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 ;-) .
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.