The Time to Listen is Now. Linux Not Microsoft

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It was the year 2001. And the world of Windows users were in high levels of anticipation for the arrival of Microsoft’s newest operating system update, Windows XP. It would pick up from where its predecessor, Windows 2000, could not proceed any further. At the time of release, Windows XP created quite a stir and for quite some time remained a controversial release for Microsoft. The reputation of being a complete failure for Microsoft was short lived and Windows XP would quickly become the de-facto version of Windows for the desktop. And over the course of its many years in production use, it would prove to be a financial boon for the Microsoft Sales Department.

As the inevitable life-span of Windows XP was becoming stretched, Microsoft began development work on its successor, Windows Vista. I’ll be brutally honest here, Windows Vista was a complete failure. It was not taken to nicely by the consumer nor business sector. Microsoft persisted with it purely because they had no other choice. And while Microsoft scrambled to push forward development on its successor, Windows 7, they also knew that Windows 7 had to be good. It had to win back the confidence of its current user-base and win back that of the lost. And the companies immediate and ultimate future would be counting on the success of Windows 7. For the development of Windows 7, Microsoft actually did listen to its users’ qualms and address the issues that plagued Windows Vista. As Microsoft’s Sales Department and history tells the story, Windows 7 was a success for Microsoft. But more recently, Microsoft has released Windows 8. Let’s again be brutally honest, Windows 8 has failed.

You may be asking yourself why I am focusing on Microsoft so much. The reason is because Microsoft has let its users down through making the same mistake it did with Windows Vista and not listening to its users. Microsoft’s development record shows that when the developers choose to ignore the users and do what they believe is innovative and commercially right, they have failed.

Linux Distribution developers have to be careful to not repeat the same mistakes which have repeatedly been made by Microsoft. The Linux kernel itself is not the issue at hand, but Linux distributors and OEM’s. Ubuntu is no doubt the most often criticized for trying things that are considered different from what most consider normal. But with respect to Canonical and Ubuntu, they have proven that persistence can drive innovation. And it has done on many fronts. For many years, Ubuntu was the default choice for many Linux users. Although, recent statistics show that although it has dropped in popularity, it still remains one of the most reputable Linux distributions known to the community.

With respect to Canonical’s massive success, the Ubuntu Developers have copped their share of criticism in the past. I don’t want to focus on any particular feature that the developers may have introduced that has provoked the outspoken, but I wish to raise the point that on the occasions of the Ubuntu Developers ignoring their users feedback and ideas, it has had a big impact on its community and user base. Possibly with long term effects, which we are yet to see.

One of the advantages of being one of the most popular software companies in the world is that they make many decisions based on their own knowledge and expertise to take the company and its services in to the right direction. Or what they believe is the right direction. This is not always the case. As I have clearly demonstrated in my Microsoft example at the beginning of this article. Decisions from the very top to take a company and its services down a certain path can have huge repercussions if and when things turn sour. And if Linux companies, organizations and developers do not take the advice of its community of users and start listening to what Linux users want, then the future of Linux on the desktop may not look as positive as it once did.

Linux companies and organizations have an advantage over their competitors Microsoft and Apple. Linux users have been witness to the bad decisions that have been made previously by these once dominant software veterans and what the results can look like when user feedback is outright ignored.

A more recent example would be the ongoing debate of GNOME Shell and whether it was the right direction forward for the GNOME desktop. User feedback from the very beginning was completely ignored by the GNOME Developers. And for now, GNOME users and loyalists are forced to use a desktop they are unhappy with unless they drop GNOME and install KDE or one of the many other alternatives. And yes, it is true that if one is not happy with a package in Linux, it can be replaced by one of many other alternatives. For which there are many to choose from. But the important point to remember which this situation is the fact there was nothing wrong with GNOME 2.x in the first place. And distributions that have continued with the old GNOME 2 type desktop environments, through the MATE desktop project have been increasingly gaining in popularity. One of the more well known Linux distributions for this, being Linux Mint.

The message is on the wall and written very clearly. The two powerhouses of the Linux desktop space, Red Hat and Canonical, have to be tread carefully about all decisions they will be making in the present and future. Not only can they turn the image and nature of the Linux eco-system down a dark and ugly path which could potentially wipe out all the hard work Linux developers have done to improve the desktop image of “Linux for the Desktop” and making it usable, but they also have to do it for themselves and their companies long-term financial survival and support of the very systems that we use today.

Red Hat has done amazing things with and for Linux and continue to do so. And especially with its Fedora Project. But the announcement that Red Hat Enterprise Linux will feature the new GNOME 3 base, could be a turning point for the worse for the company, especially with RHEL. Red Hat have stated that they have made many changes to the GNOME 3 base they will use, but I suspect that all the changes will be under the hood and there probably won’t be many aesthetic differences between Red Hat GNOME 3 and the official GNOME 3 code. But I do welcome Red Hat to prove me wrong.

Canonical is already on thin ice with its supporters with Ubuntu Linux. There are some interesting things to come from Ubuntu in the near future. Notably, the release of Ubuntu Phone is beginning to come to fruition. And Ubuntu Tablet is just over the horizon. But personally, I have not witnessed anyone getting super excited about Ubuntu Phone. And most Ubuntu users are approaching with caution. And Ubuntu could quite possibly be moving to a rolling release strategy in the future. It is still unclear how exactly this will be handled. Initial reports are suggesting we will still see the ever important LTS releases, but the primary code base will be the rolling release. Or perhaps we’ll see the Ubuntu adopt the same development model as Debian and have several releases set at different stages. But I highly doubt that, due to Ubuntu being based on Debian in the first place. There would seemingly be not much point from cloning the same model as its base core.

There have even been reports that Ubuntu have now dumped the idea of a rolling release. But whatever decision that Canonical make and direction they and the developers decide to take Ubuntu, as with Red Hat, they need to be very careful and need to really listen to what is needed and wanted by its users. After all, we are the ones that are making it possible for them to do business in the first place. We are the clients of their services.