My last series of posts about what I think about Desktop OSes and the place of Linux distributions among them resulted in lots of very interesting and informative discussions, so I decided to write this follow-up to summarize everything, and describe the role of Mandriva in this environment as I see it.
(Of course, everything said here is my personal opinion, and in no way I am trying to say something on behalf of Mandriva Board of directors)
First of all, what comes into mind when you think about the term ‘Linux Distribution’? I bet that names like Fedora, Ubuntu, Mandriva, Debian, Slackware, Arch, Gentoo – and many others come into mind.
However, what names come into mind when you think about Desktops? I believe that in this case, the names which feel most like it are Mac, Windows, Android, Meego, BeOS, ChromeOS, JoliCloud, and so on. Some of them are running proprietary OSes, some of them are partly open, and some of them are actually based on a Linux distribution or a Linux kernel and libraries stack.
And finally, what comes into mind when you think about the term ‘Linux Desktop’? Without holy wars and discussion which distribution is better (notice the word distribution here), I believe that it is hard to escape from the names as Ubuntu, Mandrake, Linspire, SLED, and similar solutions.
Some of you perhaps have already got my point. What makes a “Desktop” is not a mere combination of packages, applications, community and artwork; but it is the integration and common feeling among all of its components, and somewhat inherited desire of having a ‘standard’ way of doing everything. And Linux Distributions, on their turn, inherently have the essence of freedom of choice, flexibility and multitude of combinations of applications and goals within, which make them much more flexible on one hand, but much less focused on another.
Why Linux distributions will never (in my humble opinion) beat Windows or MacOS on desktop? By a one simple reason – they are too flexible. They provide too many options and possibilities by default, without a ‘standard’ way of doing things, and while everything works and is usually tightly integrated, this is still a combination of packages and applications, and not a Desktop. This is not a bad thing – by the contrary, I believe that this is awesome! But this opposite to what is expected from a Desktop experience.
On other turn, the Desktops which managed to succeed in the history of computers are the ones which started with a vision, and according to this vision, has evolved into a combination of applications, features, standardization and look-and-feel which made them unique.
If you think about productive and efficient desktop, Mac OS comes into mind. Even if it (with some bit of imagination) could be considered a distribution (it has lots of non-apple applications, gnu stack, unix infrastructure under it, and so on) – it is rarely seen as one. It is a desktop, it has its own unique feeling and usage.
It is the same feeling which we have for Android, Chrome, JoliCloud – even if they are, in fact, Linux distributions, they are not seen as such. They are products – with their own features, functionality, feeling, goals, and so on. They have a focus, they have a unique and controlled roadmap and goal, and this is what makes them more focused on that goal.
And this is the road where Ubuntu, and now Mandriva, are headed – running away from being ‘Linux distributions’ in the most common sense of the word, towards becoming Desktops. Ubuntu GNU/Linux Distribution has already become just ‘Ubuntu’. It is still a Linux distribution, it is based on shoulders of the giants, but it is not just another distribution out there – it became a Desktop, with its own look-and-feel, functionality, goals, features and behavior.
This is how Android and ChromeOS evolved as well – even if they are, in fact, Linux distributions, they are not seen as such, but as separated and unique products. This is what JoliCloud did as well, and this is what Linspire did in the past.
In other words, when separating Linux Distributions with Desktop solutions, it is possible to imagine a simple scale, ranging from freedom of choice, flexibility and non-prioritization of specific DEs and UIs – to single and unique look-and-feel, restricted flexibility and focus on specific features and details. The further away from the ‘flexibility’ and ‘freedom of choice’ a solution is moving, the closer it gets to become a product with ‘Desktop’ name in it.
Most Linux distributions value freedom of choice and diverse and mulch-opinionated community among everything else. They treat KDE as good as GNOME, and do not consider XFCE and LXDE as 2nd-class citizens. Every one is able to select what he wants to use, mix applications – and there are no restrictions nor enforcements on how his desktop should work.
In other corner, there are Desktop products – which enforce a single and common look-and-feel and mode of operation, define behaviors, and are focused on one single and unique way of doing anything.
And this is basically what I think on the matter .