Four Things Linux Needs
Mike Gunderloy's post on FOSS Factory got me thinking about what Linux needs to gain mass market acceptance. After thinking about it, I've come up with a list of four things that the Linux community needs that aren't (as far as I know) yet in the works.
This isn't a list of impossible goals -- all of these things are attainable if the Linux industry and community were to decide that they are priorities. That's not to say that they'd be easy to accomplish, but the Linux community has proven good at working together when it's important.
This also isn't a list of technical hurdles Linux needs to overcome. Most of the technical hurdles Linux faces these days are directly related to lack of support from hardware vendors -- and that can be fixed fairly easily by growing the market and letting vendors see it's in their best interest to support the platform.
A Community Fund
Lots of major players contribute a great deal of money to open source, usually in ways that are strategic to the companies themselves. This works out great for the Linux and FOSS community in general, but what's lacking is a general fund for development and nurturing of projects that don't fit under the wing of any vendors in the open source industry.
A few halting attempts have been made to do this, but haven't succeeded so far. We should take a cue from PBS and start having pledge drives or find other ways to raise money from Linux enthusiasts and make sure the money is fairly and honestly distributed.
Google's Summer of Code might be the closest thing we have right now, but that program can only go so far (and only to code) and the entire burden shouldn't be on Google anyway.
A Real Documentation Project
The first Linux book I owned was a bound-up copy of the Linux Documentation Project (LDP) called the Linux Bible. Linux has grown and matured a lot since then, but the LDP has largely failed to grow and succeed with it.
Each Linux distro maintains its own documentation team and by and large the major distros do a good job of creating distro-specific documentation. However, documentation for FOSS projects and standard Linux utilities is lacking.
One of the things that we could really use is a full-blown documentation project that provides the kind of documentation that Sun Solaris is famous for. Again, this is one of the reasons we need a community fund that is completely vendor-neutral -- in order to be able to fund development of documentation and other materials that individual vendors are unlikely to fund on their own.
When talking about Linux, it's still next to impossible to point to hard numbers about how many people use Linux, what distros are the most popular, how many people really contribute to Linux, etc.
We have a few good snapshots. Greg Kroah-Hartman's Who Wrote Linux? report, and Waugh Partners' Australian Open Source Industry & Community Report are good snapshots -- but there's no single source to turn to for this sort of information, and really good statistics seem to be available only for very specific areas. In this case, the kernel and Australia -- which leaves hundreds of projects and several continents, respectively, unreported on.
- Unified Marketing
If you took the marketing budgets of all the Linux vendors combined, and then doubled that figure, and then added a zero, you might start approaching what Microsoft spends on marketing Windows. Maybe.
The ad councils for various industries have the right idea -- it's a good idea to pool your money to grow the market when you're jointly competing with another industry. It'd be much better for Linux awareness if, in addition to advertising for specific distros and products, we had a general ad campaign to get the word out about Linux and its advantages.
That's my list, anyway. How would you recommend boosting the Linux and FOSS community?
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier works for Novell as the openSUSE Community Manager.