Linux has come so far since its initial release in 1991. In fact it beat all the odds to become the first commercially viable open source platform. The fair of hackers, computer enthusiasts and Enterprise alike there is a lot of love across the board for the little Unix clone that could.
However, Linux, specifically Linux on the desktop, has had its share of problems that has held it back from mainstream dominance. Ignoring the competition offered by the likes of Microsoft and Apple , which of these problems is the most serious and how could said problem be resolved?
I'm referring to Linux hardware compatibility. This is a tricky and rather touchy subject amongst the diehard Linux community and one with no simple solution.
Many new users to Linux face a huge wall that they must climb when they first install a Linux distribution and thats that a lot of the hardware on their machine either doesn't work properly or doesn't work at all. While this problem is nowhere near as bad as it was, even as recently as 2006 when I started using Linux as my full time OS, it's still a serious issue.
An example was found when Ubuntu was trending on Google+ earlier this week, as mentioned by me in my Ubuntu 12.04 sneak peak. A Google+ member had posted about his new install of Linux, looking for some help with problems he was having. While he loved the desktop and so on (In this it was Ubuntu’s Unity, told you its not a bad entry point for new users) around 25-30 percent of his main hardware components which are essential for normal usage where MIA. Sound, hardware accelerated graphics, wireless support etc flat out didn't work.
After an hour of running the gauntlet with the aid of around 20 or so Linux vets he managed to get various problems sorted, thankfully he enjoyed the challenge of getting it working but he was more tech inclined than your average user. Should it really be like that?
A mainstream Linux distribution should be a ‘point 'n' shoot’ affair when it comes to install and set up and not like a Rube Goldberg machine. On windows hardware is set up using an auto installation wizard which detects and installs the appropriate driver for any outstanding hardware components. While this might be an option for Linux due to licensing restrictions such a system would be forced into using open source drivers as the those from the actual hardware vendors are proprietary.
Mac OS X doesn't need to worry about this issue as it uses a strict subset of hardware across its product range with the exception of printers which use a similar wizard system to Windows. The Mac OS X approach underlines a root issue and highlights one possible, but (extraordinarily) extreme solution.
That issue wether or not generic, all encompassing, operating systems are really viable any more or were they ever really viable to begin with? Would it not make more sense for the major distribution vendors which as Novell, Red Hat and Canonical to works closely with the hardware vendors. They could possibly contract them, use a third party contractors or even work in house to tailor a given distribution to specific products ensuring every aspect of their machine works and hence can be supported properly.
This would remove the need for disto vendors to support generic versions of their product and the need for them to include support for every device under the sun. This approach would also remove the problems associated with licensing as the product vendors could deal with individual licensing themselves. Thus communities that have sprung up around specific products could then be charged with bringing hardware-specific, from source versions of distributions to that product (much like we have with the current smartphone paradigm, xda etc). Smaller distribution vendors cold then be left to continue filling the niche they represent. Hopefully this will also weed out the distributions that don't fill any niche whatsoever or offer any-more than a theme and a few preinstalled applications on top of the distros they are built on that clog up what little mind share linux has.
This will not be a popular idea amongst Linux-ites. I am aware of that. Its represents core change and they do not like core change especially change of this magnitude, but come on, trying to support everything you end up supporting nothing and everybody loses.
Some feel that Linux can see mainstream success on the desktop by carrying on how it is and every year seems to be “the year of Linux desktop” but i have always been a big advocate of change and unless one as big as the one mentioned above is carried out the wonderful notion of Linux on the desktop as a mainstream phenomenon will be forever relegated to the pages of history alongside BeOS and OS/2. Superior technology that just didn't see success.
You may not agree with my point of view, hell you might even hate me for it, but one thing we can all agree on is that it would be a monumental shame for Linux to fail when its come this far.