Linux Foundation End User Summit: Right Mission?
The Linux Foundation recently announced the second annual Linux Foundation End User Summit, to be held this November. At face value, it might sound like a conference dedicated to assessing and addressing the needs of the type of people who use Ubuntu and other distributions for day-to-day computing. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that.
The Linux Foundation, which famously acquired the linux.com domain last year, is dedicated, in its own words, to “fostering the growth of Linux.” That’s obviously a noble, if ambiguous, goal, and the promotion of Linux on any front is beneficial to the free-software community as a whole.
But it’s somewhat regrettable that the Linux Foundation has chosen to focus a huge majority of its resources catering to corporate users and geeks, rather than advancing Ubuntu’s mission of pushing Linux onto the desktops of normal people. That problem is exemplified in the linux.com website, which is not as helpful as it could be for non-geeks trying to figure out if Linux could work for them.
The non-end user end user
The trend is also evident in the announcement of November’s conference. In the Linux Foundation’s lexicon, “end user” turns out to mean “CTOs, Architects and Technical Directors from Financial Services, Online Services, HealthCare, HPC and other verticals”–in other words, people who are in a position to spend money putting Linux on servers, not on consumer-targeted workstations, laptops or netbooks.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with devoting resources–even a majority of them–to courting big businesses that will use Linux mainly in the back room. Linux’s commanding presence on servers of all sorts ensures that companies continue to pour money into supporting development, which benefits the community as a whole–although the extent to which it encourages developers to focus on servers at the expense of desktop functionality is an item of debate.
A conference is probably also not the best way to acquaint the masses with Linux, so the exclusive selection of people who can attend in November is understandable. But in addition to investing resources in events like this, the Linux Foundation would do well also to focus on campaigns that can reach non-geeks, or to work with hardware vendors to get distributions like Ubuntu pre-installed and supported on more mainstream PCs.
Desktop Linux now
There’s nothing wrong with devoting a little money to spreading Linux to the real end users, the people who need a desktop operating system for Web browsing, word processing and the like. Ubuntu and a handful of other desktop-oriented distributions have proven themselves viable vehicles for spreading Linux to the masses, but the “Linux for human beings” cause has been chronically hampered by a reluctance on the part of many of the best heeled forces in the community to engage the desktop market seriously.
It’s been the Year of the Linux Desktop for some time now, insofar as Linux–or certain versions of it, at least–has been a viable desktop operating system. But if Microsoft has done one thing well, it’s demonstrating that good products don’t become popular on merits alone (and vice-versa): publicity is key.
Until the most powerful players in the free-software community decide that the desktop of non-geeks is a worthy prize, Ubuntu’s aspiration of effecting a real Year of the Linux Desktop will remain a distant pipe dream.