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

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.

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 clichd 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?”


  • Netflix is the killer app(fly in the ointment) A Netflix alternative with Linux support might help push the desktop to Linux.

    There is a difference of the people who use Linux and the civilians that need to use Linux. Civilians want to see consistency. Linux enthusiasts enjoy change(progress for some).

    Ubuntu’s upcoming changes make it difficult to introduce Ubuntu to a civilian. "here this is good and safe and it will be completely different next year" is not a persuasive argument.

    For many it has been the decade of Linux already. Linux would not have evolved if it was not for the enthusiasts cheering it on, and building it.

    What qualifies it as the Year of Linux? When it passes Windows by?

    Linux is my primary system I support myself with various computer tricks including fixing Windows computers. It makes a guy like Superman! "Yes you have a virus….no my computer never gets those"

    Linux is the solution for MS’s problems. They could be building GUI’s like Apple, and slapping them on Linux.

    • You’ll never get Netflix or any of the other new streaming services coming online because there is a serious faction war in Linux right now. On the one hand you have the pragmatists, who just want things to be nice and to work (I’m in that camp) and then you have the "FLOSSies" who consider their OS a religion and don’t care if ANYTHING works as long as there is "purity of essence" when it comes to the FOSS philosophy.

      You see the movie companies are never gonna let go of DRM, and why should they? It does what they want it to. Sure you can still get BD rips off of PB, but the average Joe has NO ability to do that himself, unlike with DVD where my grandma can rip those things. That makes sure that if they want Netflix they pay $$, which the media gets a cut. In 2012 the contracts with Netflix run out and I have NO doubt you’ll see the media groups get together and offer their own Netflix, just like they did with Amazon VS iTunes.

      But the FLOSSies will NEVER allow DRM to stand on their precious "free as in beer and freedom man!" OS, so any attempt to allow DRM will be hacked and spread all over the net 3 seconds after release. Now IIRC Netflix uses Janus WMV which nobody has come up with a reliable way of hacking even though it has been out a couple of years, and both OSX and Windows supports kernel level Janus DRM. You simply can’t have that in Linux, which means that is one more thing the consumer wants but can’t have if they switch.

      And why on earth would MSFT want to slap a GUI on Linux? So they could lose one of their biggest selling points, and have to compete with 50 copies released the next week? One of the biggest selling points with Windows is your apps continue to work…full stop. With Linux you can’t use old apps without a recompile or an old kernel or new apps without a new kernel, it’s a mess. With Windows my Win 7 X64 runs 32bit apps from 97 with NO problems. None at all. And now that MSFT got hit with a clue stick and started using file and registry virtualization I can run old apps without needing admin, which was the big hole before.

      Nope, in the end the best bet for the future of Linux is Canonical and their "This is NOT a democracy" approach, because you just can’t please the FLOSSies and have a consumer friendly OS at the same time. And while there will be some growing pains as they switch over, just look at how quickly people forgot what a POS OSX 10.0 was. If they fork the kernel to allow a hardware ABI along with Unity and Wayland and a focus on "it just HAS TO work?", well I could easily see THAT OS being sold on nice new machines at Best Buy.

      • Roku is a Linux box that can access Netflix. If they can do it I don’t see how a Netflix application for Linux could be all that far away. Plus Netflix is on so many platforms I don’t see it being a big deal anymore. When your PS3, Xbox 360, Google TV, and god know what else can access a service chances are you don’t need one more box that support it.

        • TiVoization. When a company wants to use Linux embedded but not deal with the "free as in beer and freedom man!" hacker community they just put a lock out chip or signed binaries or any number of little tricks that turn GPL into BSD.

          And as for why Netfix matters? One more word: Laptops. everybody nowadays has laptops, and it is real nice and damned convenient when stuck somewhere to be able to just fire up the 3G modem or the free Wifi and watch movies. Also when the kids are in for a long ride firing up the Netflix kids section can mean the difference between a pleasant trip and a hellish one.

          But all of that is moot in a way, because in the end I believe it is gonna come to a show down, between the "free as in freedom man!" group that doesn’t care if anything works as long as it has the "four freedoms" VS pragmatists most likely being led by Canonical that just want the damned thing to work.

          Because no matter how many times RMS wishes on a star proprietary code and drivers are NO going away. He started GNU nearly 30 years ago and if anything proprietary code is even MORE a part of mainstream life than ever before. After all before you could get away from it and tech in general when you left your house, now you have that TiVo’d smartphone in your pocket. in the end the consumer WILL NOT jump through flaming hoops just to be "free as in freedom" because frankly they DO NOT CARE. Hell just look at how many happily give up their privacy to FaceBook.

          In the end it better work and KEEP working if you want to be more than a hobbyist OS in the consumer space, and to do that the "purity of essence" group will just have to take a backseat.

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