Technology: What ails the Linux desktop? Part II.

And yes, I hear you say "but desktop Linux is free software!". The fact is, free software matters to developers and organizations primarily, but on the user side, the free code behind Linux desktops is immaterial if free software does not deliver benefits such as actual freedom of use.

So, to fix desktop Linux we need a radically different software distribution model: less of a cathedral, more of a bazaar. The technology for that is arguably non-trivial:

- it would require a safe sandbox enforced both on the kernel and on the user-space side. Today installing a package is an all-or-nothing security proposition on most desktop Linux distributions. Users want to be free to install and run untrusted code.

- totally flat package dependencies (i.e. a package update does not forcibly pull in other package updates - content duplication can be eliminated at a different [for example file system] level).

- a guaranteed ABI platform going forward (once a package is installed it will never break or require forced updates again). Users want to be free of update pressure from the rest of the system, if they choose to.

- a mesh network of bandwidth. Users want to be free of central dependencies.

- a graph of cryptographically strong application reputation and review/trust status, so that different needs of security can be served: a corporate server requires different package credentials as someone trying out a new game on a smartphone. This kind of reputation system allows people to go with the mass (and thus seek protection in numbers), or go with authority (and thus seek protection by delegated expertise) - or a mix of these concepts.

The Android market comes close functionally I think, except the truly distributed mesh network and structured reputation architecture, and it's not FOSS either, of course.

I see elements of this thinking in the Gnome3 extensions 'market' - but it does not really handle security nor does it guarantee a stable platform.

Free software has stupidly followed closed source practices 10-15 years ago and we never seriously challenged those flawed closed source software distribution and platform assumptions. Today closed software has taken a leap and FOSS will have to react or go extinct. I think FOSS software will eventually react - I think free software is ultimately in the position to deliver such software distribution technology.

[ This is part two of the article, the first part can be found at: ]
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