Take One Giraffe

Day two of Linux Expo and one of the organizers tells me that he’s never seen so many weird people in one place. This year, there was no Penguin ambling around the show floor. He had been replaced by a man dressed as a giraffe; please don’t ask why.

The high point of the previous day’s debate had been the presentation of Sun’s special award at The Great Linux debate, of a pair of plastic comedy breasts, reflecting the audience, - who knew a thing or too about Linux - good-humored recognition of that company’s commitment to the future of the Operating system. IBM and Hewlett Packard were both unusually relieved to lose this latest industry award, which under the rules, has to be displayed in Sun’s reception area for the next twelve months.

What did catch my eye was the Sony stand, because believe it or not Sony now has a Linux distribution for the Playstation-2, complete with hard drive, keyboard and mouse that plug into the PS2’s expansion port. Sony have been talking about making the PS2 into a home networking device for two years and this, I thought, is really big news because it brings Linux applications, such as Open office right down to the consumer level. But I was wrong. This is still very much an add-on product for programmers, students and code enthusiasts and really nothing more. It’s a big step in the right direction but only a relatively small one.

This penguin on a Playstation draws me back to the argument I have been making for at least four years now and one which attracts its own share of abuse from the Linux enthusiasts.

Why haven’t I started running a Linux distribution and Open Office on one of my own PCs? Why hasn’t the editor as well? We both want to but it’s still not as easy as shoving a Windows or Mac OS-X CD into the unit and waiting confidently for everything to work perfectly on the first re-boot. Linux is still very much a “roll-up-your-sleeves” Operating System on the desktop and a hobby for those who have the time to spend looking for drivers and playing with the code.

Sony, with the Playstation have given us a glimpse of where Linux could live quite comfortably, at Microsoft’s expense, outside the Enterprise clustering debate but without millions of dollars and much more support, I really can’t see it moving much farther. Companies, such as Sony, are only interested on their return on investment and the idea of Linux becoming a strong commercial proposition is still very much anathema inside the Linux community, if last week’s audience at the Great Linux debate were a strong measure of opinion.

Lets’ not doubt that Linux is making remarkable progress and attracting powerful support at the Enterprise level but as a society, were’ resistant to the idea of arcane Operating Systems and if you can remember back far enough, you’ll understand why Microsoft’s DOS defeated CPM and changed the world. What I believe we’ll see next in this space is more consolidation in the industry, it always happens and Linux will be no different now the bigger boys have entered the game. The panel at the Great Linux debate spoke bravely about Linux United but in my own mind, it was very much “Meerkats are Us” and if you happened to watch that documentary with the cute and noisy Meerkats being whittled away by their larger predators, you’ll understand why.

Linux might be ready for the Playstation but sadly, I don’t believe the Playstation or come to that, the X-Box is ready for Linux. The PC is still too powerful and nobody is really prepared to risk hundred of millions in an effort to grab market share away from Microsoft in the Consumer space, at least yet. Maybe we’ll have to wait for the Playstation 3.0 before Microsoft starts to worry too much about Penguins invading the home computer space.

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