The War With Microsoft Is Over and Linux Won?

There’s nothing like an anniversary to inspire a trip down memory lane, but after 20 years of such milestones, the effect tends to be even more pronounced.

No wonder, then, that the occasion of Linux’s 20th birthday this year has provoked so much reflection.

Numerous Linux fans, of course, were busy kicking off celebrations of the event last week at the Linux Foundation’s Collaboration Summit in San Francisco. It was some key comments by the foundation’s own Jim Zemlin, however, that caused so many to pause and consider.

‘Like Kicking a Puppy’

“We just don’t care that much [about Microsoft] anymore,” Zemlin said in a recent interview. “They used to be our big rival, but now it’s kind of like kicking a puppy.”

Rather, after a “humble start as a project for a college student in Helsinki,” Zemlin noted, “Linux has come to dominate almost every category of computing, with the exception of the desktop.”

Now, Linux’s general excellence will come as no surprise to readers of these virtual pages. What’s a bit mind-bending, however, is the notion that Redmond is no longer Enemy No. 1.

Given how long most of us have believed otherwise, the idea provided considerable food for thought and conversation down at the Linux blogosphere’s Broken Windows Lounge.

‘The War Isn’t Over Yet’

“There is truth to what Jim says: Linux really has exploded in nearly every form of the computer market except the desktop computer,” Thoughts on Technology blogger and Bodhi Linux lead developer Jeff Hoogland told Linux Girl over a round of Peppermint Penguins.

Still, “I think it is important to realize that ‘Linux has beaten Microsoft’ is not the same as ‘Linux has beaten Windows,'” Hoogland pointed out. “Yes it has dominated the mobile and computing markets, but then Microsoft never really had a stronghold on either of those.”

Contrary to Zemlin’s view, in fact, “the desktop computer is not going away anytime soon, even with tablets and smartphones everywhere,” he asserted. “Linux users do still need to focus their attention there if they really want to ‘beat Microsoft’ in every way, shape and form.”

In other words, “we’ve won several of the battles, but the war isn’t over yet,” Hoogland concluded.

‘It Will Be a Long Struggle Indeed’

Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, took a similar view.

“Linux has beaten Microsoft in key emerging battlegrounds; that’s a different thing from ‘beating Microsoft’ and assuming that the struggle is over,” Travers opined.

“If the goal of Linux is to beat Microsoft, we are fighting against the largest, most profitable player in the history of the industry,” Travers pointed out. “It will be a long struggle indeed. The victories we have scored have been notable, but these are still specific victories, and the struggle is far from over.”

Similarly, “I wouldn’t say Microsoft has been beaten as long as they make billions of dollars a year,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack pointed out. “I would call them ‘contained’ rather than ‘beaten.’ FOSS has taken over markets MS has wanted to and, with one exception, locked them down to their core markets.”

‘Stick a Fork In It’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet wasn’t so sure.

“Oh please! It is a classic case of ‘moving the goalposts’ if ever I saw one!” hairyfeet exclaimed.

“The goal, stated by FOSS advocates for YEARS, was the ‘year of the Linux desktop,'” hairyfeet pointed out. “Well, I think we can finally say it is over and Linux LOST. Stick a fork in it. The fat lady is down the street having a sandwich.”

That opinion, however, was far from unanimous.

‘Desktop Boxes Will Always Be Useful’

“There will always be immobile people using PCs,” blogger Robert Pogson began. “Desktop boxes, becoming tiny and fanless and perhaps embedded in the keyboard or monitor, will always be useful.”

Linux, however, “beat M$ more than 10 years ago when IBM and others got behind it, contributed money and manpower and promoted GNU/Linux,” he asserted. “Since then, M$ has had to severely lock people in to keep them as customers.”

Looking ahead, “Microsoft will not go away either, but they will have to earn their living the old-fashioned way instead of having the world throw them money for nothing,” Pogson said. “I would not be surprised to see them sink to 20 percent share eventually, with all the choices smart thingies and the cloud and thin clients offer. Everyone knows they can live without M$ now.”

‘Mobile Is Where the Growth Is’

Indeed, “it’s certainly quicker to list the areas where Microsoft still dominates than the ones where Linux or Apple (or both) are killing it,” agreed Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site. “There’s the desktop computer, and … um … gee, that was fast, wasn’t it?”

When laptop sales overtook desktops, “Microsoft didn’t care,” Hudson pointed out. “Either one meant the sale of a Windows OS, and often other software.”

The switch to “mobile-everything,” on the other hand, “is already having a huge impact, because in most cases it marks the loss of another customer to Apple or Linux.

“Maybe it’s not the year of linux on the desktop, but it’s also not the year of Windows on mobile devices, and it never will be,” Hudson concluded. “Mobile is where the growth is, for both business and the consumer, and that market is being divvied up between Apple and Linux, with Linux dominating.”


  • Why is the Linux community fixated on taking over the desktop? It’s never made sense to me. The results of being on loads of desktops will be:

    1- increased security issues

    2- a dumbed down OS

    3- a commercialized desktop that will come out of the box with more software / blotware / advertisements and unnecessary software then any of us wants.

    4- the online support/community will get worse.

    why? why would we want that? Right now we Linux desktop users are in the sweet spot. We have our choice of great GUI interfaces, hardware support for every vendor and we have a knowledgeable user community.

    • My workstation is Linux with seamless virtual Windows XP. The setup has it’s problems but it allows me to call on Win when it’s necessary and for the most part, it works.

  • "Linux has come to dominate almost every category of computing, with the exception of the desktop."

    Well, with Windows servers outselling Linux more than 3 to 1, it is hard to say that Linux dominates there, either. Of course when you remove desktops and servers from the equation, there is very little left that creates any software revenues for anyone.

    That seems to reduce the argument to be that Linux has come to dominate every category of computing except the ones that make money. And that may very well be the case although there is a question as to just what Android is. Is it a proprietary product controlled by Google or is it Linux? It isn’t really in the general purpose computer OS category, either, so there are a lot of questions as to what the Linux Foundation actual could claim.

  • The desktop challenge began because we shared a common interaction in computing. There is not a right way to compute. It is no longer either or situation. Many people are checking all of the above: desktop, handheld, pad, set-top streamer.

    We used to predict that the OS would become irrelevant. We really meant that the UI would become irrelevant. Users traversing their different devices may have accidentally become more sophisticated in their approach. This will give a real opportunity to the Chrome OS.

    Even Linux users are not always using Linux. I use Linux on my desktop primarily (netflix) I doubt that there is 60% usage at the local LUG. Most Linux enthusiasts are sysadmins. Sysadmins are not necessarily power desktop users. The people that use Linux do not even need it. A geek can use anything.

    I think a good subject (a blind poll) ask sysadmins that use linux in their networks, what they use on the desktop.

    btw..if they ever figure out the Netflix problem..which could just be an alternative service, I would be filled with Linux Desktop Zeal again!

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