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Will Open Source Inherit The Desktop?

The future is entirely mobile and in the cloud. That’s what every news article and analyst tells me. Desktop computers are only needed by a tiny percentage of people. And we don’t need processing power when our files are in Dropbox, our work is on Google Docs, images are edited in Adobe Creative Cloud, and all our music and video needs are covered by Spotify, Netflix and Amazon Prime. And we can run them all via superfast, completely reliable broadband allowing us to be incredibly productive at the remaining tasks not already performance by artifical intelligence.

Sounds lovely, but it’s not my reality.

The predictions do make sense. And it’s not surprising that cloud-based software-as-a-service has taken off. Why only make a profit on a single sale when you can get lifetime payments via a subscription model without pesky duplication or retail stores taking a cut?

But in my world, I have a standard broadband connection shared with other people in my house. And that passes through some TP Link Powerline adaptors due to flakey wifi. While they give me a stable connection, it’s not the fastest as it passes through 1960s era electrical wiring.

And while I love my phone, I’m either too old or too clumsy to write long passages or edit photos on it. And I’d rather keep it reasonably streamlined with the handful of apps I actually need to use, rather than loading every possible work and pleasure-related service onto it.

Which is why I not only believe Open Source will inherit the desktop, but I’m thankful for it.

Open Source Will Inherit The Desktop

So open source is not a new thing. Open Source software has been around for decades, and has many advocates and users. Examples you may be familiar with include Richard Stallman anouncing plans for GNU in 1983, Linux appearing in 1991, WordPress in 2003, Ubuntu in 2004, OpenOffice which began in 1999 and has been forked into various versions, including LibreOffice in 2010.

Plus Apache, Firefox, Android, and many, many more projects.

And in some areas, open source software is the default. But the typical consumer desktop is still generally either Windows for a PC or Mac OS.

But as the main proprietary desktop software companies increasingly move towards the cloud, that leaves a greater potential for Open Source to fill the void. For example, Microsoft has recently announced the end of MS Paint, and Windows Essentials was retired in January, 2017.

While some of those products have been replaced or integrated into Windows, Live Writer has been forked and open sourced to continue as Open Live Writer for those wishing to continue to blog via their desktop. I already mentioned LibreOffice for those needing a decent suite of office software. And I’ve personally used GIMP for image editing as an alternative to Photoshop and simpler tools – the Gimpshop version might be even easier for Photoshop users to transfer across. I’ve used Filezilla more times than I care to count – I’d be surprised if it isn’t the most used FTP software in the world by now. And VLC Media Player has coped with legally purchased official DVDs that have refused to work via the Windows DVD player for whatever reason…

Even my father appreciated Ubuntu when I installed it on his old laptop, but then again, I was replacing Windows Vista.

The thing is, some of those open source projects are a little clunkier than their proprietary counterparts. Not everything in LibreOffice, or Gimp is quite as intuitive, even thought it’s still perfectly usable when you find it. And there are occasionally driver issues with Ubuntu that you don’t tend to get as often with Windows, for example. When people make software and hardware, they’re used to catering to Windows and Mac first.

But when everything proprietary is moving to the cloud, and ‘normal’ people need desktop solutions, that means greater demand for compatability. And a bigger demand for improving the user interfaces and ease-of-use for all the main open source applications.

Which then makes it easier and more accessible for the next group of users.

Having worked on open source projects, I’ve seen the difference even small changes can make to a user base when a product becomes simpler and easier to use.

You can tell the current audience of Ubuntu by their latest news and spotlight articles, ‘Developing Ubuntu using git’, and ‘Speed up your software development lifecycle using Kubernetes’. Compare that to ‘Windows 10 helps you do great things’.

Whether or not the open source world will take advantage of this new opportunity to take over a still valuable space remains to be seen. But unless something incredibly radical happens with broadband access in the UK, the available bandwith means desktop applications which use minimal data will still be required for a long time yet.

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