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Pondering in Portland

This week I was invited to Portland, OR to speak at the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) architects meeting. The group assembed represented the majority players in the Linux community including major companies, individuals and contributors to desktop Linux.

A number of individuals representing both top companies and industry companies were present including Redhat, Suse, Ubuntu, Mozilla, OpenOffice, KDE, Gnome, FreeDesktop, IBM, Adobe, Real Networks, Linspire, One Laptop Per Child project and many others. Together more then 70 architects level people where present.

The Goal? To discuss adoption blockers, common goals and key problems and strategic next steps.

What was I doing there? A Windows veteran with only a couple months of Linux experience? I was providing a view of an outsider looking in. I presented a revised presentation based on my Linux Thoughts article.

Circulating through a room full of Linux developers is actually quite similar to talking to room full of Windows developers. The terminology and acronyms change but the substance and content of the conversations seemed strangely farmilar. I can't tell you how many times I heard people say "It just works" in reference to Linux hardware support. This used to be a buzz phrase that was used when developing Windows XP.   Scary. I met a number of interesting people and I am thankful for the opportunity.

My talk covered four key areas. I hope to be posting the slides later in the week.
- Why people avoid change and what can be done to make it easier for people to change desktops.
- How to improve the quality and diversity of software applications by improving the development environment and ISV story.
- Improving end to end user experiences by improving hardware and software compatibility and installation.

Overall I was surprised how well the talk was received. Online I got a lot of critical comments from people on Slashdot but in person many Linux leaders came up to me after the talk to tell me how much they enjoyed the talk and how they found it enlightening.

After the talk the group collaborated in identifying core focus areas for the meeting. The key areas identified included:

Hard Technical Problems
- Need to fix developer and ISV confusion. The core issue here is that it's not easy to develop cross distribution applications for Linux. Documentation, samples and recommended best practices are lacking. The two major interfaces of KDE and GNOME make it difficult for developers to understand how things 'should' be done rather then how they 'could' possibly do things.

- Need to fix the driver problems. This includes having true plug and play support, having consistency in hardware support across distributions. From a consumer standpoint hardware has to work without surprises and without complex driver hunting and configuration.

Hard Social Problems
- There seem to be a lot of groups working on similar problems but not cooperating and solving these problems together. This may be the nature of Open Source software but current desktops and distribution development is very fragmented causing confusion to both end users and developers.

There are a couple projects that are being developed as an outcome of the meeting. The first called 'Project Portland' will aim align some of the efforts between KDE and Gnome. It's my personal hope that this will lead to a unified effort on Usability, Accessibility, Internationalization and User Experience. Only time will tell.

I expect to see a lot more about 'Project Portland' in the coming weeks. A reporter from Linux.com interviewed me for article.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.