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Is SaaS Killing Native Linux App Development? 330

Posted by Soulskill
from the won't-somebody-think-of-the-penguins dept.
jfruhlinger writes "In a world where 'app' is the new buzzword, the development of native Linux apps is lagging. Some of this can be attributed to the usual community infighting (the latest version of which is argument about Ubuntu's Unity interface), but there may be something deeper at play: Linux advocates have for so long advocated browser-accessed software as a service as a way to break out of Microsoft's proprietary desktop. Now that this world has arrived, there's less incentive to work on native Linux apps. But of course, entrusting your functionality and data to a cloud provider like Google has its own set of concerns for free software fans."
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Is SaaS Killing Native Linux App Development?

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  • by Chonnawonga (1025364) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:15AM (#37947898)

    There is no argument about Unity. We all agree that it sucks. There is minor disagreement about the degree to which it sucks.

    Does that really stop anyone from writing Linux applications?

  • by ickleberry (864871) <> on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:17AM (#37947934) Homepage
    Due to lack of good tools. With MS Visual studio / VB any old monkey can make GUI apps easily, with Linux its not that easy There are plenty of GUI creation kits out there for Linux apps that are

    *Easy to use
    *Widely supported
    *Actively maintained
    *Designed for use with a somewhat mainstream language

    But it seems to be a case of "pick any 3", or sometimes only 2.
  • by MrBoring (256282) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:18AM (#37947950)

    This triggers my rant reflex...
    I started my career in native development, and only in the last say 5 years have I done almost exclusively Java based web development, mostly due to market demands and needing a paycheck. I miss the quick response times, quicker builds and simplicity where it was appropriate. I suspect the best hope for any native development now is maintaining legacy systems and mobile apps. People used to be in client/server development, but that's largely been replaced by the SaaS model due to comparative simplicity, but now we have a myriad of new technologies and frameworks globbed together. The industry's answer to any amount of complexity is yet another platform or framework and more indirection. It's hard to secure and know that it's done properly, and harder to know that someone else did it properly.

    Go ahead and shoot me, but I miss the real native development days, regardless of the platform.

  • by sproketboy (608031) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:26AM (#37948054)

    It's not SaaS Killing Native Linux App Development it's the FAIB (free as in beer) crowd doing it. Basically there is no money to be made in desktop Linux development out there since people simply are not paying for the software.

    Most developers would use Java or QT and do all their work in Windows and then do a quick port and QA to Linux - if you're lucky.

  • by bananaquackmoo (1204116) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:26AM (#37948062)
    Really this is not an argument about "in the cloud" or "webapp vs native app." One has to look at the reasons this is happening. The major reason is because most webapps are universally cross platform and usable anywhere. Other bonuses include that they are generally lightweight, don't require an install, and they sync your data between computers. Looking at that list of reasons, it is entirely possible to make native apps which do this, its just that most developers can't be bothered to do so (or aren't allowed to do so).
  • by (660144) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:27AM (#37948086) Homepage

    The architecture (thin v fat client) is tangential to whether you in-source or outsource system administration.

    Most of the software we rely-on most is accessed via the browser:
    Roundcube, Gallery, phpMyAdmin, LDAP Account Manager, Trac, and most importantly our own internal systems.

    Once LibreOffice makes the switch my work will probably go days between firing up a GUI besides Firefox.

  • by spike_gran (219938) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:33AM (#37948190)

    Despite being in free software for a bajillion years and using it as my desktop, I can't say that I've used any native Linux apps for anything really. For the past few years, it has just been a way to get a webbrowser running and to get online, and as a place to cache content. I also use Emacs and the dev environment to make my own (web) apps, and Apache to serve them.

    The only native apps I use are games that need native audio/video control.

    • What application do you use to edit photos and make illustrations? Or do you consider that application part of "the dev environment"?
    • by JohnFen (1641097) on Friday November 04, 2011 @12:29PM (#37948948)

      Native Linux apps are all I use. I don't do use SaaS stuff at all, and don't intend to start. I simply don't trust any third party enough to make myself so vulnerable to and dependent on them.

