[nSLUG] Linux fragmentation?

George N. White III gnwiii at gmail.com
Thu Mar 7 13:36:05 AST 2013

 There has been a lot of ill-informed press commentary on the failure of
Linux to become a mainstream desktop platform, but
we have some accounts by people who actually use the stuff they write about:

How I ended up with Mac
on 05 Mar 2013 <http://tirania.org/blog/archive/2013/Mar-05.html> by Miguel
de Icaza: "While reading Dave Winer's Why Windows Lost to
I noticed many parallels with my own experience with Linux and the

de Icaza mentions fragmentation of linux.   At work we have "mission
critical" apps, some tied to RHEL and others to Ubuntu, so we have to deal
with both.  From the viewpoint of most uses, the vast majority of the tools
(compilers, editors, LaTeX, R) are available for both platforms, but there
are differences in support for devices like printers, sound, drawing
tablets, etc. We rely on some libraries such as netcdf, hdf4 and hdf5, gsl,
etc.  In practice, the distro versions of these libraries are often built
with different options or linked with buggy versions of other libraries or
compiled with buggy versions of GNU compilers. We end up having to either
install 3rd party binary versions of libraries or build them from sources
to get working versions on both platforms.   I'd like to see the 3rd party
developers (unidata, hdfgroup) work more closely with distro packagers to
test and refine the libraries.  Too often the distro packager is only
interested in making stuff work in their own work.

Meanwhile. Linus Torvalds gets a Google "Pixel"
He loves the display, and uses the chromebook for email, but finds it too
limited for his other needs: "For a laptop to be useful to me, I need to
not just read and write email, I need to be able to do compiles, have my
own git repositories etc..".    The problem is that there are only a few
people like Torvalds, so unless he wants to build his own laptop he has to
work with artifacts that can be sold to broad market.

The current iPad and high-end OS X laptops also have "micro-pixel"
displays.  iPad apps for systems
using VNC/RDP to run apps on servers/desktops remotely, but I
don't know if these get any advantage from the higher quality displays.
Google has presumably put some effort into this, and can take advantage of
the fact that their web apps are designed to display in a browser.

Meanwhile, RedHat has moved past VNC and RDP and is working on
a remote rendering protocol for "virtual desktops".  I tried spice with
Fedora 18 in a KVM virtual machine, but the current support in X11 degrades
for screens larger than about 1024x768.

Maybe the future of linux is the end of desktop/laptop computing.  If SPICE
matures as advertised, we could have (virtual or physical) servers (with
wired internet and wireless LAN and cooling but no display).   So we have
two potential paths:

1.  a protocol along the lines fo SPICE that supports legacy X11
applications and suitable remote micro-pixel display servers on
commercially viable hardware, or

2.  new applications designed to display in browsers (see, e.g.,  Developing
Web Apps on Linux) <http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/10789>, and native
browsers running in commercially viable micro-pixel display devices

How does this relate to linux fragmentation?  If we are using commercially
viable micro-pixel display devices to work with apps running on linux
"servers", individual users don't have to commit to a particular linux
distro, but can choose the distro that best supports each app.  Many people
do a crude approximation of this already, using VNC/RDP to run apps across
a range of distros, either as developers checking that the apps runs
properly on multiple platforms or a user cherry-picking apps from various

George N. White III <aa056 at chebucto.ns.ca>
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