Linux belongs in the datacenter, out of sight and out of mind. It may be cheap, and it can certainly lift heavy things, but it's scary as hell to anyone who's not an IT professional or a techno-geek. But maybe, just maybe, it's about to break free.
Linux belongs in the closet because it's ugly, it's difficult to use, and it's too easy to stuff up beyond repair. In a nutshell, that's why Linux has such a minuscule market share away from the confines of the server room on end-user desktops.
There's also that-which-must-not-be-mentioned: the fact that the Linux world seems determined to shoot itself in the foot by giving the fruits of its labors ridiculous names: Windows is a friendly word, and there's nothing wrong with Apple. But what the heck is Ubuntu? Or Linpus Lite? Or OpenSUSE? Or Gentoo? Or even Linux for that matter.
Make no mistake: The adoption of much good open source software is severely hampered by moronic names.
The good news for Linux lovers is that something interesting is happening. Something that could soon expose the masses to the joys and benefits of the open source operating system and that further down the line could have serious positive repercussions for Linux in the enterprise. A whole new market is emerging for sophisticated, connected mobile devices, including smartphones, netbooks and tablets. A plethora of new devices, yet to be designed, will enable people to run apps and communicate with each other and applications in the cloud.
Earlier this week, two very significant players staked a claim in this market for Linux. Nokia and Intel announced they were combining their open source-based operating systems, "to create one open source uber-platform for the next generation of computing devices: tablets, pocketable computers, netbooks, automotive IVI and more," according to Jim Zemlin, the head of the Linux Foundation ,which will host the project.
The open-source-based OSes in question are Nokia's Maemo platform and Intel's Moblin. Inevitably, given the sheer, awkward stupidity of these names, the resulting project has an equally idiotic name: MeeGo. Also inevitable, given that it will be joining other "new" OSes like iPhoneOS, Android and ChromeOS, it will be branded MeeToo. But stupid name or not, Zemlin believes MeeGo represents
... nothing less than the launch of a new disruptive force for a new class of computing devices ... Many client Linux efforts to date have focused exclusively on desktop or smartphone segments. The time is now for a platform that is exclusively built to be used across a wide variety of devices ...
Will MeeGo succeed? It would be wrong to write off Nokia and Intel. Nokia sells a great many mobile phones, and with its N770, N800, N810 and N900 devices (not to mention the Booklet 3G) it's been slowly learning about the portable computer markets. Intel? Well, it's Intel isn't it. And even if MeeGo devices don't take over the world, plenty of other Linux OSes stand to gain from the Nokia-Intel alliance. Zemlin added, "Android, ChromeOS, the Palm Pre, Bada, and dozens of traditional Linux desktop efforts use many of the components in MeeGo. They all benefit from the increased engineering efforts on those components."
It's heady stuff for Linux aficionados, although the work remains to be done. But this could be just what Linux needs: Consider how Apple's computer business has benefited from the launch of the iPod, and then the iPhone and iPad. If Linux can establish itself as the OS of choice for the next generation of mobile computing devices, perhaps the "halo effect" will boost the profile of Linux in the same way. If that happens, then more people will see the beauty of Linux, and decide it is safe to let it out of the server closet. Even if it is still cursed with silly names. MeeGo? Oh please!
Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.