    • by freeweed (309734) on Friday November 04, 2011 @03:31PM (#37951138)

      Native apps that I use in Linux every day:

      Clementine (audio player)
      Xine (video player)
      Musicbrainz (mp3 tagger)
      Google Earth
      Pidgin (IM client)
      Geeqie (photo browsing/basic editor)
      Minecraft (duh)
      Open Office
      Kate (text editor)
      K3B (burning software)

      And this is just the stuff I can think of off the top of my head while at work. On top of this, there are dozens upon dozens of other apps I use less frequently, but regularly. About the only web app I use that's replaced a native desktop app is Gmail.

      I suspect you simply do a lot less "user" type stuff than most people. Pretty much none of this could be replaced with web apps, at least not yet. Maybe Google Docs/Picassa could take out one or two things, if I hosted everything I did on the web. Google's storage limits severely curtail that type of activity in my case.

      Without native Linux apps, I'd be back to Windows in a second. Not by choice, but due to lack of it. Or maybe I'd buy a Mac.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:35AM (#37948214)

    Linux is dying (or perhaps dead). At least it is on the desktop. It was stillborn and never really had a chance. Everyone (myself included) spent so much time worrying about Microsoft that we ignored what Apple was doing - and then *wham*, OS X comes out. A Unix-backed desktop OS with a gorgeous UI that non-techies can actually use.

    Without a strong desktop presence, there is very little need for native apps. We sysadmins prefer our command line tools - and nobody can argue that there aren't a lot of those ... but general app development on Linux dropped off years ago and I don't see it improving anytime soon.

    And you know, I really don't have a problem with that. I started with Linux in the early 90s, with one of the first releases of Slackware. Back then monitors were fixed-frequency and you had to calculate your video card's dot-clock & other timings in order to not blow up your monitor... I became a full-fledged sysadmin in 1995 and worked for a number of big Linux companies. I drank the kool-aid... all my machines at home ran Linux and it was good. In 2000 I switched gears and became a Linux developer - working on both embedded and desktop projects. Had some great experiences back then.

    But somewhere around 2002 I started to feel betrayed. Here I was, nearly 10 years later and Linux still wasn't on the desktop - at least not in any kind of meaningful way. Sure I kept hearing how 1997...1998...1999...2000...2001 were all going to be the "Year of Linux on the Desktop" - but it never happened. The various Linux forums were the same old thing - people complaining about Microsoft (and now Apple) - all the while lifting as many UI ideas as they could from each OS, expecting that someone a floaty OS X dock-like thing would attract hundreds of thousands of new desktop users to the platform.

    Here we are in 2011 and I'm seeing the same old shit. I'm just about ready to give up Slashdot because 90% of the Linux-related news stories just remind me that we haven't made any progress (and yes, as a developer I tried to help out in that area). Ubuntu's now saying that they're going to make a tablet UI. Yay ... only they haven't cracked the desktop (they made a lot of progress and undid it all with Unity).


    • by cozytom (1102207) on Friday November 04, 2011 @12:05PM (#37948632)

      Lets see, I am typing this in Linux, on my desktop at work.

      I first saw the story on my android phone, running Linux.

      There was a WiFi router that was running linux that sent it to my android phone.

      Nope, not the year of the desktop.

    • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Friday November 04, 2011 @12:21PM (#37948834) Journal

      Linux is dying (or perhaps dead). At least it is on the desktop.

      Linux desktop seems steady at around 1%. Since computer usage is growing, that also means Linux desktop usage is growing. If I ever capture 1% of the global computer market, I would consider it a success beyond anything I could comprehend. So, you have a very odd definition of "dead".

      general app development on Linux dropped off years ago

      Huh? Like what? There are now decent 3D modelleers (blender), audio editors, photographic maniuplation, drawing, image stitching programs, indie games, etc. There is so much more than there was 10 years ago.

      But somewhere around 2002 I started to feel betrayed. Here I was, nearly 10 years later and Linux still wasn't on the desktop - at least not in any kind of meaningful way. Sure I kept hearing how 1997...1998...1999...2000...2001 were all going to be the "Year of Linux on the Desktop" - but it never happened.

      So you feel betrayed that the rantings of a bunch of usenetters didn't come to much? Wow. You have a low threshold for betrayal.

      all the while lifting as many UI ideas as they could from each OS

      Yeah well, that does kinda suck. The blind copying is making a mess of the Linus desktop experience.

      Here we are in 2011 and I'm seeing the same old shit.


