Linux, largely thanks to Google Android, has already made progress that way in smartphones. Indeed, even hardcore iPhone users are now thinking about switching to Android phones. There's also a wave of Linux-powered tablets and would-be iPad rivals on their way. But they're not here yet.
While I think that these new Linux devices will do well, I also think they need to be more than just tablets that are cheaper and more open than iPads. As Jim Zemlin, the head of the Linux Foundation, wrote in BusinessWeek, "It's important that open-source products add more value for users than simply being free. Open-source software also needs to be fabulous."
Zemlin went on to write, "Providing a good user experience isn't paramount under the white lights of the data center. In consumer electronics, it's a different story. Mobile Linux vendors must increase their technical investments by working on key open-source projects to make every component used in Linux devices benefit the user experience. That includes making devices boot up faster, connect better, and display graphics more smoothly."
That's why I'm encouraged by such moves as Google's Android team working more closely with the mainstream Linux developers. I'm also really pleased to see that Canonical, the company that makes Ubuntu Linux possible, is now working on enabling touch in Ubuntu, which would make it ideal for tablets.
If any Linux company comes close to appreciating Apple's appeal to average users with its focus on making the interface a pleasure to use, it's Canonical. After all, it was Canonical's founder and Ubuntu's guiding light, Mark Shuttleworth, who said Ubuntu's goal was to deliver "a user experience that can compete with Apple in two years."
Shuttleworth was talking about the desktop. Today, it's all about competing on devices. The day of the PC is fading into the afternoon. With Apple making enemies of one-time partners and closing its software circle ever tighter, now is the time for Linux not only to push forward with its historical advantages of lower prices and open software and standards, but to show the world that Linux devices can be every bit as attractive and user-friendly as its Apple competition.