Miguel de Icaza talks about Windows 8 and the failure of Linux on the desktop

At Microsoft BUILD earlier this month I arrived early to hear Anders Hejlsberg talk about the future of C#, and found myself next to Miguel de Icaza, co-creator of the GNOME desktop and of Mono, the open source implementation of Microsoft .NET. I took the opportunity to ask a few questions, which I have his permission to post.

I recall that when .NET was first announced in 2000, it was not long before de Icaza announced Mono. I was interested therefore to know his reaction to Windows 8 and the new Window Runtime which powers “Metro-style” apps. Will we get an open source implementation of Metro-style on Linux?

I don’t think so. To be honest, with Linux on the desktop, the benefits of open source have really played against Linux on the desktop in that we keep breaking things. It is not only incompatibilities between Red Hat, Unbuntu, Suse, but even between the same distribution.  Ubuntu from this week is incompatible with the one nine months ago. And then there are multiple editions, the KDE version, the Gnome edition, the one that is the new launching system.

When you count how many great desktop apps there are on Linux, you can probably name 10. You work really hard, you can probably name 20. We’ve managed to piss off developers every step of the way, breaking APIs all the time.

I’m heartbroken, that’s the bottom line.

What about compiling your Metro app for iOS or Android?

I think that Linux has a tough time on the desktop. And the desktop is starting to not matter any more. On the other hand, building WinRT is going to be a significant amount of work. A large chunk probably could be reused from Moonlight. But it is a lot of work, to be able to reuse existing Windows apps, and in the case of iOS they already have their own stack, and Mac has its own, Cocoa is really nice and we have .NET bindings for it.

So I think we’ll learn interesting lessons from Metro. There is stuff that will be useful on other platforms like the JSON reader. But I’m not going to spend any time on WinRT for other systems.

And we can speculate about how well Metro will work in the market …

They are Microsoft, it’s going to succeed. In three years they are going to have this thing on half a billion computers, so it will be out there.

It seems like they are going to use their muscle for two things. It’s going to be a tempting space [for developers], but if you want to go into the right distribution channel for that half a billion computers, you need to abide by the Metro guidelines. They are not going to give you full API access, they are going to give you the sandboxed version. Which is good, because it can finally fix the security problems on Windows. They are going to use their muscle to reset the rules for Windows.

Especially on ARM

Right, and it is needed, they definitely need to fix this mess, a lot of malware, spyware, and the fact that everybody is sysadmin, and has to reinstall their machine every so often.

I’ve heard the word “safe” a number of times.

Right, and think of an iPad, you don’t need to be a sysadmin.

Now, you could argue that by WPF not being available to everybody and being bound to .NET they limited the effect WPF would have had, whereas Metro gives this to C++ developers, but they’re saying, hey, you can’t call Win32, there is all the Win32 stuff you can’t call. You have to use Metro. So they might be repeating that [mistake], but maybe it’s eclipsed by the fact that there’s going to be a rush to the app store. It seems like there is a big enough carrot now.

How are you getting on with the Windows 8 tablet?

I have to say, I actually like Windows 8. I am not a Windows user. It’s probably the first time that I would use a Windows machine.

Miguel de Icaza is now at Xamarin, providing cross-platform tools for using C# and .NET to build apps for Apple iOS and Google Android.

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Related posts:

  1. Miguel de Icaza on eight years of Mono, its future, and the Silverlight desktop
  2. What does Xamarin’s success say about open source versus proprietary? Miguel de Icaza says he has never been happier
  3. Miguel de Icaza on ODF vs OOXML
  4. Miguel de Icaza: don’t blame Google for Microsoft’s contempt for developers
  5. Windows on ARM: Microsoft can write Desktop apps, but you cannot

29 comments to Miguel de Icaza talks about Windows 8 and the failure of Linux on the desktop

  • Arup

    Yep he would rather have a all Gnome desktop with no other choices as it is in Windows world. The beauty of Linux is choice, one can choose between KDE, LDXE, XFCE, Gnome, KDE and more all fitting the needs. Nonsense.

  • Peter

    @Arup, you miss the point. 10 years after promising to take over the world Linux us nowhere on the desktop, and Miguel is pointing out one of the big reasons why.

