The Linux operating system has grabbed the attention of ITy. professionals and vendors worldwide, but it's still widely perceived as "software for programmers".
In response to this, volunteers from the Free Software Foundation have launched Gnome 1.0, a graphic user interface (GUI) designed to make it a system for the cybermasses.
Aimed at making Linux more user friendly, Gnome could pave the way for the OS to slice much deeper into the Windows-dominated desktop market.
Gnome's project leader and systems administrator at the National University of Mexico, Miguel de Icaza, was in London earlier this month and discussed the benefits of the Linux free-software model.
A passionate proponent of the shareware model, de Icaza said Linux-based systems will find favour across the spectrum, as IT organisations of all budgets look for a low-cost, stable alternative to Microsoft products.
PC Week: How long have you been working on the Gnome development?
De Icaza: I've been on the project for two years, coordinating 288 people, as of a few days ago. Of these, 281 are volunteers and seven are full-time programmers paid by Red Hat.
PC Week: You're one of the volunteers - what's in it for you?
De Icaza: It all boils down to freedom. I'm a programmer and programmers like to build things - like playing with Lego.
I'm having so much fun. Some of the volunteers do it to learn to program, some want to help on projects and others want to do it because of the freedom.
PC Week: How do you see Gnome taking off in the market?
De Icaza: Our goal is to provide people with freedom. This may create market share, but that's not the goal. (Software) licences give users some rights on a code. With an application you get to use it, but not to give it to your friends.
Some people think that's not right. With free software you don't have to use software that forces you into this sort of scheme.
PC Week: You're in London to talk to users about the advantages of deploying Gnome. Tell us about some of the advantages.
De Icaza: It all stems from the fact that it's free. With this you get a number of freedoms. You don't depend upon a company's schedule to fix problems.
If your system is crashing you can fix the problem without waiting for an update from the vendor.
Vendors haven't got a rapid rate of responding to problems, but with free software you can fix problems within two hours and people can modify the software to be what they want it to be.
PC Week: What sort of users are expected to adopt Gnome first?
De Icaza: One of the first to use it will be the schools system in Mexico.
They're already deploying Gnome. We're also getting a lot of exposure from Red Hat.
New users will soon realise the advantages of running Gnome on Linux over the other systems they're running now. We've got to get people confident that there's a better way forward.
The academic sector may be the first to adopt it because universities can't afford to buy software from Microsoft. They're actively looking at how they'll use free software.
PC Week: What about companies that can afford to buy commercially developed software. How do you go about persuading them to adopt this model?
De Icaza: In business, you want to get a reliable desktop and make it do what you want it to do. Other software isn't customised to your needs.
You're locked into what the vendor wants implemented.
With free software and source code you can have staff make changes and fix things that are hurting your business.
I'm not in the convincing business. Big companies will eventually shift over because it's more robust, extensible and reliable. Eventually it's a technical decision.
Big companies are also pushing Linux - like Dell, Compaq, IBM, Oracle and Sybase. It's a boom in support for the next few years.
PC Week: When do you see the software becoming a real threat to Microsoft?
De Icaza: I don't know. I'm not very good at making predictions. That's something on which others will no doubt speculate.
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