2011: The Year of the Linux Desktop

2011 is the Year of the Linux Desktop

Hah! Not really.  I’ve been reading two posts, the first by Robert Strohmeyer, the second by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.  Both raise arguments about Linux on the Desktop and both point to mobile computing as being the future.

Ever since Android has come out I have assumed the growth path of Linux (and the ultimate strategy of Google) will be Android on phones -> Android on desktops.  My take on the Netbook episode is that, where customers returned Linux netbooks they returned them because they were unfamiliar.  With Android now in everyone’s pocket they won’t bat an eyelid at Android powered tablets (which I doubt were in Google’s game plan, but given that Android is open, others are  now able to fill that void), then Android netbooks and laptops and finally desktops.  With penetration of Android will come mobile developers and with them will come a large application suite.  Those applications will automatically run on an Android desktop.

On the mobile side of the world, I can’t see a mobile device replacing my desktop anytime soon.  However I wouldn’t be averse to a high level of integration between my mobile device and my desktop.   Indeed, as a user, and particularly as an IT Manager, I will probably see the benefit of having a consistent user interface across all my devices.  For this to happen either my mobile device could become Windows or my desktop could become Android.   I think the latter will be the easier transition, given that it is easier to move from an interface designed to cope with device limitations to a more capable device than to move in the other direction.    It is for this reason that I think it’s too early to write off Linux on the Desktop (LotD for Dohn Joe’s benefit ;-) [1].

The LotD Play is not one which anyone is used to.  There is no company betting it as a make or break decision, and even if there is (Canonical?), if they are broken, they are just part of the ecosystem, others will take their place.  That is to say, there is no lynchpin in the LotD ecosystem, without which it will fail.  This is what makes it different to the other operating system plays which have been out there.  If the guiding company couldn’t make its profit targets or satisfy its shareholders/investors/bank managers, it was curtains for the company, and by extension the technology.  Not so  LotD.  Like Obi Wan, should Vader strike it down, it will only become more powerful than he can possibly imagine (Linux on netbooks, for example, has become Android on phones, and need anyone forget the SCO debacle?).   If any LotD player falters others can take their place.  Moreover, they can take the benefit of the work already done and do not have to reinvent the wheel.

Finally, I think that another of the main difficulties faced by LotD is the lack of a level playing field.  The world over, legislatures (and history will judge them harshly for this) have been happy to pass laws which make people fearful of sharing.  Equally, governments have been particularly biased against open source offerings, although that bias is typically implicit in that they fail to implement open standards, or require open source to work within a procurement framework designed for closed source acquisitions.  Despite these obstacles the ecosystem which has the Linux kernel at its center continues to grow.  Governments are slowly removing bias from their procurement practices (some as a result of the pain of the GFC), and more and more agencies are independently implementing open source solutions.   LotD is the logical endpoint.

As I have argued elsewhere, I think there is a shift in the undercurrent which is pushing computing towards LotD.  I wouldn’t write it off now.  I wouldn’t write it off ever.

[Update (1 Nov): Overheard in a coffee shop this morning:

P1 (on phone, but to P2): What’s it called?

P2 (Beside P1): “HCC Desire”

P1 (to caller): “HCC Desire.  H… C… C…”

P2 (getting HTC Desire out of pocket): “Oh, H Tee C”

P1 (to caller): “Sorry, H Tee C – T for Tom.  It’s like an iPhone only better.  Can you get one? Ta.”


1. Although after watching 10 years of such predictions I am wary of saying it will happen in the immediate future.


11 Responses to “2011: The Year of the Linux Desktop”

  1. 1 Dohn Joe 1 November 2010 at 3:30 am

    Ha…for most of this article I thought LotD was “Lords of the Dead” referring to those declaring Linux on the Desktop as dead! Clarity, my friend, CLARITY!

  2. 2 twitter 1 November 2010 at 6:13 am

    If you were using gnu/linux as a desktop, you would know that you already have a great deal of integration between Google and your desktop. Most of the integration takes place through your browser, because Google designed things that way. Imap takes care of email and you might be able to sync up other PIM stuff, but I would not know because I’m still using a Palm device and Kpilot to keep my notes private. Microsoft has some obnoxious patents about syncing things with “the cloud” but I’m not seeing the difficulty of sync with any OS but Windows. I’ve been an exclusive gnu/linux user for more than a decade.

    There is a long list of big companies that moved to gnu/linux. Chrysler, Lowes and others were named in the infamous SCO lawsuits. It’s so easy to do that you don’t really need any company to support the effort. In the time ordinarily devoted to Windows headaches, an IT group can support about five times as many gnu/linux users.

