creative penguins – linux and design

November 17 | 2012

the usual suspects (mac/windoze) aside, the open source operating system linux has gained some more popularity among average users. Stability and a relative better security have always been the key features, but now as the usability became much easier, it had made its way to the desktop. The software pool has grown over the years, so that users can obtain an equivalent for many applications on their linux boxes. But can linux also be an interesting alternative for designers? Well, not quite (just yet).

Linux’ biggest problem is a lack of availability of specialized software, or if any exists, it doesn’t provide the functionalities and features that are needed to complete a task professionally. This is not linux’ fault in the first place, as there would be enough competence and manpower to create or improve the software, so what does stop it? Before answering this question, lets get into some basics about how linux was created and what ideals it stands for.

In the early 1990’s a finish student was working on derivate of the operating system that was used at his university. Unix was very common in the academic area , but it needed specialized hardware to run. The goal was to create a unix variant that can also run on a pc. So far so good, he might not have been the only one to expriment with such things, but something he did afterwards made a difference. He had posted about his project in an online discussion group and published the original source code alongside. By doing so, other programmers all over the world  were able examine and even improve the code. Linux was born and kept growing, along with other open source cross-platform applications providing stability and comparable quality to its closed source opponents. It’s not always visible at first sight, as much of the structures are being transmitted at its cores: Mac OS X has a unix derivate underneath called Darwin, which is based on a set of open source components.

The open source movement is mainly characterized by making the programming code available to the public, a practice which isn’t too popular among many established software producers. As the GPL (general public license) which is used by most open source projects obligates to publish the code and any of its changes, many companies have refused and still refuse to provide the interfaces to make things work. For that reason, many developers had to “reverse-engineer” so they could support certain hardware components, more or less successfully, and in the case of patents, the wheel had to be re-invented from scratch to prevent unpleasant law suits. This leads us to the answer for the question above. The main reason why there is such a lack of specialized software for linux platforms is due to legal restrictions and patents. Graphic design software falls under this category. Many key features and the apps themselves are not only closed source, but also patented. The open source community have come up with a few graphic apps, but none of them meets the requirements to produce professional results.  For amateurs who are unwilling or unable to invest in quite pricey graphic software, these apps are just fine.

One might want to argue whether closed or open source is the right path to follow, or which license should be applied, at the end of the day it is completely irrelevant for the users themselves, as they simply expect good software that works, on any system, with whatever license. As much as I like my mac, I still would like to have the choice on what system I want to run my graphic apps, and as much as I like linux, I would not want to be forced to use software only for the sake of being open source. This clash of interests on both sides doesn’t exactly help to move forward, which is a bit of a shame. Maybe things are better in some parallel universe that I’m not aware of, but if Adobe ever ports its stuff to linux, I’d surely have a reason to celebrate.

1 new insight:

  1. 11/17/2012Matt Hanson says:

    I found your site on Google and read a few of your other entires. Nice Stuff. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

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