A Visit from the Ghost of Linux Future

Industry pundits may typically favor the start of a new year for making long-term predictions, but here in the Linux blogosphere — where the dog days of summer have us effectively trapped in a small set of heavily air-conditioned bars and saloons — we like August.

When else, after all, are the hours so plentiful or the tempers so hot?

That, indeed, may be why TuxRadar’s recent Open Ballot — entitled, “What will Linux look like in 10 years?” — was met with such glee.

At last, a meaty topic that can help us while away the time until the mercury sees fit to dip below 100 again!

‘What Sort of OS Will It Be?’

To wit: “We want you to tell us: how do you think Linux will look, one decade from now?” the TuxRadar mavens asked. “We don’t mean in a cosmetic sense (although you’re free to comment on that if you want). But rather, what sort of OS will it be, and how will most people be using it?

“For instance, you might predict that the desktop wars will die out and most users will be running little more than a browser on the kernel,” TuxRadar explained. “Maybe via Android it’ll morph into a free alternative to iOS.”

Readers on the site had no shortage of ideas.

‘People Won’t Talk About It’

“It will look like a cross between Android and MacOS,” suggested heiowge on TuxRadar, for example. “Probably. Unfortunately.”

Alternatively, “It will look however I want it to look,” offered Prolific Puffin. “This is LINUX. That is the entire point of it.”

Then again: “Because it will underlie most computing applications in the world, people won’t talk about it — just the applications that run on top of it,” predicted John. “Whether you are a FOSS coder or a proprietary, you will differentiate yourself by what the user sees, not what is under the hood.”

And, for some comic relief: “I believe they will still be waiting for the year of the desktop,” quipped Hamster.

‘GPLv3 Has No Place in Their Playpen’

The topic had just barely made it across the wires and into the blogosphere when the first frosty mug was slammed down decisively on the ring-stained surface of the Punchy Penguin’s bar. The first local Linux blogger had awoken, and a feisty debate was about to begin.

“What will Linux look like in 2021? That answer is simple…Android!” began Slashdot blogger hairyfeet. “The future is mobile, and Google has already said GPLv3 has no place in their playpen.”

Google also has “the money and the moxie to pull it off by giving their product away for free,” hairyfeet added.

‘A Diverse Set of Devices’

“Linux won’t look like anything,” opined Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. “It will be powering lots of different devices with many different user interfaces, from touchscreen devices to conventional laptops and desktops.”

GUIs for Linux, in fact, “will stop trying to be everything to everybody and start to specialize,” Travers asserted.

“I would predict these trends based on the fact that a larger community of users working with a more diverse set of devices will be better able to create specialized interfaces for them,” he concluded.

‘The Problem Was Not the OS’

Roberto Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, looked to the past for insight.

“In trying to figure out where the Linux desktop will be in 10 years, I have to look at why it has not gotten where it could have been by now in the past decade,” Lim told Linux Girl.

“I think the Linux OS pretty much became ready for the average user way back in 2003 or 2004,” he explained. “The problem was not the OS, but the applications — people were just too used to IE and MS Office, and similar was not good enough.”

‘Just an App Launcher’

Indeed, for the typical home and business user, “the OS is just an app launcher,” Lim added.

If Office and Photoshop had been made available for Linux, in fact, “I think things could be very different today,” he suggested.

In any case, “the main benefit to Linux from the rise of iOS and Android is that people realize there are good apps outside of MS Office and Adobe Photoshop and other Windows software,” Lim said. “Windows’ market domination is at its greatest risk ever, and this is where Linux should focus.”

‘Android on a Laptop’

Linux, then, should not try to compete for “those who are invested into Windows or Mac OS, but the new young generation of smartphone users who are more open to using ‘alternative’ software, since they grew up on smartphones using Document To Go or PicSay,” Lim recommended.

“I see Linux going into a smaller, simpler OS, with a good base of apps integrated to the web,” he predicted. “The standard for ease of use won’t be how close it is to MS Windows and Office, but how similar it is to the iPhone or Android.”

