For awhile now the year of the Linux Desktop has been trumpeted – year after year after … Here I present a list of my own thoughts of what is needed for the Linux Desktop to succeed. Feel free to agree or disagree as some of my thoughts may be controversial and some of them may seem negative but you can’t be introspective if all you do is think about the things that we did right:
#1 Mobile is the only way forward – if you aren’t thinking of mobile with every decision you make you are designing for the past. Even desktops can go in power saving modes, sleep and hibernate.
#2 Instant off/on is becoming a reality and something that doesn’t have to be bolted on given that we have access to every layer of the OS. This is not enough by itself to be compelling over entrenched Desktop OS’s but combined with some other advantages and it becomes a killer feature.
#3 Super battery life – Get beyond the 5 hour mark of heavy use and you start to get a full day of passive use on one charge – you can watch 2 DVD’s, a student can take notes in all of their classes, etc.
#4 Single 3rd party application format – e.g. I write software for one class of mobile devices, it runs on all devices with the same security profiles. I don’t care about where the bits come from or how they are stored, just that a person can write something and submit it to multiple vendor’s app stores and have it just work.
#5 Forget about the general purpose desktop – ok don’t forget about it upstream but when making a product you are going to run into the “this doesn’t work like Windows” syndrome. Don’t even mention the Mac because they have been around for a long time and are just figuring out how to push their desktop – and that is through targeted devices like the iPhone and iPod. Even their desktop is geared towards media creation and viewing. The general purpose desktop is just too big a target and will always get compared to the current leader. Guess what, it won’t be the areas where it is better that will get talked about, it will be the areas that don’t quite measure up. In my opinion (brace for it because people will hate me for saying this), all of the Netbook makers putting out general purpose desktops do a disservice to the market by saturating it. Companies coming out with truly innovative products based off the Netbook/Linux combo will be drowned in a sea of Windows wanabe’s. See the next thought.
#6 Products need to be targeted – no one cares you can’t run a full word processor on your phone but they do care when you are selling them a “computer”. Why, because phones do a couple of things really well and every year they can add more computer like functionality without the expectation that it should run like a full computer. Netbooks come from the opposite direction – they are expected to run like full computers but fall short of that goal. Pick a target audience and make it work really well for them and they won’t care that it doesn’t do all the other stuff. In the long run your costs are lower because support is confined to specific functionality. Oh and whatever it does make sure it hooks up to the Internet in some meaningful way.
#7 Change the form factor – if it looks like a laptop, sort of quacks like a laptop, it will be expected to work like a laptop. See above for the issue with that. 20/20 hindsight being what it is I wish the gen 1 OLPC’s were designed like the gen 2 is (it looks like a book), because more than a computer, the XO was a learning device. That kind of got drowned out, first because the project was named One LAPTOP Per Child (catchy but totally forcing us into a box where the rest of the project was thinking outside of it) and secondly because people were asking things like “does it run Word?”. It really should have done a couple of things really well – surf the web, act as an eBook reader and facilitate communications. To be truthful there are a lot of great application written for the OLPC project but by not focusing on targeting the device nothing was highlighting the advantages (of which there were many). The discussion started to revolve around what it couldn’t do instead of what it could (we get back to the fact that phones don’t suffer this phenomenon).
#8 Shed the cheaper is better mantra because while inexpensive can be a selling point that is a different beast than cheap. Inexpensive implies getting more value than what you are paying for, cheap implies getting what you paid for. I hate to say it but the Linux Desktop is considered the cheap alternative. Why was the Linux Server able to avoid this trap? It really is all perception but as they say, perception is reality.
#9 Stop trying to compete in such a small market segment. All of the mobile developers need to work closer together to grow the market, solidify the technology, set meaningful standards and bring down prices while adding value.
#10 Differentiate yourself through the services you offer – if you are targeting a specific group of people there might be some overlap with competitors but the truth is there are so many target groups these devices can appeal to that as a whole the market will have a higher chance of flourishing. Having too many similar choices will just confuse people and they will end up going to what they are familiar with. By tying to services that are of interest to your target group you give them a reason to acquire your device over another and have a vehicle to keep them engaged (e.g. you have a potential continuous revenue stream as opposed to a oneoff)
Feel free to flame me but imagine this scenario – you are going on vacation and you don’t want to lug your work laptop with you. You know there is always going to be waiting involved so you buy a $300 Travel Companion Netbook. You just happen to be a member of Netflix and the box says it works with Netflix. You set it to download a couple of movies and since you also like to read on the plane so you buy a couple of e-books from Amazon. An alert notifies you that you have three hours until your flight but there is a delay so make that four. This is because you configured your Travel Companion to hook up to your travel service provider. You get into the checkin area of the airport and you don’t have to wait for an open kiosk because your Netbook can check you in and the barcode on your screen can be scanned for the ticket. You get on the plane and start watching one of the movies you downloaded but the flight attendant tells you to turn off your device for takeoff. You close the lid and instantly it turns off. As soon as the flight is in the air you flip it open and instantly you are watching the movie you had paused. You read some books on the device, catch some sleep and then wake up checking the flight status which get updated from the plane’s onboard server. You notice the flight is playing that movie you were dieing to see so you stream it from the plane’s server and watch it in full HD. Once landing you pull up a map of the current terminal and directions to the baggage claim. While you wait for your bags you start making reservations for dinner and notify the hotel that you are on your way. You are looking forward to well deserved rest and relaxation and take some pictures of yourself with a big grin, adding a nice “You wish you were here” banner on it. You then send it off to all of your co-workers who are picking up your slack back at the office.
If your Netbook could do half of what I described in the above scenario, no one would be asking, “but does it run Word?” And to think, travellers are only one target audience.[read this post in: ar de es fr it ja ko pt ru zh-CN ]