Greetings From Jim Dennis
We're all getting used to the idea that Linux can attract corporate users, for deployment as web, ftp, file (SMB and NFS), print and even database servers; and we're getting used to seeing it used for routers, mail, and DNS.
We're even getting used to the idea that corporate user put Linux on their desktops (in places where they might have spent a small fortune on a workstation).
But, what about the home/personal user? Most of us consider this to be an impossible dream. Even those few enthusiasts in the Linux community who dare to hope for it have been saying that it will take years to gain any percentage of that market.
However, I'm starting to wonder about that. I've seen a number of trade rag articles naysaying Linux on the desktop. Ironically, when a reporter or columnist explains why Linux isn't suitable for the desktop, it actually raises the possibility that it is suitable for that role.
A denial or refutation tells us that the question has come up!
What prevents the average IT manager from deploying Linux on their desktop today? In most cases it's fear. The users are used to MS Word, MS Excel, and MS PowerPoint. Any user who uses any of these is forcing all of the rest to do so as well (since these applications all use proprietary, non-portable, file formats).
Everyone who uses Office has to use a PC or a Mac (and many of them switched away from Macs due to lags in upgrades and subtle file compatibility problems between the Mac and PC versions of these applications).
Why do Mac users run VirtualPC to deal with the occasional .DOC, .XLS, or .PPT file that they get, or some other proprietary file format (like some of those irritating CD-ROM encyclopedias) which is accessible only through one application.
However, these proprietary formats are not secret codes. Linux and other Open Source (tm) hackers will turn their attention to them and crack their formats wide open. This will allow us to have filters and converters.
'catdoc', LAOLA, and MSWordView are already showing some progress on this area (for one of these formats).
Microsoft will undoubtedly counter by releasing a new version of their suite which will carefully break the latest third-party viewers and utilities (free or otherwise). They may even apply the most even perversion of intellectual property law yet devised: the software patent.
However, I think the public, after a decade of following along with this game, is finally starting to wise up. The next release that egregiously breaks file format compatibility may be the end of that ploy (for awhile at least).
But what about the home user. How do home users choose their software? What is important to them?
Most of them don't choose their software; they use what comes on the system and add things only later.
When they go out to buy additional software, home users are the most price conscious of all buyers. Commercial, government, and other institutional buyers can make a business case to justify their purchases. Home users just look in their wallet.
The other common influences on the novice home user include the retail store clerks and their kids. That's one reason why the school and university markets were always so crucial to Apple's success.
I noticed that the Win '98 upgrade was going for $89. I couldn't find a "non-upgrade" box anywhere in that store (CompUSA).
People are starting to hear that for half that price, they can get this other OS that includes enough games and applications to fill a 2GB hard drive.
I think MS is actually starting to price itself out of the market. (It seems that my MS-DOS 5.0 upgrade was only about $35 or $40.) If MS Office weren't bundled with so many new systems, there probably would be about a tenth the legal copies in home use.
With a little more work on LyX and KLyX and a few of its brethren, and a bit more polishing on the installation/configuration scripts for the various distributions, I think we'll see a much more rapid growth in the home market than anyone currently believes. I think we may be at 15 to 20 per cent of the home market by sometime in the year 2000.
So, what home applications do we really need to make that happen?
... because it gives all of us a place to vote on what we would buy.
One class of packages that used to be very popular was the "greeting card" and "banner/sign" packages: PrintShop, PrintMaster, and Bannermania. Those had the cheesiest clipart/graphics and a fairly limited range of layouts. Limited enough to make any TeXnician scream with frustration.
However, they were incredibly popular precisely because of those constraints. Having a few dozen to a couple hundred choices to pick from is far less intimidating to home users than all the power and flexibility you get with TeX, LaTeX, and the GIMP.
I would dearly love to see a set of pre-designed greeting cards, certificates ("John Doe has Successfully Completed the Yoyodyne Tiddly Winks Seminar"--with the lacy border--you know the kind!), etc. all done in TeX or PS or whatever. This and a front-end chooser and forms dialog to fill in the text would be a really killer home app.
Bannermania was geared to creating large banners, either on fanfold paper or as multiple sheets to be cut and pasted together onto a backing board (piece of cardboard).
I think a new Linux implementation of this sort of app built over the existing software (TeX, GhostScript, etc) would end up being vastly better than anything that was possible under the old PrintShop, and still be as simple.
I'm sure most of us have that one old DOS, Windows, Mac, or other application or game that we'd like to see re-done for Linux. So, dig out the publisher's address or phone number (assuming they still exist), and let them know what you want. Then post your request to the wishlist.
Even these trivial bits of action can make Linux the choice of home users. I say this because I think it's about time they had a choice.
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