Opinion: New day on the desktop

It started off as a conference about the Linux desktop. In the end, it may be considered the event that accomplished its goal in spite of itself.

The event is the soon-to-occur Desktop Linux Summit scheduled for Feb. 20 and 21 in San Diego, Calif. It was originally billed as "the first-event entirely devoted to desktop Linux and will be hosted by the top executives of leading technology companies" (see www.desktoplinux.com/news/NS7709909925.html).Unfortunately, the conference hit a major pothole before arriving at its destination. The key sponsor of the event, Lindows.com Inc., apparently decided to exercise its preeminence by unilaterally superseding the work of the show's advisory board, which it had assembled for the event. With barely a month until show time, Lindows reportedly replaced the show agenda, substituting the original opening keynote speaker Bruce Perens, an author and open-source advocate, with Lindows CEO Michael Robertson.

This sent some of the participants into an uproar because the promised vendor-neutral summit was suddenly looking like a very vendor-specific event. Several show supporters have apparently left the ranks of expected participants, including Hewlett-Packard Co., former organizer DesktopLinux.com, Linux distributor Lycoris Inc., and the aforementioned Mr. Perens.

Now, I understand the principle that the kid who owns the ball gets to pick the game to be played, but that should happen before the players take the field. In the world of conferences, the time for directional changes is months before the show -- before sponsors, vendors, and attendees commit time, money, and manpower in support of the event. Making radical changes at the 11th hour is just not good business.

Likewise, when over 98 percent of the product you sell is created by others, it is not wise to do things that alienate these suppliers. Yet this turn of events generated significantly more bad feeling toward Lindows in the Linux developer community -- which is quite a feat since Lindows has an uncanny knack for irritating the open-source community as it is.

But the story does not end there. In true open-source style, a very active movement to turn lemons into lemonade is taking shape. In open source, a project that executes good concepts poorly is often replaced with a new project that aims to execute the same good concepts in a better fashion. In this case, the new project can be seen in the recent birth of the Desktop Linux Consortium (DLC) (see www.desktoplinuxconsortium.com), a neutral vendor organization formed to further the advance of Linux on the desktop. DLC members include SuSE Linux AG, MandrakeSoft SA, DesktopLinux.com, KDE, and Ximian Inc.; Lindows is notably absent from the roster.

The formation of the DLC has had two major consequences. First, it clearly indicates that many vendors believe the time has come for desktop Linux. And second, it reminds us that advances in the open-source world are not subject to any single organization's whims. Advances will continue even if one organization falters in execution.

Add to this the recent desktop offerings from SuSE and Red Hat, the birth of desktop distribution Xandros, and the announcement that KDE and Gnome desktop groups now intend to publish a shared document for Human Interface Guidelines, and it is clear that the Linux desktop is now serious business.

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