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Linux users in the Red

Red Hat helps Linux displace Windows on the desktop–sort of.

With the new release of Red Hat Linux 8.0 and world governments considering mandating open-source software, Linux is making new inroads into desktop computing. Vendors such as Red Hat, though, are careful not to set expectations too high. While they’d like Linux to displace Windows on the desktop, they know the chances are slim.

Even so, Red Hat Linux 8, shows great strides toward making an understandable, good-looking Linux desktop. In the past, users had to pick between GNOME and KDE desktops and each desktop had its own distinct configuration.

Red Hat, as part of an upcoming effort to create a desktop-oriented Linux product, obscured the KDE and GNOME desktops into one more-or-less unified environment called Bluecurve in their 8 release. Bluecurve is mostly a set of icons, color themes and menu layouts that strive to hide the differences between the two main Linux desktops. Instead of having to know you are running KDE or GNOME, Red Hat wants users to think of running Linux.

While Red Hat’s efforts have created some controversy, especially among the KDE adherents, for the most part this is an improvement for the end-user, especially end-users without a lot of Linux experience. But Red Hat has a long way to go to create a true end-user-oriented Linux desktop.

The Bluecurve Start menu equivalent, for example, has separate entries for System Tools, System Settings, and Preferences. Most end-users will have a hard time figuring out where the real difference lies between these similar choices. Many applications are still listed just by name and you’re just expected to know what they do. Furthermore, instead of packing the application menus with so many similar choices, a better approach would be to select a default smaller set of programs and then let the user choose more during installation.

Bluecurve is a good start and a sign of things to come. Other Linux vendors, such as OEOne, Lindows.com, and Lycoris, focus on creating desktop-specific Linux distributions.

Furthermore, countries such as Venezuela are starting to mandate open-source software for government usage. Tired of the high costs of commercial software, especially from Microsoft, tougher licensing agreements and pressures to crack down on piracy, many governments are starting to think that free open-source software may be a way to solve their software woes. Germany, Peru, and other countries are exploring similar initiatives.

And Microsoft is fighting back, backing the Initiative for Software Choice, which wants to redefine choice into paying for its software.

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