It is no longer about the Killer Application

Over the past few weeks, I have been busy. My regular job, my hobby and working with the folks at Linux Journal. Along the way, I have been thinking about the Open Source world more than I have in the past. And as I have been talking about it with people, I have been getting the standard responses you might expect. An email from my friend Karl, in response to an email I sent, seemed to sum it all up:

I have an Ubuntu disk around here somewhere but I don't have any compelling reason to make the change. Some years ago I set up a computer with Linux and played around with it just long enough to lose the ability to open the desktop. It lasted maybe half an hour before it was broken. Never had that problem with Windows so I promptly reinstalled Win XP. There is probably no doubt that Linux is better than Windows but unless there is some killer app that requires Linux there won't be any mass migration to it.

At least, I thought it summed it all up. And then I started to think and I have a problem with this view point.

It has been a long time since there has been a killer app and it could be quite sometime before there is one, but the thing that gets me is not the killer app, but the frustration that an application will run on one platform and not on another.

If we take a look at a successful application, Twitter. Ignore the banality of it for the moment. It is a successful application because it runs on literally everything. There are twitter clients for all the major operating systems from Android to iPhone to Blackberry to Linux to Windows to Mac. Twitter is there. How about Facebook? Find a platform that does not have some sort of Facebook interface. In the modern world, the issue is no longer about the killer application but about the application killer. The more open and accessible your application is, the better chance you have of it being successful, especially if you do not have a large company bankrolling your operation. Would the Internet have been as successful as it has been if it was tied to one platform? I would argue that not only would it not be successful, we would not even be having this discussion.

The issue that compels me to switch is not about the application, but the choice. I run Ubuntu on my netbook because it is the best operating system for the job. I run Windows on my Gateway because I have neither the time nor the inclination to complete the move to Linux and fussing with the proprietary hardware as I have documented. But, I find that my Windows machine is getting less and less use because the applications I use, like word processing, and email can be done from any platform, whether that is my laptop, my netbook or my PDA. For me, it is an issue of convenience, specifically, what is more convenient for me. I fully expect that my next laptop will be a Linux-based system with some form of Windows emulation for those applications that are Windows-only. The key here is I have a choice. And so do you.

Moving to Linux is not about the killer application, it is about the choice of operating platforms to do what you need it to do. Linux is ready. Are you?


David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

agreed :)

scottman's picture

Totally agree. I use windows 7 as my main computer because I like ms office 2k7 over open office, I like to play video games on the side without having to tweak settings and configuration scripts, its easier to collaborate with my college friends when we have to do group stuff, and I get to play in ms visual studio 2k8. Before I was running linux and it was just as good, i was very happy with it, i ran into problems moving docs from open office to windows office and i finally had it. For now windows 7 is good as my main.

I do a lot of web programming and my language of choice for that is Perl. So i use linux in vm's to linux machines, right now im playing with my Arch instance to familiarize myself with its pacman and if it will be a good distro to replace my windows 7 when i graduate, it is the best environment when it comes to programming.

The way I see programming languages evolve, I think overall there will be such a universal cross-platform way to do things that the OS will not matter. There is GTK and QT on windows now, Mono on linux, you have OpenGL and SDL for gaming, although I am not sure on the Mac but heck that is BSD could it be that hard...

The mobile devices are mainly linux, ereaders are becoming more linux based, why? its for the open source, light-weight solution. its pretty awesome.

now for the killer app, that has almost faded away. You have so many alternatives to the proprietary software that we are so used to that any one can cross over. The OS is becoming more of a web thing, heck you can play quake in your browser! :)

The real problem with Linux

AnonaSnake's picture

The real problem with Linux, IN MY OPINION, is the hassle to mac/windows oriented users.

For example, almost any PC you buy has Windows loaded onto it ALREADY, there is no hassle in actually setting up the machine besides booting it up. For a lot of people who are not technically savvy, that is the BEST thing possible.

A long while back I tried getting into Ubuntu, but it was having MAJOR problems with my network card. So quite a hassle, and a few days later, I managed to get everything working.

