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.”