My fellow ZDNet blogger, David Berlind, has a great post titled The skinny on desktop Linux pros, cons and adoption where he does a good job of spelling out what is hindering Linux as a widely accepted solution and what the future for Linux holds. As David notes, there is a groundswell of Linux adoption across the world, but what is really keeping Linux from the mainstream is the fact that it doesn't support the DRMed media that the world has become accustomed to.
If Adobe threw its full weight behind Linux, it could make the operating system relevant on the desktopDavid's post is rather timely because I was just talking with someone today about Adobe software on Linux. I have made no secret that I think Adobe has a lot of potential if they embrace Linux. However David brings up the Digital Rights Management (DRM) issue which is where I think Adobe and Linux users should really be cooperating. David is absolutely correct when he says that one of the major shortcomings of Linux is its inability to handle multimedia. Scoble is also correct when he says that Linux has horrible, horrible fonts. These are two things that Flash could improve immensely if Linux users bought into Adobe's platform.
Let me be clear. If Adobe threw its full weight behind Linux, it could make the operating system relevant on the desktop. I realize the boldness of the statement, but I'm willing to explain. I want to also be clear that at this stage in the game, it makes no sense for Microsoft to support Linux. There aren't enough users, Linux is still a threat, and despite the value in a cross-platform solution, it doesn't jive with Microsoft's strategy. Now, Adobe is a different story, but there are some hurdles they need to overcome.
The first is DRM. Right now Flash has no DRM. This is both very good, and very bad. It is good because most DRM solutions are implemented very badly. It is a pain to users, especially ones that just want to own the content they pay for. It is bad because the Flash platform has a lot of potential when it comes to multimedia. Video, Audio, everything just works on Flash, regardless of the platform. Think about what iTunes is. It's a music store and a music player. Why couldn't that be implemented in Flash? Why couldn't Flash have a DRM system that allowed you to buy music or video, play it via the Flash Player, on any device you own that runs Flash. Windows? Mac? Linux? PSP? Doesn't matter, as long as it runs Flash, the DRM works and your stuff plays. If Adobe were to implement DRM well, then instantly Linux has a DRM solution that can handle all types of media.
Linux has some very solid tools, but they are built by geeks, for geeks. That won't fly with the mainstream.Flash is all about providing experiences. It is a great RIA tool because you can build very rich applications that run anywhere. Linux has some very solid tools, but they are built by geeks, for geeks. That won't fly with the mainstream. Scoble speaks for a lot of people when he says "What keeps me from using Linux? Three things: readability. Fonts. Aesthetics." With Flash, you can build applications that give you the same type of experience you would have on a Mac, but it runs everywhere. You aren't bound by the operating system you use because the core experience lies within the applications. With Flash (and DRM) the designers and developers who work so hard have a way to monetize their work. Those who want to give it away for free in true Web 2.0 spirit are more than able to.
Again, I realize that all of these things take time, and to be blunt, throwing a lot of support at Linux isn't in Adobe's best business interest right now. There is a lot of risk for very little definitive gain. But they are making sure to bring Flash Player 9 to Linux, and that's the first step. If they can solve the DRM problem, and make sure that is available for Linux, then little by little Linux gets a platform that behaves like the rest of the world. If pushing Linux adoption is important to the community, then Linux needs to embrace Flash. If they do, then Adobe can help them.