With Windows 7, or even Windows XP for example, despite whatever hardware configuration you have, installation is a snap. It rarely ever gives you MAJOR problems for a device except maybe having to update the drivers ( in xp. )

I ended up sticking with Ubuntu for a long while, and recently tried out Windows 7. To be honest, I'm hooked. While it's true that on Ubuntu I found a program for anything I needed, Windows 7 has hardly any hassle, and the fact of the matter is most people don't want an operating system that requires you to babysit it and hold it's hand every time you decide to upgrade hardware.

True, a lot of Linux distros ARE getting better at this sort of thing, but in the end, MOST of them are still a hassle to install. I think people would be more willing to switch if a installation program similar to Windows was included. Something that cycled through your hardware, set up everything for you, AND THEN allowed you to load whatever software you wanted onto the machine.

Right now for a lot of people, it's not the fact Linux is relatively unknown. It's the hassle. A hassle that NOBODY should have to deal with simply to get a PC to run and WORK.

It is not the Killer Application, it is about computer games!

Anonymous's picture

I would love to run Linux on the family computer, but children programs such as Reader Rabbit and Jump Start will not directly run on it. Yes, I know there is WINE, but there is less hassle with native Linux applications.

Go to your favorite store that sells computer software. About 20 % of the programs are anti-virus, 70 % are games, and the last 10 % are Windows upgrades and miscellaneous utilities.

If I had to write programs for a living, I would definitely be writing computer games.

fortunately it will stay small ...

Babuus's picture

because its too cumbersome to install and maintain - depending on the flavour - and that is one of the problems. There are so many distros and you can find and make nearly anything with it, but because of that there is too much to learn. For a long time already computers are used as productivity-tools - they shall help to solve problems, not create them.
I had several attempts with linux for various reasons; the last beeing that on the one hand, it's safer in the internet (this should be emphasised more) and it's the only good choice (because or the reason before) for slow machines.
The reason for the former is, that the installed base is so small and heterogenious that it's not interesting enough for the organised crime to invest in malware for Linux. If it was more successfull this reason would fall away, so be happy as the internet part of a dual-boot system.

Malware and the such?

venomfang's picture

"The reason for the former is, that the installed base is so small and heterogenious that it's not interesting enough for the organised crime to invest in malware for Linux."

You might want to check out this links on Apache ( ).
The bulk of the apache servers on the web run on linux, therefore one would think that these would be a prime target for malware attacks, trojan horses and the like, but actually programming viruses and malware for Linux\UNIX systems is much more difficult than for windows system.

Linux\UNIX sanboxes process more securely, and apply SELinx ( or AppArmor ), and this will cut those attacks down considerably. Not to mention that a "kill -9 " in Linux actually terminates a process completely compared to constantly clicking on "End Process" button in window alot of the time does nothing. There is no registery for virus to hind in inside of linux.

greetings, from the masses

spinach's picture

i made the switch to linux very recently, after a few years of trying it out but finding it still did not meet my standards (usually something to do with wireless connectivity), but now that that's all out of the way, i am happy with what i have in my linux computer. although we're talking about the lack of killer apps, the final push into linux came, for me, from the available of free video editors like kdenlive and the new openshot (these work a lot better for me than any other linux video editors), the incredible customization available in window managers like enlightenment and openbox (how could a personal computer possibly be more personal?) and finally, the ability to back up my system as a live distro which can then be carried across computers. i am far from a power user and in the short time i've been using linux regularly, i am able to do things i could never do with a proprietary system.

So much nonsense

Anonymous's picture

I have an Ubuntu disk around here somewhere but I don't have any compelling reason to make the change. Some years ago I set up a computer with Linux and played around with it just long enough to lose the ability to open the desktop. It lasted maybe half an hour before it was broken. Never had that problem with Windows so I promptly reinstalled Win XP. There is probably no doubt that Linux is better than Windows but unless there is some killer app that requires Linux there won't be any mass migration to it.