The home desktop is “soon to be extinct,” Lim concluded. “So, Linux in a decade: ‘Android’ on a laptop. Somewhere between Chrome OS and Windows.”

‘It’s the Right Way to Do IT’

Finally, blogger Robert Pogson took an even higher-level view.

“2021 will be another great year for GNU/Linux,” Pogson began. “I expect it will have 1/N share of everything in IT, where N is the number of choices of OS.”

Linux, in fact, “may well have a much larger share, as we have MeeGo, Android/Linux and who knows how many other operating systems built on the Linux kernel,” he pointed out. “Linux will be the core of many because it supports so much hardware.”

Windows, meanwhile, “may still have a share of IT,” but primarily just “from those lacking imagination or utterly locked-in to M$,” Pogson predicted.

“Whether money or malware dictates choices in IT remains to be seen, but freedom to examine, modify, copy and distribute the code will keep FLOSS around forever,” he concluded. “It’s the right way to do IT.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.


  • I most studiously avoid most of this garbage. I regard punditry just below law in expectation of honesty or competence.

    Me, I got a business to run, and I use linux to do it. been doin that a long, long time.

    1. There is Linux, and there are distros. quit mixin em up.

    2. Linux is easy to embed. piles of distros destined for embedding use Linux.

    3. Linux can support interaction. lots of kinds of interaction. from warning lights and reset switches, to Kitchen Sink window Managers, to all manner of ‘Experiences’ like KDE/XBMC and the like.

    4. the ‘thinnest’ UI is also the ‘thickest’ in terms of rigor, and reliability.

    if all you got is a power switch to interact with, it damn better be all you need. The distro is supposed to take care of the rest.

    The more choices you got in managing the interaction, the more opportunity you got for selecting a lethal combination.

    5. deep in the bowels of the linux promise, is distributed processing. there are better kernels to use in a toaster. Until that toaster wants to tweet about the bagels.

    We got a whole generation here, ignorant of the fact that Unix was designed to be a switch.

    And Linux, by it’s very nature, picked up that focus.

    6. Because of this, Linux based distros are a good, if not the best OS for semi-embedded apps.

    Like Media servers, Phones, and the like.

    Android is NOT a desktop. nor is Meego, or WebOS.

    all of these are expected to at least reset to a known state, and recover from all fault. they are a new breed. hybrid, semi-embedded.

    They do however, share one requirement Embedded Distros/Apps DO NOT CRASH.

    If it crashes, ever, it’s not embedded, or its embedded badly.

    Very few other kernels can do that. run like an appliance, and communicate at the same time.

    Ya, mention IOS and RTOS. see where that gets ya.

    I could mention os9000 or WinCE too.

    Linux based distros run the net, the Whole net. that’s has already happened. Old news.

    Distros own Scientific, and Supercomputing. Thats already happened.

    Distros own the Cloud. That’s already happened.

    Nobody is gonna slow down Hadoop. Not even Oracle.

    the next step from mapreduce is not coming from Apple.

    The commonality in all of this, is that an end user doesn’t need manuals. embedded distros, are intuitive and unbreakable. the manual can be 3 pages.

    Huge infrastructures are run by the Pros, and they got no problem with hiring tech writers.

    Nobody seems to want to pay any attention to the spectrum of solutions we see that lie between the thinnest client. What? mebe RDP/RFB/X/TCP-HTTP on a chip? and next up(handheld/mobile UI devices), The middle ground, (Personal PCs) and the Thickest.(High Performance Workstations).

    The simple question, is "where does the heavy lifting happen? Cloud storage? remote rendering?

    remote Authentication? or,

    Balls out Local graphics, High throughput local storage?

    PCs/Workstation/desktops/setops are never goin away. there will always be content manipulation, and interaction that has to happen within inches of the output device.

    We will find that the vast majority of interactions that carry money, and revenue streams will come from small form factor, low function devices. Devices that DON"T BREAK.

    Maybe that’s what confuses the lightweights. They can’t separate affiliate streams from display devices.

