A few month ago I already blogged about "the end of the (Linux) desktop as we know it." I will not blatantly repost this entry but draw some conclusions linked to the recent adoption of Unity for the default Ubuntu desktop.
My conclusion was the following : "At a certain level, one can say that the battle is already lost : the current desktop environments can not really fight this war as they don't own the key technology : the browser. As a consequence, the risk, for them (Gnome, KDE, etc.) is to be a tool that will launch a browser. A (relatively) simple tool that can be easily changed with almost no user impact..."
The recent announcement at UDS confirm that this road is the one chosen by Ubuntu. Now the question is why and what benefits for the key players here : Canonical, Ubuntu, Gnome and, of course, the users.
Mobile Internet Devices (MID) = application delivery
The new hardware platforms (most of them ARM based, touch-screen based, with small screen and no keyboards) rely extensively on the cloud/web based application and deploy specific small size applications on every connected MID.
The "desktop" on those platforms is very different from the one on your regular "old-school" computer : it consists mainly of giant dock with widgets and your most used apps and a task-bar that informs you about communications (tweet, email, voice mail, etc.) and the MID status (wifi, phone, battery, etc.).
Most of the regular desktop applications are barely usable on such a device : do you think that Open Office user experience will be great on a 640x480 screen with no keyboard ? All those applications are now somehow "legacy" and given the specific user interaction with the MID and the MID capabilities (touch screen, multi-touch, accelerometer, low computing power, etc.) can not be used, with a great user experience, on those devices. Even the most "cross-platform" software, the browser, is specific to the MID device and every major player rolled out a specific version (lighter, snappier, etc.) for those platform.
So can we use the legacy application, yes. Will they succeed "as is" on those MID : I don't think so.
Can a MID platform succeed on the desktop ?
Well, this is the interesting question. Ubuntu/Canonical decided to bet on it. In fact, instead of synchronizing your desktop to your MID, why not consider your desktop as ... a very large MID ?
Apple did it the other way around, Microsoft as well bu they both come from the old desktop world. Google did it from Android for MID to a hypothetical GoogleOS that will certainly be very similar to your Android experience.
Ubuntu/Canonical is betting on the fact that users will follow them from the MID market to the desktop market. This is an interesting challenge and a really disruptive choice : let's break compatibility with the past and embrace this new way of delivering applications.
Will it succeed : only time, users and the market can tell ;-)
Impact on key players : gnome, Ubuntu/Debian, Canonical, users
Well, as I announced it in my precedent post, the legacy of the desktop environment out there is too cumbersome to carry on this new trendy market. Nokia (
In this context, Ubuntu/Canonical is more conservative than Apple and Google that decided to dump X altogether. I'm not sure the X environment is fitted for next millennium challenges : once again, time will tell.
Gnome : I think this is a great news. Leveraging the tools, library and previous applications, a new "shell" can be developed that will be perfectly suited for MID. This, I can imagine that innovation can flow more freely from Desktop to MID and vice versa. Will Gnome developers embrace this change ? Will it provoke a community meltdown ? This is more an ego risk than a technological or business one. FLOSS is famous for its ego war and this may be the greatest risk for this key-player.
Ubuntu/Debian : Well, this really open another market for this distribution. A strong differentiator compared to RedHat, Novell. Competition on this market is called Android. Not an easy one to take on...
Canonical : As far as I know, the OEM division will have another great product to sell ! Just look at sales figures from Apple and Android device. This look very interesting to me. As the third or fourth player (Apple, RIM, Google, ...), becoming leader in this market will be a real challenge. Two very closed platform, two very open platforms. A huge and very fast growing market.
Users : Choice is always beneficial to some degree. As the default desktop environment will change, we will see the adoption rate but I expect it to be quite large in the Ubuntu community. This is a well known tactics (anyone remember Microsoft embedding IE into the desktop ?) that has worked well in the past. Also, it will help "convergence", namely the unification of your desktop and MID environment ... through the cloud services that will be offered on this platform (Music, More content, Storage, Contact, Preferences, ...).
All in all, I think this is great news for the future of Linux and all the involved party (Gnome, Ubuntu/Debian, Canonical and Mr. User). My only concerns are linked to some possible ego-war into the Gnome community and the fact that this will "only" be a tertiary platform in term of applications and content delivery : RIM seems in trouble, Apple the clear gorilla and Android the strong challenger. Will the great marketing and community/viral effect of Ubuntu be able to modify the race results ?