First of Linux just does not break like that. Secondly how can one reinstall XP promptly? By the time the zillion security updates are loaded, virus software, firewalls anti-parasite software is installed and configured it would consume two days

please be honest

alien's picture

I must comment this. I have read on many Linux sites that Windows needs so many updates to keep it somewhat secure. Your ironic comment of "zillion security updates" fits in this somewhat incorrect propaganda. It is incorrect because indirectly suggests that a Linux system will not need so much updates. At this is NOT true! Last year I have purchased a Dell with Ubuntu 8.04 LTS preinstalled and after connecting to internet I was welcomed with around 500 MB of updates. A fresh Kubuntu 9.10 in 2010 will bombard the user with lots of Updates/Bugfixes available messages. And this is OK, but is OK for Windows too. You can criticize Windows in many ways but the update system works very well on all current systems (2003/XP/Vista/2008/7). And installing an antivirus/firewall is NOT 2 days. (Lazy people may use servies like for one click install, but who needs this?) I don't think Linux needs false propaganda, in fact it hurts more and makes it look antipathetic. Let MS to make the propaganda. At least they are doing it for money.

Maybe Ubuntu doesn't break

Anonymous's picture

Maybe Ubuntu doesn't break like that.. but real distros do. lol.

Maybe Ubuntu doesn't what ?????

Miles Bradford's picture

You've got be kidding me. Maybe it's the Linux geeks that try to make new Linux users feel dumb that are broken. Ubuntu is one of the most unstable flavors on the market. KDE loses its frames around the windows when Compiz is being used if the windows is jerked too hard or moved to fast and sometimes documents just rotate off into the ether if the same is done to them. Maybe it's the arrogant Linux developers who are social outcasts who are the ones broken and they are not listening to the new or old customers so obviously they do not know how to sell a product either or how to treat a customer.

Our apologies

ALinuxDeveloper's picture

The full refund of your purchase price is in the mail.


paxcoder's picture

First, the woman says Linux is not there for here. Then the guy says it is.
Hmm... I think the guy's conclusion is faulty.

GNU/Linux should be about freedoms (ahw nahw the f word!). If we don't raise awareness of freedoms, we're doing a very hard job (and if WE don't care about freedoms then for what reasons DO we do it?) - and GNU/Linux might never be mainstream in such a case because it might simply never catch enough momentum.

Personally, I don't care about the kernel, nor GNU tools. They're means to an end, not end itself - they are but tools. As long as I can do my free computing. Today it's Linux - tomorrow another free OS with free tools, free software, and then - paid free software programmers.

Thinker with it the wrong way and you'll break it anyway

cga's picture

stupid luser quote:

Some years ago I set up a computer with Linux and played around with it just long enough to lose the ability to open the desktop. It lasted maybe half an hour before it was broken. Never had that problem with Windows so I promptly reinstalled Win XP.


I can break Xp or any other operating system in less than 5 minutes if i play with it the wrong way. Therefore the above doesn't make any sense at all. Comparing two operating systems on how wrong you do and declaring that the more freedom to thinker with it is a sign of suckyness it's just plain stupid. full stop.


That isn't exactly true

Josh's picture

Sure, it's possible to kill any OS in a few easy steps, but I have seen many Linux installs go down the tubes because the user was simply trying to get something to work. It isn't as if he were trying to destroy the system, he was probably just trying to get some piece of hardware to work and it ended up killing X and the desktop along with it. For those unfamiliar with Linux, booting up to a command line can be a panic-inducing event. Many Unix/Linux aficionados forget what it's like to stare at that blinking cursor without knowing even a single command. At least with a GUI, the user can visually explore, which often leads to finding the solution.

Fortunately, I haven't seen this happen with Ubuntu in a long time. I think they finally got failsafe X implemented. Regardless, it is definitely easier to kill the GUI on Linux than on Windows.

