Open, Free, Functional, and Wrapped In a Strong Sense of Self

by Ostatic Staff - May. 03, 2009

Over at the Lynx blog, Dougie Richardson cast his vote for the best comment made during the course of Ubuntu's Open Week. While his choice might be completely subjective, there is no denying that Mark Shuttleworth's response when asked whether WINE (in its own right, or as a general synonym for Windows compatibility) or native Linux ports were more important to Ubuntu's success was thought provoking.

The question (and answer) invite all sorts of tangential queries. What should any desktop computer be expected, by default, to deliver? If equivalent applications on different platforms have identical features and functionality, and content produced by one application can be opened and modified on the other, will user interfaces and familiarity matter less -- or more? If Microsoft made every last line of its code available to peruse and modify right now -- how would Windows change? How would Linux change? If you need a Philips head screwdriver, is it possible to squeak by with an approximately sized flat head type?

(12:24:03 PM) jcastro: jcastro: QUESTION: Do you see Wine (and Windows-compatibilty in general) or native Linux ports as the more important ingredient in the success of Ubuntu, or do they each play an important role?
(12:24:18 PM) sabdfl: they both play an important role
(12:24:30 PM) sabdfl: but fundamentally, the free software ecosystem needs to thrive on its own rules
(12:24:41 PM) sabdfl: it is *different* to the proprietary software universe
(12:24:54 PM) sabdfl: we need to make a success of our own platform on our own terms
(12:25:08 PM) sabdfl: if Linux is just another way to run Windows apps, we can't win
(12:25:13 PM) sabdfl: OS/2 tried that

Shuttleworth (sabdfl), I think, is absolutely correct with this answer. Linux simply isn't Windows (nor is Windows Linux) and to expect fundamentally different approaches (and I'm not just thinking closed versus open) to look, feel, and operate the same way is senseless.

That being said, there are certain tasks that people expect from desktop computers. For the most part, Linux handles these tasks (and maybe even more) just as well as (or perhaps, in certain cases, even better than) Windows. Games, most likely, would be the one software category that Windows has the inarguable upper hand -- and for some, that's definitely a deal breaker. It isn't for everybody, though -- and that's the idea.

For many years, I heard Windows described as a one-size-fits-all operating system. I don't think there is an inherent problem with taking some Windows-esque elements and ideas and applying them to an open setting, if they're good, useful adaptations. The idea is that Linux isn't Windows, it's something different, something more, a real, honest to goodness alternative.

Shuttleworth is right. Linux needs to be itself -- and determine what "itself" means. Different distributions (are there too many? Maybe not if everyone has a different favorite) might have -- and should have -- varied determinations of "itself." Interoperability between open and closed platforms (especially when it comes to file formats) is crucial, and another matter entirely. Linux doesn't need to assume the role and identity of its competition for long term success, it can achieve that on its own merits.