for Linux. Go have a look there before buying for a different platform(as long as it works, don't give a dime for broken stuff).