Eric Raymond, one of the high priests of open source, has told the community that painful compromises are needed to the way it deals with closed source platforms and formats to avoid losing ground on desktops and new media players.
Raymond said the community is not moving fast enough to engage with non-technical users whose first-choice platform is either an iPod, MP3 player or Microsoft desktop running Windows Media Player.
With iPod holding a massive market share and Windows Vista coming down the pipe, Raymond warned that Linux risks getting locked out of new hardware platforms for the next 30 years unless it proves it can work with iPods, MP3s and WMP.
It was an unexpected reality check from the unorthodox Raymond, author of the famed Cathedral and the Bazaar, participating in a spirited panel at LinuxWorld in San Francisco, California.
Joining Raymond were Linux International executive director Jon "maddog" Hall, Google open source program manger Chris DiBona, Intel director of Linux and open source strategy Dirk Hohndel, and moderator Larry Augustin.
Raymond apparently isolated himself on the issue of using binary drivers in Linux - a hotly contested issue in the open source movement. Binary drivers are platform, format and hardware specific and can make applications like multimedia run smoothly on a PC or device.
Binary drivers are considered an evil for open source because of their proprietary nature, however Raymond called support for them in Linux "a necessary compromise."
Raymond, a champion of all things open, said it is vital to the future uptake of Linux that the community compromise to win the new generation of non-technical users aged younger than 30. This group is more interested in having Linux "just work" on their iPod or MP3 player and "don't care about our notions of doctrinal purity",
"We have a serious problem. Whenever I try to pitch Linux to anyone under 30, the question I get is: 'Will it work with my iPod?," he said. "We are not yet as a community making the painful compromises need to achieve widespread desktop market share. Until we do, we will get locked out of more hardware."
Raymond is concerned the window of opportunity is closing for Linux on the desktop. He calculates the end of the transition to 64-bit computing by the close of 2008. According to his studies, the best opportunity to displace the dominant operating system (in this case Windows on the desktop) takes place with a major architectural shift like this.
Raymond believes Linux will get locked out for 30-odd years until the next platform shift as it's so far not doing enough to reach out to non-technical users.
"The end of the 64-bit transition happens at the end of 2008. After that the operating system gets locked in for the next 30 years. I'm worried we are not doing enough to appeal to non-technical users. I'm worried we will be locked out of the desktop for a very long time," he said.
Fellow panelist Hohndel took a more optimistic view. He estimated that while Linux would see single-digit desktop market share in economies of North America, Europe and Asia Pacific, Linux would get 20 per cent of the market in emerging markets during the next five-years.
Maddog Hall, meanwhile, urged LinuxWorld attendees to evangelize Linux at schools, universities and their community organizations, and ensure Linux is taught in academic curriculums. ®