Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on November 4, 2008
The Register, a snarky British online tech publication, has a great example of the challenges facing Linux if it is ever to make real progress displacing Windows or Mac OX X on desktops. The problem is that an extremely solid core operating system is crippled by a user interface that requires too much knowledge and too much patience for most users to master.
The Register's Ted Dziuba wanted to install OpenOffice, an open-source office productivity suite more or less compatible with Microsoft Office, on a PC running Ubuntu Linux. One problem you immediately encounter with Linux is installing third-party programs. At best, it is a much more difficult process that with Windows or a Mac. The process is complicated by the fact that each "distribution," or version, of Linux uses its own installation packages, except for those programs that you have to install by compiling the code yourself. And as long as an installation requires opening a command-line window and entering such commands as
sudo apt-get install ia32-libs
sudo dpkg -i --force-architecture *.deb
Linux will not be a mass-market product.
This is why I am watching Hewlett-Packard's Mobile Internet Experience project with intense interest. The MIE is a mini-notebook, due out early next year, that is based on Linux but that comes with a suite of applications that keep the ugly geekiness of Linux completely out of sight of the user. The goal is to keep Linux on the MIE as deeply hidden as it is on a TiVO set top box.
Apple has already proved what can be done by keeping Linux far int he background. Mac OS X is built on top of BSD Unix, a close relation of Linux, but it is hidden by a beautiful and highly usable interface. The problem is that Linux development efforts are dominated by engineers who hold the firm belief that real men use command line interfaces.
HP has the talent and resources to change this. That's why I think the MIE project is a big deal.