Hitchhiker's Guide to the Linux Desktop with SCALE UpSCALE Speaker Christian Hergert

SCALE had the priviledge to sit down with long time free & open source software contributor Christrian Hergert.  Christian shared his views & opinions on the current state and future of the FOSS desktop, as well as what the FOSS community can learn from the commercial powerhouses.

SCALE: Being as brutally honest as possible, what do you think of the current state of the Linux desktop? Is it something that's usable by the masses?

Christian Hergert: No. However, I don’t think thats due to technical merit. Technically speaking, Linux is plenty good enough. People often forget that there has been nearly 20 years of training on other platforms. I remember learning DOS through Windows XP in my local school district growing up. Proprietary software bought the hearts and minds of our children through school policy and that will continue to be very tough to overcome. We have to make it hip to run Linux by enabling our users to do cool new things not done before.

With that said, there is still a lot of work to do so that developers can sit down and make their vision a reality in a short amount of time. We still need more cohesion between our components. When you look at the OS X components you will notice that their sum is greater than the parts. I want to help make that a reality on Linux.

SCALE: What do you think the future holds for desktop software in general, both commercial & free?

: We are certainly on a path towards appliance computing. I wouldn’t be surprised if desktops become relics reserved for use by programmers, architects, and other trades like audio/visual design.

While writing this, though, I certainly am not wishing I was typing with my thumbs on an iPad or even on my N900 phone. There are certain things that the laptop form factor fits well. So I guess my answer is that I think desktop software will end up moving towards fitting those roles well rather than trying to do everything.

SCALE: What do you think of the concept of systems like Chrome OS where your applications are not really your applications?

: Frankly, I’m terrified for my privacy. I hope that global issues like what has happened at Google with regard to China wakes people up. If they hacked Google, they can probably hack everyone else (or already have).

Designing systems where the user does not have control of their data does not protect the consumer. It was a necessary step forward. If you tried to imagine 10 years ago building something like MySpace or Facebook without a centralized data store it simply wasn’t possible.

Now that we have solved the basic scaling issues we can start to see how we could apply those technical designs towards privately owned user data. For example, imagine a cloud where instead of the data roaming around the Internet it was a part of the application that moved around and then returned to the user with the result. This could allow users to control their data and security access precisely as they desire. I think it is inevitable that engineering will solve this eventually and we will all be better off. Until users demand it, the market is not likely to provide it.

SCALE: Is there anything that the FOSS community can learn from commercial desktop software?

CH: Aesthetic design. Design goes so much deeper than just looking pretty. It takes endless iteration through the feedback loop. Businesses have a financial motivation to do this. The FOSS community needs a unified vision for two reasons. One, it lets people feel apart of something greater than themselves. But most importantly, it builds landmarks for success. If we can continually feel successful, the retention rate of quality designers and developers will be

SCALE: Christian, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

To hear more from Christian about FOSS desktop software be sure to attend his UpSCALE talk at SCALE 8x.

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