Chronicles of Desktop Deaths Foretold

Now that September has arrived at last, life has taken on a different tone here in the Northern reaches of the Linux blogosphere.

After all, just around the corner now are crisp and cool days, Halloween, and the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot as nature prepares for its long winter sleep.

It’s perhaps no great surprise, then, that many thoughts seem to have turned to death and dying in this season of decay. No longer confined to a few heavily air-conditioned bars and saloons, bloggers have begun to lift their heads and ponder the end of things — not just in the natural world but in technology as well.

Death All Around

“The end of the OS is nigh,” read one headline not long ago, for example.

“Desktop computers changing, not dying”insisted another.

And again: “Desktop: ‘The report of my death was an exaggeration,'” read yet another.

There’s been a distinctly morbid focus in the Linux blogs lately, in other words, and Linux Girl wanted to learn more.

‘The Desktop Is Here to Stay’

“What is ‘death’ here?” mused Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. “It seems to me that what people are saying is not that we won’t use these things, but that they won’t occupy the central role in our lives that they have in the past. In all cases, we are talking about trends that are exaggerated.”

Desktops, for example, “will always be extremely handy forms of computers,” Travers told Linux Girl. “Nobody is going to stop using a desktop just because they now have a series of mobile devices. Desktops are too useful in business and at home for that to stop, and they are far less expensive than even laptops of comparable power and reliability.”

In other words, “the desktop is here to stay,” he asserted.

‘The Browser Is More Important’

Same with the OS, Travers added. “While a lot more may run in the browser, that hardly makes the OS less relevant. Something has to provide the base services to the browser.”

What’s actually happening, then, is that people are simply less attached to the OS, he suggested.

“What the author is actually saying is, ‘the browser is more important, so I don’t care about the OS anymore,'” Travers concluded.

‘My Desktop Has More Power’

“The desktop just isn’t trendy anymore,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed. “First the laptop was supposed to kill it and now it’s the cell phone and tablet? Bad idea.”

Mack himself has a desktop, a laptop, an HTC Desire Z cellphone and a work-provided Galaxy Tab, he told Linux Girl.

“Care to guess which one I use the most?” he asked. “It’s the desktop. My desktop has more power than the rest of my devices put together, the keyboard is at the proper typing height, and the monitors are on an ergonomic stand to keep my neck from being strained.”

Desktops dominate Mack’s workplace as well, he said.

“We would be totally screwed if the desktop went away,” Mack concluded, “and I doubt many other offices are different from ours.”

‘Dying, Not Dead’

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza didn’t dispute the desktop’s ultimate demise — just how soon it would happen.

“The desktop is dying, it’s not dead,” Espinoza told Linux Girl. “These things don’t happen overnight.”

People are finally “getting their hands on quad-core phones with HDMI output, so now they have a feasible desktop replacement for the majority of purposes that they carry around in their pocket,” he explained. “Since these devices are now in the hands of the public, they may begin to meaningfully supplant the desktop as the primary computer for getting things done.”

‘Overpriced Toys for Boys’

It’s actually laptops that continue to dominate the market, according to Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“How can they not when the local big-box is selling name-brand 15.6-inch quad-core laptops with 6 gigs of ram and a 750 gig hard drive for (US)$400?” she pointed out. “With this sort of value proposition, laptops are killing desktops and netbooks, as well as giving tablet manufacturers headaches by making tablets look like overpriced toys for boys in comparison.”

As for the operating system becoming a commodity, that’s just what it’s supposed to be, Hudson asserted. “The real question is how long before all applications integrate with the Net seamlessly? Games have been doing it for decades.”

‘It Won’t Happen’

We’ve seen more than a decade of over-hyped technology, “from Java applets to Html5 and ‘native code in the browser,’ that was supposed to position the browser as the inevitable successor to the OS for running applications,” Hudson continued. “It hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen.”

It’s Apple that has shown the way “out of the browser mess,” she added. “The success of Apple’s App Store shows that people want programs that are easy to find, buy, install and update. With Windows 8 becoming the last OS to get its own app store or software repository, the window of opportunity (pardon the pun) for the browser to be the unifying platform is being permanently slammed shut.”

Operating systems, then, “will continue to battle it out long after all the functionality of the web browser is merged into the OS,” Hudson concluded.

‘It Isn’t Anything Killing Anything Else’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet didn’t see any deaths imminent on the horizon.

Rather, two things are at work, he told Linux Girl. “No. 1 is that tablets are a new toy. The second is something we PC builders and repairmen have known for a loooong time, and it is that once you hit dual core, PCs became ‘good enough’ for what the masses want to do with them.

