My crusade for a better Linux desktop continues. After reading a recent rant from someone at the Inq and recent predictions on what Linux will look like in 4 years time, I thought I’d give another shot at improving my Linux desktop. I’ve been using it heavily from the command line for manufacturing media for upcoming Wind River product using our Eclipse p2 based installer/generator and for mucking around with ClearCase. I can do all that from putty on my Windows machine. But it would be easier if I could just do it and everything else I need to do right on the Linux desktop.

What I was really after was the 3D effects offered by the Compiz Fusion compositing window manager for my GNOME desktop. After a recent bad experience installing a security upgrade for Fedora 9 which totally killed my machine (no boot up for you), I’m back on Ubuntu 8.04. But, alas, I had to install the proprietary drivers for my ATI video card before I could turn on the effects, which is another can of worms I’ll leave for now. But once I did, I was up and flying with some wobbly windows and spinning cubes and windows flying all over the place.

I haven’t used Mac OS X or Vista seriously, but I can’t imagine any eye candy they would have that Compiz doesn’t have. So in that sense, I get the feeling that Linux is making huge strides forward. I still haven’t figured out how to get fonts as crisp as I get on Windows but I imagine it could be done. It does indeed appear we’re not that far away from a champion desktop for Linux (sorry, watching too much Olympics and I’m finding too many parallels between Linux desktop and the ability for Canadian athletes to win medals, 4th place is great, but…).

But I really liked what the guy said in the article about Linux in 2012. He predicts we will get there, but that it’s going to take “for pay” distributions of Linux to take us there. Free software isn’t going to do it. And there’s good reason. Windows and Mac look so good because of the proprietary software that makes it happen. If we want that on Linux, we’re going to have to pay for it, just like we do for Windows and Mac OS X.

We’re going to have to pay for the licences to the software that legally plays MP3s and shows DVDs and cleans up my fonts and for someone to make it all work on our laptops without having to edit anything in /etc. That’s just the economic reality of it. And I for one have no problem with that. Because I believe you get what you pay for. Free software is great for commodity software like kernels and windowing systems and IDEs written in Java 😉 where there’s lots of people to help build them. But it takes rare skill to make a great desktop environment. And the guys with those skills hold the cards and probably want to profit from their fortune. To get a great desktop on top of that great OS, it’s worth it.