The challenges of Desktop Linux

So Miguael de Icaza posted a blog with his opinion about why Desktop Linux has not become a huge success. The core of his argument seems to be that the lack of ABI stability was the main reason we didn’t get a significant market share in the desktop market. Personally I think this argument doesn’t hold water at all and the comparison with MacOS X a bit random.

So I think there are a lot of contributing factors to our struggle in the desktop market like:

  • We are trying to compete with a near monopoly (Windows)
  • Companies tend to depend on a myriad of applications to run their business, and just a couple of them not running under Linux
    would be enough to derail a transition to Linux desktops
  • We were competing not only with other operating systems, but with a Office productivity application monopoly
  • We are trying to compete by supporting an unlimited range of hardware options
  • We divided our efforts into multiple competing APIs (GNOME vs KDE)
  • There was never a clear method of distributing software on Linux outside the distro specific package system.
  • Many of our underlaying systems were a bit immature
  • Software patents on multimedia codecs made it hard to create a good out of the box experience for multimedia
  • Competing with free applications is never a tempting proposition for 3rd party vendors
  • We never reached a critical mass where porting to desktop Linux tended to make sense
  • An impression was created that Linux users would not pay for any software
  • The different update cycles of the distributions made it hard to know when a new API would be available ‘everywhere’
  • Success in other areas drained resources away from the desktop

The Apple Myth
So how did Apple succeed? Well first of all the question needs to be asked if they have succeeded? When Steve Jobs came back to Apple I think their global market share for personal computers was down to just below 5% if my memory serves me correct. According to Wikipedia (not the best proof of anything, but lets assume they are in the ballpark) their marketshare is now about 7.5%. So in other words on the back of being the media darling and record breaking products such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad, they have managed to increase their market share with 2.5% in the PC market. I think that speaks volumes about the challenges posted by the first two items in my list above. Another thing that is both an advantage for Apple and a disadvantage at the same time is that they got their own hardware. In the advantage collumn that means that their developers had a very limited set of hardware configurations to support and they could ensure MacOS X ran well on that configuration. We on the other hand have been struggling with trying to support basically any random configuration out there, which means ensuring a problem free experience for everyone is next to impossible. Of course I think only supporting your own hardware also does sometimes makes things harder for Apple, because if a company was considering switching to MacOS X they would have to throw away all their existing hardware, which I am sure makes a lot of companies think twice if contemplating switching.

Apple were also able to build on their old market share when launching MacOS X, which means they have had a profitable ecosystem all the way. So for instance porting games has provided enough income to support companies in keep doing so. While for Linux it has often been a proposition of trying to build a market when considering porting to Linux.

Conclusions
So I could go intro great detail for each of my bullet points, but I think they are quite self explanatory. But my general point is that I when I ask myself if I think our market share would be significantly higher if our ABI stability had been even better, the answer is no. Not that I am saying I think it has had no impact at all, I am sure examples exist of ABI breakage or distro fragmentation having caused 3rd party software developers to shy away, but I don’t really believe Linux would have had for instance a 10% marketshare today if only our ABI stability had been better over the last 10 years. But maybe it would have added another 0.2% or something in that range.

But as I said in an earlier blog post, I am not negative about the future of Linux and open source on the desktop. I just think it is a lot slower slog to get there than we hoped for, and I do honestly feel that we have a much more compelling product to offer today than we did 10 years ago in comparison with Windows and MS Office. But the challenges in my bullet point list remain and overcoming them has been and will continue to be something we have to chip away at, one step at a time. And in the meantime linux and open source software is still doing extremely well in a lot of other end user facing market segments where the competition was not so strongly entrenched, like mobile phones, tablets, TVs, set top boxes, in-flight entertainment systems, in-vehicle entertainment systems, home applicances and so on.

Back from GStreamer Conference 2012

Came back last evening from the GStreamer Conference and I am now back in Cambridge for the weekend. The GStreamer Conference was a lot of fun this year and it was great seeing everyone again. I think the mixture of talks we had this year was really good and I think everyone attending enjoyed themselves. For those who missed the conference this year then Phoronix and Lwn.net posted articles from the Conference. The talks where also recorded and will soon be available at the Ubicast GStreamer Conference website. We did try to get livestreaming going this year, but due to technical problems it didn’t work out, but maybe next year.