“My two boys are playing PC games on ‘hand me downs’ that are Pentium Ds with Radeon HD4850 cards — that is, what, 5 year old tech?” hairyfeet explained. “Yet all the MMOs and even the oldest shooters play JUST FINE at native resolution.”

So, “it isn’t anything killing anything else, it is two separate things that have squat to do with one another,” he concluded. “People simply don’t need another PC right now and many are simply waiting until XP is EOL before bothering. If you have a dual core with plenty of RAM, why would you buy another machine?”

Like Cars, Pick-Ups and Trucks

Lawyer and Mobile Raptor blogger Roberto Lim put it especially nicely by comparing computing devices with vehicles.

“Our mobile phones and tablets are like our cars: limited in functionality but the most convenient way for us to get around,” Lim suggested.

“Laptops are like pick-up trucks — more capable than our cars and can do some serious work but less convenient to go around in and park in tiny parking spaces,” he added.

Desktops and workstations, finally, “are our trucks, which can do some really serious hauling.

“There will always be a place for our pick-ups and our trucks, but most of us really only need cars,” he concluded.

‘What Is Dying Is the Lock-In’

Blogger Robert Pogson did see a death in progress, but not of any particular hardware or software: “What is dying is the lock-in on the desktop by Wintel,” he opined.

Microsoft, for instance, “can no longer dictate what software runs on PCs in general as they did in the past,” he explained. “Their tax on IT is still growing as the market grows, but each quarter their ‘client’ division does a little worse at collecting the tax, and it’s not about illegal copying.”

Intel, meanwhile, “no longer dictates that consumers shall have only x86 processors,” he asserted. “People are choosing ARM and GNU/Linux and Android/Linux and loving it. Ever since the netbook showed GNU/Linux did work on the desktop, the end was near.”

‘People Are Choosing a Linux OS’

This, then, “is the last year that M$ is in the running for desktop market share,” Pogson predicted. “They are losing almost 1 percent share every month.”

The reason for that, he added, “is Android/Linux. Ordinary people are choosing a Linux OS when there is fair competition and choice on retail shelves. Just wait until Ice Cream Sandwich kicks in at the Christmas season…”

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.


  • Mr. Pogson gets to the heart of the matter. We have two monopolistic companies that have bolstered each other’s positions in the market. As more choices become available, and as more competition finds yet more innovative ways to challenge those monopolies, the diversification is simply amazing.

    I can’t wait for the day that software patents are finally determined to be null and void. Diversification like we have never imagined will follow!

    • Is the koolaid Cherry flavor? you wanna know why Linux isn’t gaining share? As a retailer with nearly 30 years in the biz I’ll be happy to tell you, its because YOU DON’T LISTEN TO THE CUSTOMER and instead act like arrogant elitist jerks, that’s why!

      As me and every other retailer has been saying for years the word is CONSUMERS in giant flaming 500 foot neon, so what do you do? "Hey lets make the terminal the most important thing in our system! It’ll make our neckbeards big!". Let me make something REAL clear okay? DISCO IS DEAD and so is 1970s terminal for ALL other OSes except for guess who? that would be YOU.

      Yet what is the answer for every. single. problem. that comes up in Linux? "Open up bash and type" you know what? NO. We will NOT open up bash and type! MSFT and Apple is kicking your butts because you could remove CLI from BOTH and more than 90% of the population would NEVER notice, that is how little they are used. And before anyone says powershell that is SEVER tech and I have yet to see it on a desktop of a non admin. You don’t even have a "find drivers" button, which Windows has had for over a decade! What do you get if there are driver issues? Why "Open up bash and type" again. How many distros have a term on the desktop? TOO MANY that’s how many.

      ACCEPT THIS. Accept that if you want customers, which is what they are, they don’t have to take your OS, they have choices so you need to court them and retailers like me into taking your product, and no, "free as in freedom" means nothing to us, as long as it works we DO NOT CARE if the OS has DRM or app stores or whatever. Accept that you will HAVE TO give them what THEY WANT, not try to force them to do things YOUR way, because they won’t, period the end. look at the closest thing to a success Linux has had, Android. What is it? All GUI no CLI and clicky clicky simple with ZERO risk of driver breakage. I have Windows machines that have gone through 3 service packs with ZERO driver breakage. If I pick out three random machines from my shop and pick ANY 2008 distro, can you give me a 100% guarantee that when updated to current it will have 100% drivers? No? Well can you give me a 100% guarantee that my customer won’t have to "open up bash and type" if there is a problem? No?

      You know what the definition of insanity is? It is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome, and that is Linux in a nutshell. you won’t listen, you won’t change, yet you get mad because the world won’t do things YOUR way. Well tough luck Sparky, welcome to reality. Give the people what they want and gain share. Don’t? Well then don’t be surprised when your competitors kick your booty. it is called a free market.

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