At LinuxWorld Expo in San Francisco this summer I was lucky enough to host a panel discussion among Dirk Hohndel, Eric Raymond, Jon "maddog" Hall, and Chris DiBona. We talked about the first 15 years of Linux, and what the next 5 years would bring. The session was recorded and is now online.
Eric Raymond stole the show by calling for more cooperation between Open Source developers and proprietary software vendors. Specifically, Eric believes that the desktop operating system for the next 30 years will be determined in the next 5 years, and if Linux has not achieved critical mass on the desktop by 2011, we will have 30 more years of Windows. (Sort of like a 30-year plague...) But what stirred up controversy was Eric's call for more open support of proprietary media software (specifically CODECs) on Linux. Eric argued that support for the iPod and similar proprietary media devices was the critical factor in attracting a new generation of Linux desktop users.
I don't agree with Eric.
During the panel we all agreed that one of the key tipping points in Linux history was the decision by Oracle to port to Linux. That decision gave Linux the legitimacy it needed to be a viable choice among server operating systems. I believe that we need a similar tipping point for the desktop. We need a major desktop software vendor to announce Linux support. I believe that such an announcement could be the tipping point that encourages other vendors to port and users to switch.
Of the major desktop software vendors, there are really only two that are likely to port and would carry significant weight: Adobe and Intuit. When Novell ran their survey of most requested Windows applications, 11 of the top 25 most requested applications were from Adobe or Intuit. So rather than pursue proprietary CODECs on Linux, I believe we should be working to encourage Adobe and Intuit to port. Either Adobe or Intuit would lend credibility to Linux on the desktop and trigger an avalanche of users converting to Linux.