Linux on the Desktop - Dead Again?
Apr 2, 2012 5:00 AM PT
Well it's been a tempestuous week here in the Linux blogosphere, thanks largely to a violent brawl that broke out unexpectedly down at the Broken Windows Lounge.
It all started with a blog post over at PCWorld last weekend on a topic that might sound familiar.
Any guesses? Yes, that's right: "Why Linux Is Dead on the Desktop" was its name, and a collective groan could be heard in blogobars across the land as soon as it appeared on the horizon.
It's baaa-aack! Linux fans everywhere were forced to put down their beers and take up arms once again.
Shots Were Exchanged
Bottom line? Dark and stormy days in Linux land. Linux Girl hunkered down on her favorite barstool and tried to record some of what was being said.
'It's Like Grandma's Cookies'
"Of course Linux in the COMMERCIAL DESKTOP is a failure, because Linux is not commercial," opined Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol, for example. "It's like grandma's cookies -- they can't compete with, say, Nabisco. It's a totally wrong assumption, and he could not be wronger."
Ebersol was also intrigued by the timing of the attacks.
"Those articles proclaiming Linux dead always surface near to a winblow$ launch," he pointed out. "Funny, eh?"
'Enough With the Nonsense!'
Indeed, "enough with the '1 percent' nonsense!" exclaimed blogger Robert Pogson, pointing to Net Applications' statistics for California, for San Francisco "Designated Market Area," and for Sunnyvale, California.
"They show huge percentages in a region of 37 million people, and it's a lie because the source of that 'share' is Google, using GNU/Linux desktops as a business," he explained. "That's right, those high share numbers for that other OS result from business usage of that other OS.
"Net Applications must be sampling during office hours or from company domains," he added. "Business is locked in by M$'s office suite, and other business-centric software made only for that other OS."
In actual usage, "you will find lots of users in government, education and in the home in Brazil, Russia, India and China, where governments actually use GNU/Linux, promote usage, and are not 'partners' of Net Applications," Pogson pointed out. "You can find GNU/Linux is popular in Malaysia and Europe as well."
Linux shouldn't be pronounced dead "until the final battle for retail space is lost," Pogson concluded. "Only a few years ago it was rare to find an OEM selling GNU/Linux and even more rare to find a retailer selling GNU/Linux. That has changed. GNU/Linux is alive and well on the desktop."
'A Worldwide Phenomenon'
Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien took a similar view.
"I think I have personally resigned from the club of people whose self-worth depends on their OS being dominant," O'Brien told Linux Girl. "Linux will be there for everyone who wants it, and that is fine for me, since I want it."
As for the market share statistics, "my impression is that they solely measure OS market share in the U.S., where no one ever got fired for buying Microsoft," he added. "Linux is a worldwide phenomenon, and I think usage is much higher outside the U.S. than it is here."
Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack suggested some alternate wording.
"I wouldn't say 'dead' so much as 'a growing niche,'" Mack told Linux Girl.
"Right now the apps are just not there yet for some tasks, so for many (most?) people, there are no good reasons to switch," Mack mused. "On the other hand, when all of the tools are there, Linux is a good option -- it is easy to set up, secure by design and very flexible."
In fact, "some governments have just implemented plans to switch their desktops over, such as Iceland and the Spanish state of Extremadora, so not only is it still growing, it will grow in the future as well," he added.
"Given the recent rash of stories about corporate desktop Linux, I just don't see it myself," Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza opined.
"I just installed Android (-x86 4.0rc1) on my laptop," he noted. "I hope that one day enough of its kernel gets merged with the mainline that I can reasonably run it on my desktop. So far it seems fairly usable with mouse and keyboard."
As long as Windows "effectively comes with your PC for free, there's no particular reason why Linux should ever conquer Windows on the desktop at this rate, which is presumably why OEM copies of Windows are still extremely inexpensive," Espinoza added. "Clearly, Linux on the desktop is not dead, but it is primarily in business."
'Two Huge Issues'
Slashdot blogger yagu had some thoughts about that.
"There are two huge issues holding Desktop Linux back: corporate profitability and killer apps," yagu asserted.
"Companies make a fortune off of Linux in the back rooms, where servers are doing all the heavy lifting and the user demographic is highly technical," yagu explained. "Companies rely on Linux for heavy processing because, in the vernacular of Apple, 'it just works!' There are no prohibitive learning curves for this user base -- there's a line of geeks just waiting to get their hands on Linux servers."
Desktop Linux, however, "offers no such benefit," he opined. "Yes, it's free, but companies face the re-training costs and rollout issues and see no return on investment. And there's always at least one killer app that absolutely must be available but is not available for Linux.
"I can make a case that the return on investment is worthwhile, but nudging an entire company off Windows is daunting at best," he added. "Logic doesn't apply."
'Every Year They've Been Wrong'
Nevertheless, "Desktop Linux thrives in spite of its disadvantaged position," yagu pointed out. "It's good enough to maintain and grow a loyal base."
That's not likely to change, "but until Microsoft is rendered completely irrelevant (think browser-based computing), Desktop Linux will stay a minor player," he predicted.
In the meantime, "the naysayers have been claiming the death of Desktop Linux every year, and every year they've been wrong," he concluded.
'Things Don't Get Any Better'
Slashdot blogger hairyfeet wasn't so sure.
"Is Linux dead? Well, it'd have to have been alive at one point to be dead, and I'd argue that frankly it has never gotten above a niche hobbyist OS on the desktop, no different than BSD or Haiku," hairyfeet asserted.
"I'd say the bigger question, the one nobody seems to be willing to really ask, is 'Why? Why would they rather steal the competitor's product than take Linux for free?'" he suggested. "I believe I can answer that: It's because nobody listens to the users."
After all, "if Apple or Microsoft don't listen to users, their sales go down, they lose share and money, so they have an incentive to listen," hairyfeet said. "The devs in Linux answer to NOBODY but their own itch-scratching, so things simply don't get any better."
'There Is No Single Desktop Market'
That view was far from unanimous, however.
"Desktop Linux is not dead," Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told Linux Girl. "I have argued repeatedly that it is wrong to talk about desktop Linux because there is no single desktop market -- instead, there is a series of desktop markets."
As Linux "becomes more capable in those markets where it is currently entrenched, it will branch out into other markets," he explained. "This process is likely to be slow, but it is happening now.
"I think the big concern right now is that the Linux desktop experience has gone from fractured to quickly changing," Travers concluded. "I think this lack of stability is a problem for users, and so this is something that distro maintainers need to be especially sensitive about."
'Just Random Noise'
According to those, "in July of 2011, 1.51 percent of non-mobile users were using linux," she noted. "That dropped to a low of 1.27 percent in September before climbing back to 1.52 percent in February."
So, "an increase of 0.01 percent (one part in 10,000) over 7 months, given the wide swings month-to-month, is just random noise," she asserted.
'None Too Shabby'
It also "tends to over-estimate the percentage of linux desktop users, since the tens of millions of Windows gaming rigs outnumber linux desktops, and most of those gamers are not going to spend much time on Wikipedia," she suggested. "The same is true for the hundreds of millions of Windows machines in offices around the world. Also not represented in the logs were computers in China."
Looking at the big picture, "maybe it's not time to put desktop Linux in a red shirt and have Dr. McCoy pronounce, 'He's dead, Jim,' but he's not going anywhere, either," Hudson mused.
"Tux will have to be content with being No. 1 in supercomputers, being strong in servers and embedded systems, and being the underpinnings of the No. 2 phone OS," she concluded. "Looked at that way, it's none too shabby, and anything else is just gravy."