Sometimes we ( the free software users) wonder why not more people have switched to free desktops instead of hanging on to Windows or MacOS X. What do these desktops have what “ours” have not? You can find many different reasons.
The fact I find most compelling is that of a lack of what I like to call a common free desktop user experience. Our desktop market is split and also none of the free desktops really has any media attention. If we concentrate on Linux as a basis for many free desktops – many users rather think of a “Linux desktop” as of GNOME or KDE. Nobody goes to a computer dealer and orders a GNOME or KDE compatible desktop computer. Nobody!
If people I meet get interested at all they always ask if what they see is “a Linux desktop”. I never try to tell them that I use GNOME instead. If I would do I would send out mixed messages. People want ONE alternative. They do not want to make further choices before they even have decided that they want THAT alternative.
I am not saying that we should only have on desktop – but rather that we should – from a marketing perspective – not confuse people by talking about differences between big G and big K. Both desktops have similar pros and cons because they both build on top of Linux (well reducing it all on Linux is also wrong, but to name alternatives would also be rather confusing).
So what should we do?
First of all we should consider if we should not present the term “free desktop” as THE marketing term and maybe also as a BRAND. Why that? Because freedom is, what ALL free desktops provide – and so is the most essential attribute. In fact in many aspects that are “advertised” by free desktop people, the free desktops are not actually really the best. I think this comes from developers not likening to work on software they would call themselves inferior. But if we state our desktops are the easiest to work with, people will realize if this is not the case! So lets not be stupid. We can work on usability and reducing barriers, so not to be misunderstood.
The problem is that inside the community KDE and GNOME are yet very strong brands and a lot of communication is going around these terms.
Whoever is interested in these is invited to come to gnomes@work Wiki FreeDesktopMarketing page where I have put some random ideas online. My feeling is that we are too far away from actually been able to think how this can happen. One of the most promising and important projects in this section is the Tango Desktop Project which sets new standards for a common free desktop LOOK. Its impact still underestimated, although you see it now everywhere or people relate to it.
Maybe we will talk about “THE TANGO DESKTOP” soon – instead about KDE or GNOME? can this happen? I do not know, but for the users visibility and the experience is everything – and Tango has the chance to develop this common experience much better than a single desktop yet has or could ever do. This may look like a strange idea, because Tango is really a rather small project. How could we walk this path? One should try to send the message out if a system is working with a Tango desktop. This means: A Distribution or a hardware product. We are not at this point right now – and maybe it will not be the Tango project that will take the lead. I am just drawing one possibility – a possible path that could lead to a much greater success for the free desktops.
Again lets consider the alternatives: Only one: GNOME or KDE as the winner of the free desktop market? I do not think this is realistic. Another option: Some of our community think that the competition between the two is healthy and that this is a way how both will get better and both desktop fights for new users. But if we look what has happened in past years we have often seen that distributions either concentrated on one desktop – or that one desktop community feared to be the looser in one distribution. Slackware, Ubuntu, Fedora, Foresight, … . And OTOH if we would make a poll oin the streets of who really knows KDE or GNOME this are really VERY few people. The “desktop war” has led to many deas ends and still is. i would consider it a catastrophe if one of the desktops really would loose. This competition produces negative feelings. And the resources are limited – but still we act like we have unlimited developing resources (developers, servers, administrators,…).
Also the media attention and the openness of the public for news and information is limited! This means that the free desktops may have a small time span on a medium like TV or radio every month. There will be no chance to show off many different free desktops. So every chance should be used for best of the future of the free desktops. We must deliver some important messages to the public – we must develop another view of what a free desktop can bring. And if we would be successful with that this will bring each of the desktops much more real users than as if we would continue to waste our resources.