    Like it or not, Microsoft and Apple’s control of their users’ experience is a competitive advantage with the 95% of users who don’t want to learn a new desktop every time the current one irritates them. Choice is less important to them than being able to get things done.

    If all the effort which has gone into Linux desktops had gone into one or two really good ones, Linux would probably have more users.

  • sanders

    Miguel, stop copying Microsoft, if you want to succeed produce a version of mono that can compile Win32/Linux native versions instead of the clr rubbish.

    And no, you’re not the best person to decide what the best path in the future is for linux/foss.

    As someone else pointed out there are alternatives to the gnome madness

  • eldarion

    @Peter
    “you miss the point. 10 years after promising to take over the world Linux us nowhere on the desktop, and Miguel is pointing out one of the big reasons why.”

    How promised that, and being serious about that? Linux is what it is. Linux is a community, not an enterprise like Microsoft or Apple. So please, for the last time, don’t even think the goal of Linux is to world domination.

  • yanski

    Linux has been and still is a monumental success on my desktop, laptop and pretty much everything else I have installed it on in the past few years thank you so very much…..

  • Lars Westergren

    @sanders
    >”produce a version of mono that can compile Win32/Linux native versions instead of the clr rubbish.”

    I am curious as to why you think this would help? Which problem would this address, and how?

  • foljs

    @eldarion

    Who promised that, and being serious about that?

    It was a prevalent sentiment in the Linux community. Most linux advocates, from well known developers to major community players believed this. It was about to happen “any day now…”. Actually, the phrase “The year of Linux of the desktop” become something akin to a running joke after a couple of years…

    @yanski

    Linux has been and still is a monumental success on my desktop, laptop and pretty much everything else I have installed it on in the past few years thank you so very much…..

    Glad it works for you and all those other uses, the totality of which could fit easily on Rhode Island with plenty of room to spare.

    Why does every time someone talks about general rules and averages someone has to jump with his personal anecdotal story? Is generalization difficult for people to grasp?

  • Rambo Tribble

    The primary reason for the lack of desktop market penetration by Linux is the lack of in-the-field support. Not just tech support, but educational and marketing supports, as well. Until community colleges have instructors conversant with LibreOffice, Gimp, digiKam and a host of other desktop applications for Linux, progress will crawl. Whether the move to the cloud will offer any relief is open to question.

    In the enterprise, the volatility of the Linux kernel is a handicap. All too often, equipment that runs fine on one version is incompatible with a newer version. Business wants and needs to feel secure about the upgrade path.

  • eldarion

    @foljs
    “Actually, the phrase “The year of Linux of the desktop” become something akin to a running joke after a couple of years…”

    That phrase is always used by bloggers to get more page hits. Real linux users don’t even care to open those so called “articles”. I for one am happy to use Linux and even happier for it to be free. We all have to remember that all this is being given for free. Remember this every time you have an issue with your distro and you probably won’t fell the need to rank about “How Linux Sux(tm)” anymore. Ask help in the forums, fill a bug report, contact the developer(s). This is how things work in Linux. Again, no one wants to beat Microsoft or Apple for market share because that makes no sense in Linux world. If it works for you, great. If not, move along and try something else.

  • Jose Cuervo

    LOL at the winblows user above talking about Linux kernel instability! Look at all the world’s high end servers.. What do they run? Linux (Google, Facebook, Netflix, eBay just to name a couple). There are Linux distros that provide enterprise support (RHEL, CentOS, Oracle). Look at Linux’s uptime and compare that to Winblows! The cloud is not part of the equation of the “desktop wars” The cloud will actually get rid of the desktop . If the Cloud actually gains any steam in the consumer world. Linux already has that market… ChromeOS and Android. Most providers of Cloud actually use Linux. Linux isn’t about world domination its about community growth! Miguel de Icaza is still sucking M$ teat(s) after they wouldn’t employ him. This guy is a joke. Seriously why are people in the Linux community even paying attention to someone who says there are only 20 great desktop apps on Linux? (look above) Maybe on Gnome at least… And if that was the case quantity is not judgmental of quality! This guy is embarrassing to the Linux movement.

  • John

    “We’ve managed to piss off developers every step of the way, breaking APIs all the time. ”

    Speak for yourself, mate, KDE has done an excellent job in maintaining API and Binary compatability, as has Qt. Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to create a new API with every Windows release, yet he doesn’t complain about that. Want to take the pain out of cross-platform API’s? Just use Qt.

