Saturday, May 3, 2008

Open Source and the collaborative network.

The past couple of months have left me thinking a great deal about what is good and bad about the whole open source movement at this point in time.

One of the things that bothers me, specifically as an end user of Linux is the rather fragmented user experience I have when using Linux and Open Source products in general.

Now it's important to point out that the Windows experience is not really much better, considering that most of the applications I run on Windows are not from M$, it does however feel more packaged and integrated.

How would we fix this, well, Open Source is all about collaboration, collaboration that was made possible by the Internet.

If you think about it, Open Source is probably one of the most successful social networks around, even if it lacks a central point.

However what if we could provide that central access point to users. Something that would be able to handle such mundane tasks as:

  • A unified help system which open source developers could use to expose online documentation for their projects which would have a pre-defined format and be searchable and when you install a product it could "plug-in" to that unified help system.

  • Product support, in terms of bug submissions, user feedback and so forth, additionally you could provide things like an RSS feed to useful articles from online sites leveraging the community. The functionality could even take into account paid for support.

  • More importantly (in my opinion) you could actually start providing a central distribution channel for Open Source software or indeed commercial software running on Open Source.

    A useful feature might be a centralised searchable database of applications and supporting hardware, access to reviews and the ability to show case products. All with the ability to easily install that software.

    Now Debian has always had this, but wouldn't it be great if in addition to that you could for example use the same functionality to buy and install commercial products such as CrossOver office or StarOffice and you could use the same functionality if you're using Fedora or even Sun's Project Indiana.

    Furthermore you could provide a database of compatible hardware which the vendors themselves can use to promote their products and even allow you to buy directly on-line.

    You could even allow people to sell content such as desktop themes or even DRM free music, or any value adds that you think people might buy.

    From the end users point of view, all this functionality would just be an extension of the desktop, accessible as a set of native applications on the desktop or when you click on the desktop help or when you open your application's help. It should be a seamless part of using your Open Source desktop.

    It wouldn't even cost a lot to do, Open Source projects could leverage their existing infrastructure and just expose their site information in a common format. You will however need some central servers to act as a repository where projects and companies can publish information about their products for end users to search.

    All this can then be exposed to desktop applications through Web 2.0 style technologies quite easily.

    The caveat of course is that you will need buy in from the various different Open Source projects and vendors to support this network.

    Oh well enough dreaming for now, I hear my Xbox calling...

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