Break them OS's

Miles Bradford's picture

I agree with you...any OS can be broken in just a few minutes if you know what you are doing. Like you said is true for me also. I've seen many distro's break just because the user was trying to do some work and get something done. I've seen the Linux Windows like 3.1 GUI system come undone from the Linux kernel just because of saving a permissions setup on a file in a folder. In fact - I just seen that three or four days ago with Mandriva. On reboot - it booted to a black screen that could be logged in with the commandline - but, what kind of antiquated crap is that? The GUI couldn't be resurrected. Microsoft integrated it's Windows with the Kernel and Browser eons ago and such is with the MacIntosh. So - in that regards Linux developers and their work on KDE and GNOME are probably about 20 years behind the times. For sure next year Linux will not be on the new iPod looking PC Tablet and that is for sure going to be the new trend setter for computers...PC Tablets with touch screens, WiFi and built in telephones for your Bluetooth. Linux is at least 10 years behind that technology...for sure.

Will this topic ever die....

Anonymous's picture

Let's face it; I have seen this same debate for the past 10 years, ever since I started using Linux.
The problem is support from the big manufacturer is still shoddy at best, when it comes to the retail\consumer end of the sales spectrum.

Dell, HP, and Acer are slowly getting better at this, 3 of the biggest PC box companies, but lets be realistic... they make more money of the Microsoft machines (those licenses aren't free), therefore there distributors (ex: Ingram Micro) will make more money, and in turn there resellers (ex: Staples, BestBuy, Future Shop, Mom\Pop Store) make more money. Without them making more models that have Linux pre-installed or models with no OS installed; that are similar hardware wise to another model; it is really difficult for the consumer to see the savings in using open source, or the fact that 99.9% of the software is truly free from a cost perspective with Linux (the guy in the back closet doing the OS image has to get paid something).

Look it this way; what do most people do with there computers; email, MS Office\OpenOffice, web browsing, listening to music, burning music, downloading torrents, watching videos, making movies, playing solitar or poker, printing a document, turning a document into a pdf, syncing there mp3 player. Most popular distros can do this from a fresh install, download an app or 2 and that's about it. This probably takes up 60%-70% of most business PC's tasks, if not more. Average every day user; web and email, maybe the odd game; 75% of them. Granted the gamers you will have a hard time with; but that is due to game companies not cross platforming there code for Linux. Developers, Engineers, Techs and Programmers will usually have both; well the ones that actually have to deal with all types of OS's.

So to some it up; if the average consumer doesn't get to see the value that Linux could other them in the store they will not think about it.

This also goes with support as well if you walk in to BestBuy, FutureShop, Staples, and tell them you have a problem with the computer you bought from them, give it to them with your user name and password and you have Linux on it... ... ... Chances are you will get a phone call with them stating something along the lines of " We only support the software that the systems was sold with..." statement, even if the problem is a failing piece of hardware; give it a try.

I've been saying this for over the past 10 years... please just let this topic die... I think most of use are getting a little tired of it, 10+ years is long enough :)

"Look it this way; what do

Anonymous's picture

"Look it this way; what do most people do with there computers; email, MS Office\OpenOffice, web browsing, listening to music, burning music, downloading torrents, watching videos, making movies, playing solitar or poker, printing a document, turning a document into a pdf, syncing there mp3 player."

How about...avoid learning how to spell homonyms...? Sheesh, if you've been using Linux for 10+ years you ought to be mature enough to know that their and there are not spelled the same and have extremely different meanings and uses. (And yes, it is obvious that you are a native speaker of English, so don't go there.)

So, to sum it up; these topics don't die because morons post!

Look at this way

Miles Bradford's picture

Linux sucks and so do all the 6.7 billion morons on the earth that think they are a better moron than another. All eat crap and die sooner or later. I haven't seen anyone with a span of longer than 115 years yet. Some get to 85 if they are lucky. Most get to 72 to 75. Have you ever thought about that lonely day when you will have to look into the ether -- and wonder why you chose to be the crappy person you seem to enjoy being? What is on the other side...or is there a other side atoll.