      I'm just about ready to give up Slashdot because 90% of the Linux-related news stories just remind me that we haven't made any progress

      C' ya

    • by JasterBobaMereel (1102861) on Friday November 04, 2011 @12:21PM (#37948838)

      Desktop is a strange notion that seems to mean Office PC - which means OS is irrelevant, but the Apps it runs Office, DB, Company app, Webbrowser Outlook etc is and only Windows can run these... so we are stuck with Windows

      OSX is pretty and works well, but is still the niche market is always was, and it is the apps it runs, image editing , video editing, design tools , that really sell it

      Linux has it's place as well, but it is not the Desktop because all the Desktop apps people currently use run on Windows or OSX ... There is not native Linux killer Desktop App

      Cloud and Web Services may actually help this, if you can buy an Office PC without Windows (i.e. ready for a minimal Linux install and Web browser) and only run cloud apps, this will be much cheaper ... and so be the Desktop Linux ....


    • by flydpnkrtn (114575) on Friday November 04, 2011 @12:54PM (#37949270)

      You should come on over to Hacker News if you're looking for what Slashdot used to be circa 1998... []

      I agree with you... the comments were the big draw, and mostly it's "herd mentality" on /. any more.

    • by roman_mir (125474) on Friday November 04, 2011 @01:04PM (#37949414) Homepage Journal

      Well, I switched to only OpenBSD and GNU/Linux about a year ago, before that I mostly worked on Windows and deployed on Unix.

      However I do NOT like either Gnome, I do NOT like KDE, I do NOT like XFCE, I cannot stand Unity.

      I don't like ANY of the windowing environments that Unix/GNU Linux offer.

      I HATE Mac.

      So in reality I only like Windows Windowing environment, specifically Windows 2000 or Windows XP. I think those are very solidly done and they FEEL solid. They are very integrated, all of the cut/paste, all of the menu looks, all of the fonts, borders.... It's no contest.

      I HATE the way the non-Windows windowing systems are done, but I use them anyway, because I have to, because the underlying technology is what I need in GNU/Linux or Unix, not in Windows, and again, I don't like anything from Apple.

      So unfortunately for me, I have to suffer through this.

  • by bradgoodman (964302) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:39AM (#37948270) Homepage
    It may be orthagonal to the point - or on the point - I can't tell - but one thought immediately came to mind.


    If by "app" you are talking a "user application", meaning one with a whole user interface (i.e. GUI), etc. - I'd say that is eroding. I wouldn't say that "SaaS" is what's eroding it however. I've been using Linux for almost twenty years, and only have written a single GUI-based (Glade) application for it. I see Linux as a "back-end" system, and have always used Windows, or a Mobile platform as the "front end". When I need to write, let's say a "management" interface for something, or something else that requires something prettier - like a GUI, I've always implemented this as a web service.

    This is more of an effect of the fact that Linux has never really made it big into the desktop arena. Conversely however, Android is making it mainstream in the tablet and smartphone space (albiet, under Java for user-apps) - so as tablets and phones eclipse desktops in the user-oriented space - Linux, ironically, stands to become the dominant force in "user" systems, they just won't be "desktop" systems as we think about them today.

  • by jonsmirl (114798) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:39AM (#37948272) Homepage

    HTML5 is just another GUI front-end library. In no way does it require you to write cloud based apps. If you want a native Linux application write the GUI in HTML5 and run the server on the same machine as your GUI. Hmmm.... something kind of like the Xserver model, but brought 30 years into the future?

    When people whine about the ending of location transparency with the Xserver, what is going away is the Xserver as the primary GUI library, not location transparency in general. The Xserver needs to die, it is pass its prime and we need to move onto newer GUI technologies.

    So stop writing native Linux applications and instead start writing HTML5 applications that ship with a built-in server. The cool thing about apps in this model is that the GUI works on Linux, Mac and Windows plus you can run the server locally or in the cloud - your choice. If you want to help out convert some native Linux apps into the HTML5 model.

    Wayland is a key transition technology. It allows apps like Chrome/Firefox to be written directly to EGL. Plus you can run a user space Xserver as a legacy tool.

