Get the ECT News Network Editor's Pick Newsletter » Subscribe Today
Welcome Guest | Sign In

Should Linux Take a Lesson From Apple?

By Katherine Noyes
Oct 18, 2012 5:00 AM PT

The Secure Boot saga may seem like it's been dragging on forever here in the Linux blogosphere, but the truth is that it's a mere babe in Redmond arms compared with the never-ending Apple v. Samsung drama.

Should Linux Take a Lesson From Apple?

It seems safe to say that most FOSS fans are sick to death of hearing about both of them, of course, but recently the always-insightful team over at TuxRadar posed yet another interesting question. Specifically, "What can Linux really steal from Apple?" was the title of the latest Open Ballot poll posted on the thought-provoking site, and there's no doubt it's provoked a lot of thinking.

"Is it the design aesthetic, or its uncompromising attention to detail?" the TuxRadar team asked. "Or how about its dictatorial approach to development? Or the narrowness of its hardware provision? Or would you like to transplant some of that famous Cupertino idolatry into the free software ecosystem, or simply shroud each Ubuntu release within Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field."

More than two dozen comments appeared in short order on the TuxRadar site; unanimity, however, was harder to find.

'Hang On, That's Ubuntu'

To wit: "A respect for design would be nice," suggested Spanwiches.

Alternatively: "Steve Wozniak -- the only innovative thing Apple really had," offered eages.

Then again: "Nothing!" chimed in Willhem Tell. "Linux for me is freedom of choice. It's about diversity. I can switch between distros and desktop managers. For free.

"Appl€ is the exact opposite: it's mind numbing 'eat or die,' no choice and costs money," Willhem Tell added.

And again: "1. App[le] store. 2. Disappearing scrollbars. 3. Pretending that your desktop is actually a tablet," quipped Steve Occupations. "Oh hang on, that's Ubuntu."

When Linux Girl broached the subject down at the blogosphere's Walled Garden Cafe, she immediately got an earful.

'Its Public Relations Department'

"Technologically speaking, there's really nothing that Linux can steal from Apple," opined Google+ blogger Linux Rants, for example. "Usually, it's going the other way. While Apple is held up as a bastion of innovation, it's hard to find a feature that they have that wasn't present in Linux long before they incorporated it.

"Apple doesn't innovate," he added. "They take other people's innovations and add a little spit and polish and call it new."

If there were one thing that Linux could stand to steal from Apple, however, "it would be its Public Relations department," Linux Rants suggested.

"Linux has gotten the reputation as a hobbyists' OS that's hard to install and even harder to use," he explained. "This reputation doesn't sync with reality, but it's hard for Linux users and corporations to sell that to the public. Apple PR could really help in that regard, as they'd actually be able to sell something that was real, instead of claimed innovation that's really just dusted-off, 10-year-old ideas."

'Their Graphic Designers'

Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, saw it differently.

"The one thing Apple shows which many Linux developers have known for some time, is that design matters and that engineering is best directed by small groups," Travers offered. "But we really can't steal that since we've known it for some time.

"So, I guess that means the next best thing: steal some of their graphical designers," he concluded. "But leave their technical designers: design-wise, OS X is more or less very unlike Unix."

'There Isn't a Lot to Take'

Alternatively, "Linux needs to take the hint and make sure common tasks work well rather than just worrying about new features," opined consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack. "If the common tasks are easy to do then the whole platform looks better."

Then again, "Apple is primarily a hardware company, and Linux is software," Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien pointed out. "So there isn't a lot to take, I would think.

"And just in terms of software, Apple is the most freedom-limiting company out there, so I certainly would not want Linux to take that from them," O'Brien added.

Indeed, "from Apple? Nothing," agreed Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor. "From its grandchild... many versions, with many app stores all hosting compatible apps."

'The World Should Shun Apple'

"Stealing from Apple? No way," exclaimed blogger Robert Pogson. "We are already dependent on them for CUPS, Safari and WebKit, and they show themselves to be patent trolls.

"I remember using Apple's software in schools a decade ago," Pogson added. "They shipped stuff that crashed hourly and had a viscous networking stack. They 'stole' a Unix core, and now they accuse anyone who has rounded corners on anything."

In short, "the world should shun Apple until they show a little bit of humility at least," he concluded.

'Take the Android Approach'

"If you wanna take something from Apple, take making actual money from desktops, laptops, and tablets," Slashdot blogger hairyfeet advised. "Give companies a way to survive while selling Linux so you can build critical mass."

On the other hand, "GNU/Linux is more like a cultural phenomena than a commercial initiative," Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol pointed out.

Still, "companies can use it and make it a commercially viable option," he asserted. "How? Take the Google/Android approach: a great OS, with the lowest price possible (free, in many cases) and customize it to the manufacturer's hardware."

It's Android, in fact, that offers the best example for Linux as a whole, Ebersol concluded.

Follow that example and "GNU/Linux will be a killer OS," Ebersol predicted. "The companies can tinker with the OS to make it awesome and then take advantage of the GNU/Linux ecosystem. Then, GNU/Linux can not only compete with Apple, but gain market share from both Apple and Microsoft."

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

How worried are you about climate change?
I believe it will cause global catastrophe in my lifetime.
I'm very worried but I believe nations will come together to reverse it.
I'm very worried and I think the private sector is our best hope.
I'm somewhat worried but I don't think it will affect me much personally.
I've changed my own behavior to do what I can to help the planet.
I'm not worried -- it's a natural cycle.
I'm not worried -- it's a media hoax.