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The Next New Year of Linux on the Desktop: 2011?

By Katherine Noyes
Dec 16, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Those of us who have been part of the FOSS community for more than, oh, say 10 minutes, are no doubt already familiar with the recurring "Year of Linux on the Desktop" debate.

The Next New Year of Linux on the Desktop: 2011?

It's a topic that comes up again and again in the Linux blogosphere, typically fueled by some new success or promising advance in our favorite desktop operating system.

The question -- or questions, really -- center on whether Linux has "arrived" on the desktop already, whether it's on the verge of doing so, whether it might possibility get there at some point in the undefined future, and so on. You get the idea.

Well, guess what? It's baaa-ack.

'It's Worth Asking Again'

Yes, the "Year of Linux on the Desktop" debate has resurfaced once again, and just in time for the holidays.

"OK, so it's a bit of a clichéd question," the TuxRadar team began in describing their Open Ballot last week. "But with the awesome developments that have taken place in the Linux world over the last year, it's worth asking again. Will 2011 -- finally -- be the year that Linux makes serious inroads into the desktop space?

"Are all the pieces in place to mount a major assault on Microsoft and Apple?" TuxRadar continued. "Or are we barking up the wrong tree, and we should be looking to the mobile space with Android and Chrome OS for Linux's future?"

It's an oldie but a goodie, and scores of FOSS bloggers were game to play it again.

'It's Already Here!'

"I am quite pessimistic on that question," wrote Tobi in the TuxRadar comments, for example. "I think Vista gave us the biggest opportunity and we completely failed to bring Desktop Linux to the mass market. It looked for a while as if Ubuntu would be able to change that, but the whole Unity idea makes it look more like the poor man's OSX.

Instead, "2011 will be the year of Linux in the mobile space," Tobi predicted.

Alternatively: "Could be IF one or more important hardware provider(s) will choose a distribution as default OS on a 'iPAD killer' or on a Walmart best buy," wrote Cip.

Then again: "It's already here!" wrote Ram.

'The Current Battle Will Be Over Office'

Now, Linux Girl is no stranger to this debate, having covered it more times by now than she can remember.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of the upcoming auld lang syne and all that, she took to the blogosphere's Broken Windows Lounge for a little liquid lubrication to help the conversation along.

"I don't think there will ever be a year of the Linux desktop," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl over a fresh Tequila Tux Twist. "I suspect that movement will come in small stages as more Linux apps start to meet the needs of more users and businesses.

"I'm also willing to bet that the current battle will be over Office, and we will only gain more users as the free office alternatives become more competitive with MS Office," Mack added.

Indeed, for all those who missed it, Redmond may well be thinking along similar lines, Linux Girl can't help but point out.

'The Breakthrough Was 2009'

Blogger Robert Pogson had a different view.

"2011 does promise great progress for GNU/Linux in all areas, but I believe the breakthrough was 2009," Pogson explained. "All the ducks were in a row: OEMs were doing it, retailers were doing it and many millions of new users developed. Everyone on the planet who was connected heard of GNU/Linux and the FUD was faded and full of holes."

Microsoft even "paid OEMs to stifle small, cheap computers so the progress slowed, but the machines were out there and GNU/Linux could not be put back in the bottle," he added.

By now, "everyone knows GNU/Linux can do the job because they have seen netbooks and smart-thingies running all over the planet," Pogson asserted. "No one is avoiding machines because they do not run that other OS except OEMs and retailers, but they all see the growth in BRIC countries and with ARM and Android, so that resistance has crumbled."

'It Just Has To Work'

We haven't seen The Year so far, but "you might see some inroads two years from now thanks to Canonical," Slashdot blogger hairyfeet suggested.

Specifically, "I'm still hoping they will fork the kernel away from linus and the other server devs and give us a stable hardware ABI, which has been long enjoyed by BSD, OSX, Solaris, Windows, etc," hairyfeet explained. "If they do that, so drivers 'just work' along with Unity and Wayland, finally making a true user-friendly Linux? Yeah, then it's got a shot maybe."

To get Linux on every shelf, "think iOS, think Windows, think 'toaster with a screen,'" hairyfeet advised. "A good 99.99995% of the world does not want to do ANYTHING with their PC/laptop/mobile device other than what THEY want to do. That's it, no reading man pages, no CLI, no trawling forums -- it just has to work and KEEP working."

'Less Relevant Every Year'

Of course, in the long run, it's the mobile arena that will really matter, noted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

"The desktop is becoming less relevant every year," she explained, and smartphones are expected to outsell PCs in 2014. "It's a safe bet that they won't be running Windows Phone 7.

"Now throw in a new generation of tablet computers, many of which can't run Windows (unsupported cpu or Windows is too power-hungry to get decent battery life), and the Windows desktop is revealed for what it really is: a legacy market," Hudson asserted.

"Microsoft has no choice but to focus on the desktop, because that's where Microsoft Office -- their one consistent milch cow -- continues to dominate," she explained.

'The Linux Decade'

The year of the Linux desktop won't be 2011, but "a decade from now it's a very different story," Hudson predicted.

"As more people are exposed to linux on more smartphones and tablets, the same reasons to consolidate with one OS -- which previously worked in Microsoft's favor -- are going to tilt sharply the other way," Hudson concluded. "History has a habit of repeating itself, and Microsoft has built up a large karma debt over the years."

What's coming, then, is "the Linux Decade," she added. "Microsoft Office 2020 for Linux, anyone?"

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