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Does Linux Lack a Killer App?

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Jun 16, 2014 5:47 PM PT

Well the days are heating up here in the Linux blogosphere, and FOSS fans are flocking to the Broken Windows Lounge as much for the frosty air-conditioning as for the conversation.

Does Linux Lack a Killer App?

Even Linux Girl, whose days generally involve far more pavement-pounding than she'd like, has found herself seeking solace in the blogobar's arctic climes far more often than she probably should.

It's a good thing she has been, though, or she might have missed the latest juicy debate. "What killer app is Linux missing?" was the question that kicked things off, and the discussion has been escalating ever since.

"The Free Software world is incredibly rich, and covers pretty much all bases," Linux Voice's Mike Saunders began. "We have a wealth of desktop, server, development and multimedia tools to choose from -- some of which are the best in their field.

"But what is missing?" Sanders went on provocatively. "Is there a killer app that prevents you from running Linux 24x7 on your main machine?"

There was a momentary lull in the conversation around the bar as patrons pondered the suggestion. Linux Girl tried to enjoy the fleeting peace, but it didn't last for more than an instant.

'Depends on What You Do'

Linux Girl

"A long time ago Linux needed a lot of things," Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol offered. "These days, when every software and the kitchen sink are migrating to the cloud, everything is going to be multiplatform.

"I would say we lacked games, but that also is being taken care of," Ebersol said. "So I don't feel that we desperately need a killer app anymore."

The killer app "depends on what you do with your computer," consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack opined. "If you are drafting, then the killer app is Autocad. But for other industries the killer app will be something else."

'The Enterprise Space'

Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien had a similar view.

"There isn't much left on the consumer level," O'Brien said. "I could maybe gripe about games or Nvidia drivers, and I don't really see anything that can replace Quicken. But for me the big difference maker is in the enterprise space.

"Microsoft owns that, and there is nothing that compares to Outlook/Exchange server, Sharepoint, etc.," he asserted. "I suspect part of the reason is that there are not a lot of open source developers who really care about that stuff."

'The Tide Is Changing'

It's not so much a "missing app" situation as a "not-enough-critical-mass" kind of problem, Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. suggested.

Many more people use Linux today than did five years ago, he noted; at the same time, many are tied to non-Linux-friendly applications.

"'Everybody' uses $kype, but we have half a dozen apps for that in GNU/Linux, from the simple and very useful Pidgin (my favorite) to Ekiga and similar VoIP apps," Gonzalo Velasco C. explained. "Some users still claim they need Photo$hop and don't take the time to master and suggest improvements for GIMP, Inkscape, Bender and others."

Games used to be missing, "but the tide is changing, mainly -- but not only -- because of Valve's brave SteamOS movement," he added.

'Retail Shelf Space'

"I don't think there are any 'killer' apps these days," blogger Robert Pogson agreed. "In Debian GNU/Linux, there are 40K packages. My main PC has only 3K installed and I lack nothing. I have multiple browsers, editors, compilers/interpreters, platforms, and with virtual machinery like KVM, I can play with multiple operating systems and different versions of software as needed.

"I can treat multiple machines as if they were a single machine from anywhere on the LAN," Pogson added. "I can access resources on any node on the LAN from any machine. What more do I need?"

That said, "several professionals have told me that video and image editors in GNU/Linux are a bit weak," he noted. "GIMP is being improved in bit-depth, so that should be covered. Lightworks will eventually be released as FLOSS, so video should be covered."

Nevertheless, "these are tiny niches in IT," he pointed out. "Many ordinary folks go decades without using those other special applications, so I don't think this is anything holding GNU/Linux back."

The real killer in the market, however, is lack of shelf space in retail stores, Pogson asserted. "Where that is covered, GNU/Linux thrives."

'Linux Has Lost Out to OS X'

Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, had a different perspective.

"I don't think that it is a question of killer apps," he began. "The real issue is that on the desktop, Linux has generally lost out to OS X, while it is increasingly dominating the server market along with the BSDs. People who use Linux on the desktop tend to be looking for openness."

What Linux needs is either "the momentum of Microsoft or the smooth UI and attention to detail of OS X," Travers said. "These may come over time."

The Documentation Problem

Linux isn't missing one killer app -- "what it's missing is polish, as always," Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza opined. "No desktop environment for Linux has the polish of Windows XP, let alone Windows 7.

"Move away from the bloat and oversimplicity of GNOME or from the widget salad of KDE to what, Xfce or LXDE, with their perfectly horrible file managers and primitive panels?" Espinoza added. "GNOME is the only DE that ever got close, and then they decided to remove all the complexity and eliminate their reason to exist."

Windows is just "a nicer place to hang out," he asserted.

Still, if Linux is missing anything for broader acceptance, "that is games," Espinoza said. "If you were trying to narrow it down to one app, it would probably still be Photoshop. For all the talk of how great GIMP has become, usability is still an abject nightmare, and in spite of the OSS community's self-back-patting regarding documentation, there is no documentation for GIMP which is not pathetic."

GIMP "might be able to do most of the things Photoshop can do, but I'll probably never know," Espinoza concluded. "I suppose if I spent hours trolling fora I could find out how to use GIMP. This failing is shared by most OSS projects, including the ones that think they're really well-documented."

'Ease of Use and Support'

Ease of use and support are the "killer app" SoylentNews blogger hairyfeet named.

"Oh, a freshly installed Linux distro LOOKS nice, it works great; the problem is it doesn't CONTINUE to look nice or work great," he explained. "First update and whoops! Wireless no longer can use WPA V2. Second update? Whoops, say goodbye to sound, as Pulse has puked. First 'upgrade'? Uh oh, hope you didn't need that!

"THIS is what Windows and OS X have that Linux doesn't: the ease of use and support," hairyfeet concluded. "As long as it takes 15+ Linux releases to equal the same support cycle a single Windows release gets? Then I'm sorry, but your product is just not in the same league -- you are comparing HS baseball to the majors."

'Windows 8'

Last but not least, Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone had a surprising suggestion.

"The killer app that Linux has been missing all these years is Windows 8," Stone quipped.

"Seriously, I don't think there is a particular app that can be the 'killer app,'" he said. "Linux needs to have more mainstream application support, and that's going to mean Photoshop and Microsoft Office at the minimum. Thankfully, Microsoft has done their best to make Office less relevant, and most people don't need Photoshop."

Linux "could be reaching critical mass, and I was only partially joking when I said Windows 8 earlier," he concluded. "The application base in Linux is starting to arrive, and the current version of Windows is remarkably unpopular. Fingers crossed we see some motion here soon."

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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