2008: Year of the Linux Desktop?

I love the illustration for a Linux Haxor story, Obligatory Year-End Positive Linux Predictions. It features Bart Simpson at the school blackboard, which is covered with "Year of the Linux desktop." I understand all too well how people can tire of endless predictions that this (fill-in-the-blank) year will be the year of the Linux desktop. There's only one problem with all these predictions. We've already had the year of the Linux desktop.

For me, it's been the 'year' of the Linux desktop since 1995. That's when I started using Linux on a regular basis. My first distribution was Slackware. Slackware is still around, and it's still a fine Linux for people like me who came to Linux from Unix.

Let's get real though. There have never been that many people to whom the arguments over whether the Bourne, C, Korn, or Bash shells were the best desktops really mattered. I still maintain, however, that Korn is the best since you can do serious programming in it while maintaining backwards compatibility. OK, so that kind of thing still matters to me and to other die-hard Linux/Unix users, but no one else really cares.

For most users, I think 2005 was the year of the Linux desktop. That was the year that Novell introduced SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) 9.3. What was important about that? It was the first desktop Linux, in my opinion, that you could put down in front of an office-worker and expect them to get up to speed on it as quickly as they would on Windows and get just as much work done.

In other words, 2005 was the year that the Linux desktop became a business desktop.

Not good enough for you? How about 2007 then? That's the year the first major computer company, Dell, started shipping pre-installed Ubuntu Linux on its desktops and laptops. You no longer needed to be willing to trust a small company that supported Linux or install it yourself. With Dell's move you could get Linux already ready to run as soon as you plugged the cord in the wall on a big name PC.

Still don't believe it? How about later in 2007 when Asus introduced the first Eee UMPC (Ultra mobile PC) or, as we tend to call them now, netbooks? Or, when it became apparent that everyone wanted a netbook of their own?

In fact, Linux-powered netbooks became so popular that less than six months after they first appeared, Microsoft was forced to renew XP Home's lease on life. That makes a good marker doesn't it? After all, Microsoft did change its desktop operating system plans because of the Linux desktop. Even now, with Microsoft almost giving away XP Home to vendors, three out of ten netbooks are still coming out with Linux.

Or, to continue with other major events in Linux desktop history, 2008 was also the year that HP started shipping pre-installed Linux to ordinary users. HP had been the last hold-out. Now all the major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have at least one widely available desktop Linux system.

Of course, while all this was happening, the top Linux vendors and communities, such as Canonical/Ubuntu, Novell/openSUSE, and Red Hat/Fedora, have been continuing to push the Linux desktop's evolution forward. You may have to wait for years between major Windows 'upgrades' or Mac versions, but desktop Linux is changing for the better on an average of new, significant updates twice a year.

So what, you say you'll never use Linux on the desktop anyway? I hate to break this to you, but almost everyone already is running Linux-based applications on their desktops. Google and its applications run on Linux. Every time you do a Google search, read a Gmail, work on a Google document, you're using Linux. You prefer Yahoo? Guess what? Their servers and applications are built on Linux as well. Ever buy anything with PayPal? Yep, that runs on Linux too. So, if you spend a lot of your time on the Web, congratulations, you too are a Linux desktop user. You're just not aware of it, the same way that you might not know that if you use TiVo to record TV shows, you're a Linux user.

So, you can talk about the year of the Linux desktop coming all you want. The truth of the matter is that the year of the Linux desktop has already come and gone. The only real question is when your 'personal' year of the Linux desktop will be coming. Heck, for that matter, with SplashTop, the instant-on Linux now being embedded into many laptops and, your personal year of the Linux desktop may already have arrived. The future of the Linux desktop is now.

This article originally appeared as a blog posting on our sister site, Computerworld.com.

This story, "2008: Year of the Linux Desktop?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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