  3. 3 Landy DeField 1 November 2010 at 8:34 am

    All that needs happen for Linux to dominate desktop computers for consumers is to build a multiple platform distro that mirrors the user experience of Android and that uses google tools for mail, documents etc. The learning curve is gone and the geek factor is eleminated. Done! If only it were as simple as it sounds. ;)

  4. 5 Antero 1 November 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Funny that when Statscounter and Net Application are telling that there are 3-4 times more Mac-computers in Finland than Linux-computers. But many finns have told me that numbers of visitors of their websites/blogsites are very different. They have told me that it looks like there are about 20-40% more Linux-visitors than Mac-visitors. There sites haven’t been any pc/geek/software, rather social media, sport, entertainment, hobbies.

    What about my website?

    Here are the current results (since april 2010) (4876 visitors)

    Windows 83,9%
    Linux 7,7%
    Mac 5,7%
    unknown 2,7%
    FreeBSD 0,02%

    98,2% of visitors coming from Finland

  5. 6 django 1 November 2010 at 7:56 pm

    I don’t believe it….

    This is the same reasoning as to why linux would succeed on the Netbook market. And we know how well that went.

    What is missing from your analysis is……the competition. Especially Microsoft won’t sit still and let this “just happen”. Also Apple will fight with everything they have.

    So, in my view, linux will always be a niche market. I’m a happy linux desktop user (think that Linux Mint is the greatest OS ever build) but I’m struggling to sell this idea to friends and family who don’t want to spend too much money on Microsoft’s offerings but refuse to learn new tricks to be productive on linux.

    So no, I don’t buy it.

    Which is sad, but realistic (although I hope it will succeed, of course)

  6. 7 Dirk 1 November 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Think there are 2 desktops, at home and at work. And to laptops for that matter. A different strategy may be needed for both cases.

  7. 8 Dirk 1 November 2010 at 10:14 pm

    The Android story is for me also a role model. Google did show it was possible to use open source and the Unix kernel to produce a highly competitive product.

    This model apparently needs at least the following
    – You need quite a big ICT company to do that for the moment. Even if open products developed elsewhere are used.
    – You need a more protected part to allow company’s to make a competitive difference.
    – We all use Linux probably more than any other OS, but mostly invisible in lot of devices. Here a product with the Linux kernel had a face on it’s own. But it was not the open source or Linux labels that where used for marketing.

    Probably a somewhat smaller company could do something similar on an other market, perhaps the desktop. But without that I think it would work now.

    The community will have to fight to keep that protected part small, to reintegrate all common functions in the open part. If the protected part becomes to big, the advantage of open code for everybody would slowly cease to exist.

    Some day labels as open source and Linux may be strong selling arguments. For the moment I don’t think this is the case or needed.

  8. 9 Dirk 1 November 2010 at 10:50 pm

    My impression is that most distributions are not really aimed at the non technical home user. It is not realistic that he has to read more than 2 multi-page treats in case of problems. For LotD to be widely spread the distribution has either to have very little problems with all different kinds of soft and hardware combination’s or has to solve that support problem.

    I see it as an chicken and egg problem. If a market share of let’s say 7% would be realized, problems would get solved under the pressure of demand.

    The MS monopoly would stop to be an argument in itself. Products would not be measured on if they do exactly the same as MS products. File formats would no longer be an argument. The monopolist should more and more consider to be compatible itself.

    Hardware companies would perhaps understand they don’t have necessarily to create/maintain a driver. But they should make documentation available and perhaps have some support desk having a database with problems and more important solutions with the different versions of the open source products.

    Some solution for the support problem would be found. Probably not by asking the end-user to perform text searches on the internet. Maybe a website giving solutions would be used. Perhaps a site that asks questions, asks do to some tests and ends up with a (number of) solutions to try. Data themselves retrieved from bug and support fora by specialists. Or maybe a system that collects over the internet many settings and environment data from installed systems and that could suggest improvements by merely using statistics. Or maybe a really intelligent solution. :-) But I think it would be found.

  1. 1 Tweets that mention 2011: The Year of the Linux Desktop « Brendan Scott’s Weblog -- Topsy.com Trackback on 28 October 2010 at 8:09 pm
  2. 2 Links 29/10/2010: ‘The Year of the Linux Desktop’ Again, China Has Biggest Computer (Runs GNU/Linux), Wine 1.3.6, Sub-notebooks Around | Techrights Trackback on 30 October 2010 at 10:37 pm

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