Why games are NOT the key to Linux adoption

Why games are NOT the key to Linux adoption


I have a number of concerns about a recent article about games [as] the key top Linux adoption. It nearly screams for scrutiny, as a it presents opinions and broad stereotypes as fact, contradicts itself and makes conclusions that have the capacity to hurt, not help the community.

Gamers are adventurous folks... [who] often build their own computers, either from scratch, a barebones kit, or a stripped down retail box.... therefore, [gamers] are a ripe target for the open source community.

One of my concerns is the statement that gamers are adventurous and therefore will built their own systems. I disagree; gaming is about escapism and alternate reality. Console gamers want to flip a switch, flop down in front of the television, and play a game. No hassles with hardware requirements, dependencies or other conflicts; they just want it to work and don't care how or why.

One problem is that Microsoft subsidises Vista. They hand out cheap copies at bulk discounts to companies like Dell and HP... That’s why you’ll often see Vista computers at a cheaper price than Linux computers, especially at large retailers like Dell... What is often in the top 3 most expensive items on many gaming computers is the Windows Vista retail CD, ranging from the $214 Home Premium to the $249 Ultimate Edition.

Contradictions don't help make valid points; Vista is either expensive or cheap, not both. Additionally, I would not consider price as a primary motivator for gamers. For about the same cost as a Sony PlayStation 3, you can easily build a system capable of playing games and performing as network capable HTPC. If you purchase an OEM PC, a variant of Microsoft Windows is usually bundled (bulk discounts are a common retail practice) so cheaply that it's not as great a deciding factor. Comparing the direct financial cost of a free product to a full retail price just isn't fair in this context; there are better ways of demonstrating the worth of GNU/Linux.

The appeals of home and office desktop options are different than what many console gamers are looking for; a PC will give you arguably more flexibility and options than any gaming console, so the range of hardware or software capabilities is similarly not a factor.

The solution to the problem with the solution to the problem: Linux companies... The problem is, commercial companies pay hundreds of employees to build a game for several years, while many competing gaming projects only last several years before the developer moves on.

There's no lack of free or commercial games than can be run using GNU/Linux, whether it be using native binaries, through utilization of software like Wine to run Windows software, or by playing web games using GNU IceCat, the free Mozilla Firefox fork and Gnash, the GNU Flash movie player.

Independent studios like 2D Boy that heavily utilize open-source tools promised up-front a GNU/Linux version of their award-winning game World of Goo, but the release has been delayed in part due to the Wii port. The larger gaming audience of the Wii console took priority over the than GNU/Linux gaming community, and it was a commercially viable and appropriate decision given the size of the studio.

There are more economically viable ways of appealing to a broad audience with GNU Linux. The ASUS Eee PC series of netbooks running Xandros Linux is a successful example of a consumer product with high usability and adoption that utilizes a framework based primarily upon open-source software and some proprietary overlays. While it's possible to order them with Microsoft Windows, the cheaper and faster default is Linux.

GNU/Linux adoption has always been about choices, and those choices are now becoming more available. In 2008, HP became the last major manufacturer to begin shipping pre-installed desktop GNU/Linux PCs. This freedom of choice for consumers, both large and small, is a much important key to adoption than appealing to a subset of the greater public.

It’s time for open source developers to start getting paid for their jobs. Who better to pay them than the companies that benefit most?

Open source doesn't mean development for no pay; there are many open source programmers who are either paid for their efforts through foundations or other corporations, or are regular employees of a commercial entity who provides work time for employees to contribute to open source projects. Projects also take donations, so making a blanket statement about starting to get paid is frankly wrong. Increasing the number of contributions in many forms, including monetary, code, or quality assurance feedback and testing, would be a better call to action.

By improving usability to the point where mass appeal comes the ability to perform (not from brand recognition) and by providing the choice between two functional equivalent solutions differentiated only by price, GNU/Linux has become a viable option. Based on the growth of the GNU/Linux market share on W3Counter from January 2008 through November 2008, I feel that a number of keys to adoption have already been and will continue to be found.

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Jon Peck is a Zend PHP 4 & 5 Certified Engineer and Staff Developer / System Administrator for ProZ.com. He writes a blog about technology and web programming at jonpeck.blogspot.com.