July 16, 2003

Survey: What Linux needs now

- by Joe Barr -
This list of the "Top 10 things Linux needs now" is a summation of the results of a
small, highly unscientific poll I recently conducted on various
newsgroups and mailing lists.

Most but not all of respondents are regular users of
Linux. Some are die-hard Linux-only types. Some dual-boot to use "the
right tool for the right job." Still others are merely curious about
Linux. They are waiting for this or that to arrive before they even
give it a try. There are also a few responses from folks who don't like
Linux at all.

I have grouped the raw responses into categories. A vote for PhotoShop
and for a tax program both went into Applications, for example. Games
received enough votes to have a category of its own.

1st place: Applications

Almost a quarter of the responses wanted either more or specific
applications. Some of those named specifically include Quark,
PhotoShop, AutoCAD, and Microsoft Office. One person wanted a newer release of
RealPlayer. There were also votes for types of applications, like OCR
and tax, rather than for a specific product.

2nd place: Ease of use

Sixteen percent of the votes expressed the need for Linux to be easier to use.
Specific suggestions were for better GUI applications for system
configuration, more consistency between applications, and for Linux to
have more fit and polish like the Mac OS X. Some even want it to be
more like Windows.

3rd place: OS preloaded with desktop hardware

More than 10% of the responses suggested that what is holding Linux back
now is not something missing from Linux so much as it is about
availability. Microsoft would definitely agree, not just for Linux but
for all its erstwhile competition over the years, from DR-DOS to OS/2 to
BeOS. That's why it works so hard at keeping everyone else out of the
preload arena. That's also why Massachusetts is charging in court that
Microsoft has very recently (post-settlement) threatened reprisals
against a major OEM to prevent it from offering Linux preloaded.

Here we are five years after the start of the Linux boom and HP
has only recently become the first major OEM in the United States to offer Linux
preloaded without forcing customers to pay a premium, as if they were
paying for both Windows and Linux getting only Linux. This in spite of the demand evidenced by successful pre-load offerings by HP, IBM, and others in India, China, and Thailand. Now that there is
finally a domestic American pre-load offering, it shouldn't take long to
learn whether these votes are on the mark or not.

4th/5th place: Drivers and Games

Ten percent of the votes went for more or better relationships and drivers from
hardware manufacturers. The most specific response was for 3-D video
cards, but most simply wanted more and better across the board.

Ten percent also wanted more games. One wanted a "super game" exclusive to
Linux, another wanted all the top Windows titles. The Linux gaming
community may be small, but it is both vocal and growing.

6th place: Name recognition

Some took a larger view of what Linux needs. They want Linux to be more
of a household term. Some said better name recognition will make management more willing to adopt Linux in the workplace. Others said it would prevent hardware manufacturers from ignoring the Linux market.

7th place: Easier installation of applications

Rather than being unhappy with a specific package management
methodology, the votes in this category were for a universal solution.
They want something that works well and works the same way across all
distributions.

There were 10 responses tied for the 8th through 10th spots, each with
one vote apiece. I played the pundit-card here and selected the final
three positions. Among those not included are responses like "an end to
pundits trying to divine what Linux needs next."

8th place: Better Microsoft Office file filters

We've had improvement here over the years, but the target keeps
moving and we need to do the same.

9th place: Better documentation

This is always true, regardless of whether we are talking about Linux or
Mac OS X or Windows XP.

10th place: Hot plug-and-play

I'm not sure how useful this would be, but it sounds sexy.

The list holds three surprises for me. First, I was surprised to see
preloads ranked so high. I think that's
a very astute observation. It's also very un-geeky. Maybe that's why it
surprised me. Ditto for the awareness shown by the respondents of the
value of name recognition. It's interesting to me that both of those
are of the "rising tide lifts all boats" variety.

My biggest surprise came when I thought about what is not on the list. The
great anti-Linux mantra is gone. It has disappeared. Not one of the
more than 60 responses mentioned a need for easier installation of the
operating system. Kudos to everyone who helped to make that happen.
Let's hope the same thing happens to all the critical needs on the list.

Finally, I think it is worth pointing out that almost all of the items
on the list are focused on Linux as a desktop platform rather than
simply as a server. In this pundit's very humble opinion, the "not
ready for the desktop" mantra will be the next one to disappear.

Related Linux.com poll

Joe Barr has been writing about technology for 10 years, and about
Linux for five. His work has appeared in IBM Personal Systems Journal, LinuxGazette, LinuxWorld,
Newsforge, phrack, SecurityFocus, and VARLinux.org. He is the founder of
The Dweebspeak Primer, the
official newsletter of the Linux Liberation Army.

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