ONLY technology lives on there you have it no matter if you can write clearly or not -- or if you're not smart enough to know that person writing is trying to convey something of intelligence but, you can attack like a bacteria at any weakness you might find in their communications. Geeesh!!!

Next year we have technology kicking Linux's ass out the door. The Tablet iPod looking PC with touchscreen, WiFi, built in phone for your Bluetooth, built in GPS, 4 dual core CPU's and minimum of 2 gigs RAM with God's only chosen Windows 7 operating system to master it all. No longer will anyone have to use the Windows 3.1 looking wannabe Linux broken crappy KDE GUI'. This is the year 2010 coming up in a few days. The day of the Windows 3.1 GUI is gone and has been for a long long time. I forgot to put an apostrophe - but, you know what I mean. Linux is truly for the hobbyists and Windows is for the very kool.

Let me try this again...

venomfang's picture

This was my opinion as a computer \ network technician that has been in the field for over 7 years, as well as the retail end for 3 years.
The statement is my conclusion from my personal and professional experience in the IT industry, which is what I was trying to focus on with the previous post.

In my previous statement I was going for knowledge of the subject, in my opinion, not perfect grammatically correct English statements.

To the other Anonymous person that posted... If your not going to offer a good debate on my statement, or the main subject for that matter, do not criticise other peoples grammar\syntax; last time I checked these are just forum post's, not a thesis or research paper.

So to sum this up... How about debate the topics that this forum posting is about, and leave the English grammatical syntax crap out (as long as it isn't a cli-command).

These type of sites are on the net to try and help people share information on Linux, not bashing a person for using the wrong homonym. If you don't have any knowledge, wisdom, or offer an opinion on the current topic you are just taking up precious bits on the server that could be used for others to share there information on the topic at hand.

So please be considerate and stick to the subject.

Not to turn this into a

jsmorley's picture

Not to turn this into a grammar Nazi flame war, but the point of the user who corrected you is that you will be taken more seriously if you pay attention to basic spelling and grammar when you post. People who use "there" when they mean "their" sound like retards, so why should one have any confidence in the rest of their post? We all make typos or mistakes when we post in a hurry, but making the same fifth-grade mistake about six times in one post is grating to the point of distracting from your point.

The masses are not ready

Anonymous's picture

I would argue that the main reason for people not making the switch is the same as with many other things in life. Why change something that already works? How can i say this about Windows? Simply because most computers do work quite well when you buy they bundled with a breed of Windows pre-installed. For me the switch happened after a few failed attempts a long time ago. I had problems with my emu10k soundcard back when they had no or low support so i had a multi-boot system where i would fight with Linux until i got bored and went back to Windows. Eventually i gave it another try with Debian and BAM. It works. Since then i have had many hurdles with all sorts of proprietary hardware but seldom with the software that most people say they are dependent on.
I guess the best way to have people change their OS to a distribution of Linux would be to help them try it out. If the hardware is supported well, most people will forget how much they "needed" their Windows applications and OS itself.
I would also argue that there are things you simple can not do on Windows that you can on Linux. I for one test out my friends Wireless boxes for security issues by using various cracking methods and software that just would not work with the proprietary drivers on Windows.

Well... sort of

Josh's picture

There may no longer be a "killer application" in the VisiCalc sense of the term, but Linux's great applications tend to make their way to other platforms quite quickly due to their open source nature. There is a lot of good software for Linux, but the best of breed always makes the jump to Windows and OS X. And, on the other side of the fence, there will always be some proprietary applications that are almost a necessity for most users, like iTunes and Photoshop.

Don't forget about web browsers as interfaces/clients

Chris Hope's picture

"There are twitter clients for all the major operating systems"

"Find a platform that does not have some sort of Facebook interface."

Yep, those cross-platform interfaces/clients are called web browsers :) So even if the other nifty apps aren't available for your platform of choice you can still fall back to accessing them via a web browser. I use both Facebook and Twitter and only ever use the web interface for Facebook but almost never use the web interface for Twitter, instead preferring TweetDeck.