  • Ubuntu has millions of users on the desktop. It’s a long way behind Apple (who are themselves a long way behind Microsoft), but Ubuntu is growing.

  • Moskitor

    @eldarion
    “Real linux users don’t even care to open those so called “articles”. I for one am happy to use Linux and even happier for it to be free. We all have to remember that all this is being given for free.”

    Unfortunately almost no one uses free distros, in fact, almost nobody knows that their distros and their linux kernel are not free (of course 100% free) and contain proprietary software. Some are even happy with that. So at the end of the day or that matter. What is all that matters? do not use Windows?

    @Michael Foord
    “Ubuntu has millions of users on the desktop. It’s a long way behind Apple (who are themselves a long way behind Microsoft), but Ubuntu is growing.”

    Where I can see the millionaire number of Ubuntu’s users?
    Where I can see that his users are increasing? In his official blog?.

    In statcounter Linux (all Linux, not only Ubuntu) has been stagnating for years, even to fall. If you know another reliable source, please notify me.

  • AW

    Good God,

    I use several Linux distributions (for development work + servers) and I would never trade them in for a Mac OS X box or a Windows machine, but you can’t fault Miguel for calling it as he sees it.

    I mean, come on:

    GStreamer vs Phonon
    DBUS vs DCOP
    Compiz vs Beryl

    That’s just the nature of how it works in the wild west of open source software. Hating on the dude just because he’s telling you what everyone already knows is pretty weak.

    Open source is always going to lag behind Apple or Microsoft just because Microsoft and Apple are going to pick their own direction and plow forward, ignoring everyone but their shareholders. It’s just one of the downsides of dealing with the bazaar.

  • Miguel should know better than to spread FUD like this. Linux on the Desktop has grown substantially within the past few years. Distributions like Ubuntu and Linux Mint make it easier for people to get started with Linux, manufacturers like System76 and Dell help bring it to the masses, and companies like Red Hat bring it to the Enterprise.

    And Tim, “failure of the Linux desktop” is extremely out of context. I’ve been using Linux as my desktop environment for about six years now and it definitely hasn’t been a failure.

  • eldarion

    @Moskitor
    “Unfortunately almost no one uses free distros, in fact, almost nobody knows that their distros and their linux kernel are not free (of course 100% free) and contain proprietary software. Some are even happy with that. So at the end of the day or that matter. What is all that matters? do not use Windows?”

    I was talking about free, not open source. Even those binary blobs are free. Period. If you don’t like it, use gNewSense, Dragora and so on. If you read what i wrote, like probably you don’t, you will see that all i said was: don’t complain too much and be involved in the community. If you don’t like the way this are done in Linux world, go and find something else. If you like to rank use Windows or OSX and complain for something you actually bought.

  • eldarion

    @AW

    “GStreamer vs Phonon”

    Phonon is a layer that sits on top of GStreamer (or vlc or xine) to provide an hight level of abstraction to make live easier for KDE developers. You can’t compare GStreamer and Phonon. That said, i agree that there are too many abstraction layers. KDE and Gnome people should do something about this.

    “DBUS vs DCOP”

    DCOP is deprecated since the end of KDE3. DBUS is the standard for any desktop (KDE, GNOME and others).

    “Compiz vs Beryl”

    I don’t think that troubles developers. They don’t need to worry about the window manager at all.

    Again, i think a standard for how thinks work should be created for the good of developers, but of course, following the Open Source rules, everybody is free to fork the standards or create new technologies.

  • Justin

    The beauty of Linux is choice, but you have no apps to choose from. I think that was his point.

    We have more great desktop “environments” than we do great “applications”. That seems like a missed opportunity.

  • Justin

    People who think they are more of “real” Linux user than Miguel are funny. Linux has been his primary desktop since before KDE and GNOME existed. That is much longer than most of his detractors. Before Linux he used SunOS on Sparc. He has never been a Windows user.

    He has been a dedicated Emacs guy for years. The guy wrote one of the most popular Linux console apps (Midnight Commander) even. Acting like is some kind of Windows fanboi is retarded. We can disagree with him but let’s get real.

    If you think there are more than 20 great Linux apps please list them. I have been using Linux since 1992 and I would be listing some C-team stuff by about 15 I think. The fact that I can think of more great applications that use Linux as a server than a desktop really says something.