A big thank you again to our Gold Sponsor Collabora and our Silver Sponsors Entropy Wave, Fluendo, Igalia and Google. Thanks also goes to LWN.net, Phoronix and Ubicast for making sure the talks and sessions at the GStreamer Conference can reach a wide an audience as possible. And last but not least a big thanks to all our conference speakers who took the time and effort to prepare presentations for this years GStreamer Conference.

For me personally the GStreamer Conference this year also marks the end of my life in Cambridge, UK. Starting from next week I will have completed my period of comuting to Brno, and will instead be living in Brno, Czech Republic on a permanent basis. Which reminds me, we are looking to hire more members to our Brno desktop engineering team, so I will be posting a blog soon outlining what kind of experience we are looking for.

On the way to the GStreamer Conference in San Diego

Doing the last preparations for my trip to the United States. I got a few stops on this visit, starting with the Red Hat office in Westford. Looking forward to meeting with Jonathan and the team there to discuss our goals for the coming year and discuss what we can do to make Fedora and RHEL even greater.

The on Friday I am heading down to New York for a short visit to say hi to my good friend Ian, before flying onwards to San Diego on Saturday to attend the GStreamer Conference 2012. I think we have a great lineup of talks this week and I look forward to hanging out will all the other key GStreamer contributors again. So if you haven’t registered yet for the GStreamer Conference yet, make sure to do so and book your travel :)

Further hacking on Transmageddon

Heading off to Munich in an hour, but I been spending the morning trying to get git master transmageddon into shape. I think I am getting there as things works a lot better for me now. I even added a small feature, namely output to the notification area as seen in the screenshot below. Still very basic, but I hope to improve on it over the next few weeks. Also wondering if putting the Transmageddon nuclear mushroom in the notification area is a good way to keep users calm, or if they see the icon and start wondering if their system is suffering from a meltdown :)

Screenshot of Transmageddon with GNOME Shell notification
Screenshot of Transmageddon with GNOME Shell notification

Transmageddon and GStreamer 1.0

Spent today working on Transmageddon, trying to get it ready for the GStreamer 1.0 release. It is frustrating going as I only get a little time here and there to work on it, and thus my memory of the code is not as good as it needs to be in order to do this efficiently. But I did in the end manage to file a couple of GStreamer 1.0 bug reports and restore the preset functionality to almost where it was before the GTK3/GStreamer 1.0 port.
When starting the port I disabled and removed a lot of code that in retrospect I still needed as I made some wrong assumptions about how encodebin would work. Going over the code now I also realize I have done some things in a quite stupid manner, or maybe the approaches made sense in the original codebase and just now over a series of iterations have become cludgy, anyway tried cleaning it up a bit, but didn’t have the time to really go over the code and make sure it looks nicer.

Of big issues remaining is that the missing codec functionality is still not 100% restored and working nicely, so a little more work needed there. But if you have all codecs already installed then things are shaping up quite nicely. So I think I am getting very close to having a GTK3 and GStreamer 1.0 version of Transmageddon at feature parity with the GTK2 and GStreamer 0.10 version.

Also thanks to Kalev Lember, Transmageddon is now in Fedora (the latest 0.10 based release) and he also made me co-maintainer of the package which I a very happy about. Hopefully this means that when Fedora switches to GStreamer 1.0 I can get the new Transmageddon up and running there quite quickly.

Also Gendre S├ębastien plans on working on Transmageddon going forward and have already made some really cool mockups for a revamped UI. A lot of new features are planned, like the number one request I keep getting, support for setting up batches of transcoding jobs instead of having to do them one by one like now. My plan is to release a first version with the current UI and featureset for GTK3 and GStreamer 1.0, and then work with Gendre to implement his ideas. This new UI will also be more GNOME 3 styled, so hopefully it will provide users with something that feels more at home in the GNOME Shell and on Unity.

New free font from Adobe and a cool kickstarter project

Discovered yesterday that Paul Hunt of Adobe released a new font under a permisive license called Source Sans Pro. It looks quite nice and even adds Navajo support, probably as the first free font to do so. Hopefully we can get this packaged in Fedora and elsewhere quite quickly.

Another item that caught my eye is the Kickstarter for Oculus Rift, which is a VR glasses device which will include Linux support. Usually a bit sceptical about throwing out significant money on projects by people I don’t know off quite well already. But warm endorsements from people like Carmack and Gabe Newell convinced me that this was the real thing. With Gabe being so enamoured by it, maybe we can manage to get support for it in the Linux version of L4D2 :)