    However, 3D animation ain’t never gonna happen on a smartphone. I may happen in an Immersion room instead of on a monitor, but it’s still gonna need heaps of local performance.

    Bandwidth < demand. Natural law.

    Meanwhile, understand that a Desk environment requires things that no current Linux based distro provides. Stability, Documentation, and support.

    You don’t let programmers design products.

    Until Any and All Linux distro providers/communities/foundations understand and address that effectively, Desktops will be owned by organizations that do it now.

    It’s simple, always has been. A ‘feature’ is useless, until you can tell somebody how to use it in language they can absorb.

    How much of the effort put into linux based desktop environments has been wasted simply because there is not so much as a man page, let alone a manual, let alone a wizard.

    If the supporters behind Gnome/KDE/LXDE/Meego/Android/ad nauseam, would get the backbone to refuse to release an App until the manual had 4 revisions, then Big Box vendors, providers, and manufacturers could/would offer service desk support right along with boxed Win7 apps.

    But, when the KDE team goes off on a vision quest, and leaves rest of the planet stupified,

    Or, the GTK crew gets stuck between a rock and a big rock with Gnome <> Unity we just get more of the same.

    If Apple can do it on top of NetBSD, then Redhat/Suse/Ubuntu/ cum CentOS/Opensuse/Meego

    can do it over linux.

    If contributors would finish experiments before they go upstream…..

    The Job ain’t done till the paperwork is in.

    Linux can do what the others cannot. It can be the key to putting the right part of, the right experience, in the right place, on the right device, at the right time.

    Witness how Wayland/Gallium will run right beside X. How HTML5/WebGL gets you to the local GPU(s). Local when you can, remote when you can’t.

    This is where Linux will break out, If ever.

    Until then, We get to speculate on whether Nvidia will open its drivers for Tegra, or ATI for Fusion under android, or meego, or the the next microlinux distro.

    Anybody wanna bet that Nokia ever gives away QT?

    Anybody wanna bet that enough of FGLRX moves to userspace to guarantee that Flash can’t crash the keyboard?

    Anybody wanna bet that Fedora gets a knowlegebase as good as Microsoft’s?

    The question needs answering isn’t why. We know why. It ain’t how. We know How. It ain’t when. We know when. it’s IF. Does it get done? or does it not?

  • Oops!

    All the while I was writing my last comment, something was really nagging at the back of my brain. I just figured out what it is: I did not address your question.

    My answer pertained to the USER INTERFACE, which we’ve all been brainwashed to think of as "THE operating system". The User Interface is simply one more program which runs under the control of the operating system.

    To answer your question, one simply needs to observe the evolution of UNIX since its inception around 1973.

    What you will observe is a slow, gradual evolution, punctuated at times by major improvements (X-windows, file systems, etc.), but, when all is said and done, a UNIX (or Linux, for that matter) user today would feel just as comfortable running an AT&T UNIX SVR4 as whatever flavor they’re running right now (as far as I know, all versions of Linux still use the UNIX SVR4 start-up sequence; I’m open to correction on this).

    Bottom line: What will Linux, THE OPERATING SYSTEM, look like in ten years?: you’ll barely notice the difference.

    Warmest regards..

  • Hardware manufacturers are going to force Linux producers to produce distros with less and less eye candy, as they realize that simpler UIs result in no-cost, no-brainer way to improve the speed AND the power consumption of their products. And, as they realize that the up-coming new generation of users simply doesn’t care what OS they use.


    1. By changing from the ‘standard’ GUI of my favorite distro to their lightweight GUI, I increased my battery life by 25% (‘course, I could have kept the cartoons and spent $75 for a larger battery).

    2. One of my offspring (who is NOT a friend of computers) regularly shows up at the house to "get on the internet", and grabs whichever of my four laptops/notebooks/netbooks which are handy, and chugs away, with no questions. OSs include Mint9, Win7, Xandros, and Mint11. Point: HE DOESN’T CARE.

    Nor will anyone in ten years, except equipment manufacturers for whom the simplest implementation will win out.

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