  • Kyle Miller

    @Peter,

    “Like it or not, Microsoft and Apple’s control of their users’ experience is a competitive advantage”

    Apple maintains more control of the users’ experience than Microsoft, so why is it a distance second, a distance second since 1984?! Desktop Linux has been around for far less time.

  • Justin

    “Apple maintains more control of the users’ experience than Microsoft, so why is it a distance second, a distance second since 1984?! Desktop Linux has been around for far less time.” — Kyle Miller

    Microsoft gained a foothold in the business world because the IBM PC was the dominant architecture there. That meant the Microsoft attracted more application developers. The application dominance has driven Microsoft’s success ever since.

    Interesting you should mention 1984. That was the year that Apple replaced the successful Apple ][ ecosystem with Macintosh. The hardware was not really up to Apple’s vision and early Macs were seen as expensive toys by business. Now, all these years later, products with the same name are stealing market share from Microsoft. History is fun stuff.

  • Miguel, in fact, has no concrete proof that Linux desktop failed. There are numerous examples that show how Linux desktop actually is *far more advanced* than Windows(TM). Miguel is a long-term anti-linux-desktop troll, and we all know it. :)

    Couple of examples of Linux (UNIX) desktop features that are (arguably) better over Windows(TM):
    - Remember when Microsoft(R) pompously announced remote desktop (only few years ago) – well, X Window System has that for *several decades* !
    - Pure hardware-accelerated GUI subsystem.
    - SVG (scalable) icons
    - Desktop efects
    - Multiple desktops
    - Animated cursors

    The only thing Microsoft(R) does better is integration of all those features into one GUI subsystem, which comes from a simple fact that Microsoft is a single company, and people who develop the system are under “one roof”, while Linux has *enormous* diversity, and millions of different implementations and ideas. Just compare GNOME3 with, say, AWESOME window manager (http://awesome.naquadah.org/). Windows(TM) will *never* satisfy users who want that kind of control.
    Second example is Android – also a Linux desktop with (again, arguably) better touch-screen control than Windows(TM).

    So again Miguel is pretty subjective, but it is natural – he just wants to present his projects in the best light…

    PS. I wonder how much Microsoft(R) payed for all this subtle PR… ;)

  • Mike Freeman

    First off, this whole premise is pointless. For me, it’s less a matter of having great apps, and more about having a great environment in which to run said apps.

    I have yet to run into a problem finding great software that does what I want on Linux, and I can customize the environment to fit my workflow and tastes. But I do have a problem getting the Windows environment to be anything less than an annoyance, no matter what software I’m running. So what does it matter how many “great” apps there are, as long as I can get my work done in a way that is useful, aesthetically pleasant, and efficient in my workflow?

    Second, who cares what percentage of the market Linux holds compared to MS? These numbers games are stupid and childish. Windows has more software support because it has more users. It has more users because it has more software support. Linux will never break into that cycle, and it doesn’t have to. It is in a completely different class. Microsoft needs continual money flow to survive, and thus puts huge resources into leveraging the market into submission — resources that Linux will never have at their disposal, by its very nature. Linux doesn’t have Microsoft’s motivation. It is there because there are people who love it and are willing to devote their time and personal effort to it. Nothing more.

    Finally, I cringe every time I hear/read someone saying that the desktop “doesn’t matter anymore” or is becoming irrelevant because of the mobile touch-screen device revolution. That’s just faddish and ignorant. There are so many things users need to do on a daily basis that can’t be done, or can’t be done well on a touch-screen. Desktops/laptops shine in those areas, and will continue to shine for a long time to come. Just because people are buying mobile devices left and right doesn’t mean they are replacing their desktops or laptops with them. I have an Android phone, and for all its coolness, I still find myself gravitating back to my laptop to get the real work done. And when I do, I ALWAYS use Linux. I haven’t had a need to use Windows in a really long time (if ever), and wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • anton tomanek

    Just small addition to flames,

    I use Linux, now, because I am developer, and virtualization, on Linux it is much usable then on win. I like winnt4.0, service pack 4, and win7 were usefull(greetings to UAC fans).

    But, if every application you can sell is on win, and not on Linux, sorry,

    If you want to switch to Linux, few hundreds desktops in some enterprise, what can you offer them, if all their apps are written for last 20 years for win?