  • hmm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by buddyglass (925859) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:39AM (#37948284)
    Could it be because the set of target environments is so large compared to Windows / OS X? You've got to support multiple distros (and versions of distros), multiple desktop environments, etc.
  • by Yaa 101 (664725) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:44AM (#37948332) Journal

    I think that the majority of problems that were in the native environment are solved.
    Most of the desktop applications are mature and complete and a big part of the commandline never had problems that werent solvable to begin with.
    The last 10 years just caused a lot of problems to be solved on the web platform, now that HTML et al. are getting in mature state as well we will see coming 5 years that most problems on that platform are getting solved too.
    Even scalability problems are getting solved with virtual computing.
    This means attention is shifting to new platforms like mobile and pad until something new comes round the corner.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Friday November 04, 2011 @11:45AM (#37948360) Journal

    That is why everyone wants VLC to be ported from Linux to mobile devices to finally get a decent player out there. That is why mplayer despite having no interest in doing windows support has people working on turning it into a windows version to get an even better player out there?

    What apps are we talking about exactly? Fart apps? Angry birds?

    There is a ton of software available for free install. What more do you need?

    Or maybe the author is talking about payed for apps? Maybe the genius that wrote synergy should start charging for it? Maybe pay a buck here and there and then it suddenly counts? Okay, my pc will also then cost me a few hundred bucks but hey, at least we got APPS instead of applications. And we can only search for them by the broadest terms and their are ranked by how much their owners spams them.

    Seriously, where is the issue?

  • by liquidweaver (1988660) on Friday November 04, 2011 @12:11PM (#37948722)

    Is _____ (Suggestions: Apple, Microsoft) KILLING Linux/Google/Bitcoin _____ ?

    For example:

    I think I have the formula fogured out, these articles are actually heuristically generated from statistically high word count topics, and kdawson and Soulskill are actually AIs.

  • At least 75% of the distro's it is going to remain a non RAD platform.

    The ONLY project that comes close is Lazarus. They have it pretty well worked out. Yes is is Delphi and I know everyone just LOVES to hate Pascal but guess what people as a language it does 99% of what needs to be done and the other 1% is just esoteric stuff that can be done without.

    If you want it to do C++ then get onto the project and write the C++ for it.

    It is drag and drop GUI interface, right click of the component or double click on the component and write your logic.

    It is free software and it works but until the Linux community gels around a single GUI nothing will change and the chances of that happening are about the same of a snowballs chance in hell.

    Linux could rule the desktop but because there are so very many variants with all the cooks screaming "Mine is better" it never fucking will.

  • by IGnatius T Foobar (4328) on Friday November 04, 2011 @12:35PM (#37949040) Homepage Journal
    Browser-accessed software does not lessen the incentive to work on native Linux apps. It lessens the incentive to work on native desktop apps in general. The number of native Linux apps that aren't getting written is dwarfed by the number of native Windows apps that aren't getting written. Think about it in that perspective.
  • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Friday November 04, 2011 @12:36PM (#37949048)

    ...versus desktop-based, frivolously, is the penchant for cloud developers for the addition of payware components in their apps. But, that's the hook, isn't it? You get basic interface or a limited-time run with the advanced stuff, then the advanced components (let's say for online games, premium credits for better ingame gear) come at cost of real-world fiat.

    In my world, outdated and quaint as it is, once you buy something you own it. It's yours and its disposition is your business. If you want to use a spoon to open a can, no "license agreement" is going to prevent that, is it?

  • by MBGMorden (803437) on Friday November 04, 2011 @01:28PM (#37949712)

    I think what's killing native Linux app development is that most of what needs to exist already does.

    Seriously - while some programs could use some tweaking (IE, GIMP isn't quite as robust and capable as Photoshop, but it does similar things and is good enough for most casual users), just about anything that you'd want to do for day-to-day stuff there's already a native "app" for that.

    The only time I find Linux lacking is for video games, which as an entertainment medium follow a different model than utility/productivity software. Aside from those, I sit down to my Linux box every evening and never does the thought cross my mind that I need something that isn't there.

    That's not specific to Linux either - I choose to use Linux at home but the same is mostly true for Windows and Mac too. The desktop computer platform has matured to the point where there's simply not a lot that needs to be done anymore. Eventually you stop trying to make a better hammer or wrench and just start using them without care to their improvement.

Those who can, do; those who can't, simulate.