Porting Linux Apps To Windows

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I was reading the Road to KDE 4 series on http://dot.kde.org/ this week and it got me thinking about porting native Linux apps to other operating systems like Windows and OS X, and whether or not it's a good thing. The answer depends on who you are and what your objective is, but overall I think it's a positive. Here's why.

Benefits

  • Access to favorite apps even when it's not possible to use Linux
  • Facilitates eventual migration to Linux

Let's face it, many of us still have to use Windows for one reason of another, even if we prefer Linux. Wouldn't it be nice to still use the same programs despite a change in OS? Getting to use Konqueror instead of Windows Explorer and Amarok instead of Windows Media Player both sound really good to me.

And what about those people who aren't familiar with Linux already? Many Windows users list not having the same apps they are already used to as a key reason for favoring Windows, and not considering Linux. Major cross platform programs like Firefox, OpenOffice.org, and the GIMP can get users started with free software and slowly unshackle them from their Windows dependance, but that still leaves a large gap where good cross platform options don't exist.

Cross platform support can have other benefits to. For many years now Internet Explorer has dominated the web browser world, and as a result numerous websites were designed to only work with it. Fortunately, the success of Firefox is starting to change that, but you can be sure that it wouldn't be happening if Firefox was Linux only. If it was the user base would be too small for the general public to even notice.

Negatives

  • Takes effort away from work on the Linux version
  • Violates free software ideals by supporting a non-free OS

While the first negative is definitely a strong argument, one of the great facets of free and open source software is that the developers get to choose what they want to work on. Because of this it doesn't matter what I think is more valuable, it only matters what each individual contributer thinks is the best use of his or her time. And it's not necessarily a 1:1 tradeoff in progress either. A developer might be more motivated to get a favored application working on an alternative operating system than they are making minor improvements to a program that already works well in Linux.

The second negative is one that's hard to argue with and really comes down to how stringently you adhere to believing that all software should be free. My guess is that a minority of users fall into this category and that most value free software, but take a more pragmatic view and believe that it's not for everyone.

Conclusion

It would be great if this wasn't even an issue and I could run my Linux apps only on Linux and not worry about other operating systems. Unfortunately, life isn't that simple. At work I don't get a choice in which operating system to use and even though I can't always have access to the Linux goodness I desire, having access to some of my favorite apps would really help me out.

Cross platform support isn't a realistic or desired solution for every project, but if there are developers motivated to do the work, we shouldn't discourage them. We should support them.

What do you think? Vote in the poll and add your comments to let everyone where you stand and answer the question: Is it beneficial for Linux apps be ported to Windows?