Thought for the day:Penguin on a PlayStation

Opinion

Thought for the day:Penguin on a PlayStation

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.I was speaking to one of the organisers on the second day of this year's Linux Expo, whose main observation was that he'd never seen so many strange-looking people in one place. This year, instead of a penguin ambling around the show floor, there was a man dressed as a giraffe. Please don't ask why.

The high point of The Great Linux debate was the presentation of a special award of a pair of plastic comedy breasts to Sun Microsystems, reflecting the audience's good-humoured recognition of the company's commitment to the future of the operating system.

IBM and Hewlett-Packard were both unusually relieved to lose this latest industry award - under the rules, the "trophy" has to be displayed in Sun's reception area for the next 12 months.

Comedy breasts aside, what did catch my eye was the Sony stand because, believe it or not, Sony now has a Linux distribution for the PlayStation 2 ( www.playstation2-linux.com), complete with hard drive, keyboard and mouse that plug into the PS2's expansion port.

Sony had been talking about making the PS2 into a home networking device for two years and this, I thought, is really big news because it brings Linux applications, such as Open Office right down to the consumer level.

But I was wrong. This is still very much an add-on product for programmers, students and code enthusiasts and really nothing more. It's a step in the right direction, but only a relatively small one.

This penguin on a PlayStation draws me back to the argument I have been making for at least four years now and one that attracts its own share of abuse from the Linux enthusiasts.

Why haven't I started running a Linux distribution and Open Office on one of my own PCs? Why hasn't the editor? We both want to but it's still not as easy as shoving a Windows or Mac OS X CD into the unit and waiting confidently for everything to work perfectly on the first reboot. Linux is still very much a "roll-up-your-sleeves" operating system on the desktop and a hobby for those who have the time to spend looking for drivers and playing with the code.

Sony has given us a glimpse of where Linux could live quite comfortably outside the enterprise clustering debate. But without millions of dollars and much more support, I really can't see it moving much farther.

Companies such as Sony are only interested on their return on investment and the idea of Linux becoming a strong commercial proposition is still very much anathema to the Linux community, if last week's audience at the Great Linux Debate were a strong measure of opinion.

There's no doubt that Linux is making remarkable progress and attracting powerful support at the enterprise level, but we are resistant to the idea of arcane operating systems. If you can remember back far enough, you'll understand why Microsoft's DOS defeated the old CPM OS and changed the world.

What I believe we'll see next is more consolidation in the industry. It always happens and Linux will be no different now the bigger boys have entered the game. The panel at the Great Linux Debate spoke bravely about Linux United but in my own mind, it was very much "Meerkats are Us" - if you happened to watch that wildlife documentary where the cute and noisy meerkats were whittled away by larger predators, you'll know what I mean.

Linux might be ready for PlayStation 2, but sadly I don't believe PlayStation 2 or the X-Box, come to that, is ready for Linux. The PC is still too powerful and nobody is really prepared to risk hundred of millions in an effort to grab market share away from Microsoft in the consumer space.

Maybe we'll have to wait for PlayStation 3 before Microsoft starts to worry too much about penguins invading the home computer space.


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Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores .

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This was first published in October 2002

 

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