It Will Never Be the Year of Desktop Linux

Posted by kingttx on May 14, 2009 2:57 PM EDT
LXer Linux News; By Thomas King
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LXer Feature: 14-May-2009

People always tout this year or that as THE year of desktop Linux. It won't happen. Rather, it'll take time to evolve.

There is always talk about this year or that year being the year of desktop Linux, where suddenly consumers and vendors alike will greet GNU/Linux with open arms and wonder why they hadn't adopted Tux years before.



It won't happen that way!



Don't get me wrong, though. I do foresee in time Linux will be a much larger player in the consumer and enterprise desktop markets, most likely dominating in the very areas naysayers would prefer not to see Linux succeed. The chicken-and-egg problems are hatching already, accelerating faster and faster to larger numbers of adoption.



The question is what do we consider the tipping point? At what percentage do we say Linux can be considered generally accepted? Among other major milestones, Linux met two more just recently: 1% of retail sales and Microsoft's own SEC filings stating Linux is dangerous to its business. Linux is already quite easy to use, and, when hardware manufacturers aren't lazy, a wide range of consumer hardware is already 100% usable with Linux. Aren't we there yet?



Not yet, at least not enough to call it The Year of the Penguin.



I liken the advance of GNU/Linux on the desktop to the solid/liquid state of glass. Because of its unique structure, glass doesn't have a single melting or boiling point, unlike most other matter. Only with the application of heat does glass begin to take on more of the dynamics of a liquid and become pliable. Some will say that glass is actually a supercooled liquid, just like some will say desktop Linux is already there but needs more time to "catch on". Either way, glass takes constant heat in order for it to slowly take a more liquid form.



In much the same way, I foresee desktop Linux needing "heat" over time for it to slowly dominate the desktop market. In this case, "heat" is continued technical advances in the code, increasing advocacy, and marketing. In fact, I would dare state this is a better environment for Linux to thrive where there isn't a sudden influx of users that aren't used to Linux and are expecting it to be exactly like what they just left.

Just like trying to manipulate glass before it is pliable enough, there would be a tremendous strain on volunteer developers and communities to help support these folks. Something would have to give, either turning a majority of them off of Linux or commercializing Linux to the point it would barely be distinguishable from proprietary software. Rather, a gradual uptake would keep allowing Linux' roots to grow deeper as an already mature foundation gets even better.



There are many pieces just waiting to drop into place; such as maturing directory and policy services (e.g. the 389 Directory Server); a marketing push, whether community or commercially driven; and a stable driver framework in the kernel, which is implemented but in a state of flux from release to release. With each piece that finally drops cleanly into place, there will be an increase in uptake and a greater inertia built up for GNU/Linux to press forward.



For those wishing desktop Linux to have that year where it all just happens, it won't. Don't be disheartened, though. Instead, enjoy each cumulative victory as an advance to the time where people will suddenly realize desktop Linux is "there".

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