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[Rant] Niche OS's for Mainstream Markets?ANN.lu
Posted on 03-Dec-2003 02:10 GMT by takemehomegrandma79 comments
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As the Windows platform is getting more and more bloated, infected with viruses, spy wares, ridiculous EULA’s and other unpleasant things, more and more people are looking for alternatives. And not only people, even large organizations and governments are searching for new solutions to meet their computing needs. This has made many people in the alternative computing market full of hope for a broad future acceptance of their favourite OS. Linux currently has a major momentum in this field (and not only in the server market), much thanks to its buzz word name. But other not-so-difficult-to-understand OS’s might as well be winning from this. What is stopping them? What is needed to make a former niche OS acceptable as a desktop replacement for Windows?

Genesi is pushing the concept of the “Super Bundle”, a way to make sure that general usability is brought to a custom OS. I have personally enjoyed that effort for my MorphOS installation, but as far as I understand, the Super Bundle is not meant to be limited to MorphOS alone in the future. It’s a *Pegasos* concept, and the Pegasos is a *hardware* platform that is supported by lots of OS’s.

The Super Bundle is great. But applications are only one piece of the “mainstream acceptance puzzle”, what other pieces are there? The desktop will be another. From a *Pegasos* perspective, perhaps some kind of a “Pegasos Open Desktop” standard could be created? I’m not talking about a technical solution here, not a low level technical standard or API, but rather a behavioural (and expectational (is that a word BTW?)) standard from a “Joe User” perspective. The goal would be to create a common set of desktop behaviours that leaps across the Pegasos flavours of all its supported Operating Systems, obviously somewhat inspired by Windows.

Because like it or not, the Microsoft Windows is the de-facto standard when it comes to desktop OS’s. Perhaps the looks and graphical design isn’t the most important thing here, variations in appearance and visual looks may be accepted, but “the masses” are used to the way things are organized and managed in the Windows desktop environment. Windows actually defines everyone’s expectations of a computer desktop today.

And what is that? You tell me! Is it the “My Documents”, “My Music”, “My Pictures” folders? Could be! The Start menu, the quick launch field, the tool bar, etc? Absolutely! Right clicking on an icon and getting a context menu (including the “properties” option)? Yes! Right clicking on the desktop to get the option of setting the looks of the desktop, the screen resolutions, the screensavers, etc? Sure! The list goes on (feel free to fill in the gaps).

Mainstream people expect a desktop to behave in a certain way (the *Windows* way), and I am afraid that the tolerance for alternative ways of doing things in this area may be low among mainstream users. On Linux we see different window managers and desktop solutions; some are obviously striving to emulate the windows behaviour in several ways. This is no coincidence IMHO, neither is the fact that the PocketPC grew so fast, and that Windows enabled cell phones are gaining acceptance rapidly. Branding is only a minor part of the explanation IMO, the “familiar feeling” of the user envireonment may be more important. That lowers any entry barriers for the customer.

Well, how could this be achieved on the Pegasos platform, to make its OS’s more usable for mainstream desktop applications? A beginning would perhaps be to define a set of core user expectations of a desktop’s behaviour, like I started above. This would be quite easy. The more difficult task would be to implement these features on the various Pegasos OS’s without damaging the respective OS native feeling and unique benefits. This would be a delicate balance between niche and mainstream, between tradition x and tradition y, between unique custom solutions (with high learning curve) and broad acceptance, between geek only and broad success.

Could it be done? How? Is this needed? Is it wanted?

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