    At the end you get list what your customer need, if it is not running on Linux, you are out,

    Even if you succeed, then M$ will come and order you to remove all Linux desktops as happen I think in Ostrava, in Czech republic,…

    So money, money, money …

  • Why do people keep thinking that the “goal of Linux” is dominating the desktop. Are these people seriously that shortsighted? Let’s calculate, shall we?

    * The Linux kernel owns the datacenter.
    * The Linux kernel owns the embedded device.
    * The Linux kernel owns the smartphone.
    * The Linux kernel owns the supercomputer.
    * The Linux kernel owns the cloud.

    And we’re getting our panties in a twist, because we don’t have the desktop market? Seriously? The desktop is dying, and will be dead in a few years. The Chrome browser already released an extension that allows you to use RPD in the browser. Phones and tablets are becoming the primary computer for many, and in some cases the only computer. The cloud with its files, music, videos, virtual machines, and on and on is replacing the computing tasks for many.

    For those chasing the desktop market share dream are fooling themselves.

  • “The beauty of Linux is choice, but you have no apps to choose from. I think that was his point. We have more great desktop “environments” than we do great “applications”. That seems like a missed opportunity.”

    I think you are the only commenter who understood what Miguel actually said. Personally, I’ve been wanting to migrate my own notebook/desktop systems to Linux (or FreeBSD) for around 15 years now. It was never possible because of the lack of application software that could actually compete with the commercial software that I’m regularly using. Just try replacing Apple’s Aperture with an Open Source/Free Software solution. You can’t, there is nothing that good in the Open Source ecosystem (Lightzone isn’t, thanks for trying though) – and that is only ONE example. And apparently, nobody is porting software of that caliber to the Linux desktop, and my guess is that is because there is no money to be made there.

    It was possible for me to switch from Windows to Mac OS X six years ago, though – but even that was not an easy move back in 2005 for almost the same reasons that still make it so difficult to use Linux as the main DESKTOP system: The lack of professional application software that — I — need(ed). The Apple ecosystem has caught up with my needs and I no longer need Windows for anything, at least not on my private systems. In my business environment, on the other hand, there still is no way around Windows, though. And in many cases, not even on the server side of things. As much as we try, half of our servers still have to run Windows Server.

    “Remember when Microsoft(R) pompously announced remote desktop (only few years ago) – well, X Window System has that for *several decades* !”

    What X Window System has is NOWHERE near the efficiency of Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol. Try using that stuff over a slow network connection and you’ll know the difference. There was a reason why Citrix developed the ICA protocol and why Microsoft licensed technology from Citrix and created RDP. Besides, that stuff has been around since Windows NT 4 and that’s now already over one and a half decades old. But what really matters here is this: A remote desktop is worth NOTHING when you don’t have applications to run on it. By the way, the first web browser was developed for similar reasons: To remote control applications. And as you might know, the first web browser was written by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN on NeXTstep, the predecessor of… Mac OS X. If X Windows was so great, I wonder why he even bothered inventing the World Wide Web.

  • Grey

    The primary failure of linux is the same as that of unix. I’ve developed on Unix since 1980, so I’ve seen the history. the *nix’s simply forgot that technical people only represent about 3% of the consumers of computers. Bill Gates and Steven Jobs both had the foresite to simply recognize that a simple GUI, irrelevant of how unstable (aka windows), would be more consumable than the technical consumer facing front ends that are *nix. Bill Gates further understood that if you publicly expose the API’s (again irrelevant of how unstable), the developers would provide for the masses.

    Until the *nix’s can do two things, develop as if the common consumer matters, and do it in a consistent (albiet backward compatible) fashion, irrelevant of efficiency, the masses will come to your door.

    the *nix’s simply missed the oppertunity, and still continue to fight over why. It’s simple, they catered to the 3% and not the other 97%, which is why Apple and MS are where they are today.

  • hitchi

    Why don’t you show me 10 great apps for windows and then, tell me who needs to use it.Most windows users i know need a web browser, a music/movie player and maybe some office software.

  • Nice blog, thanks for that valuable informations. I also made my own setup for HTPC and it’s working like a charme, using multi-boot system Ubuntu and Windows 64-bit (MCE) with a Mystique SaTiX-S2 Dual Sky Xpress DVB-card