Five reasons 2012 was a great year for Linux

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The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of where things stand in any niche or field, and Linux is no exception.

There's no doubt that there have been challenges for the free and open source operating system over the course of 2012—the Secure Boot challenge  comes immediately to mind—but so, too, have there been numerous successes.

All in all, I believe the good has outweighed the bad for Linux this past year. Here are five specific reasons.

1. One *billion* dollars

Perhaps most obvious among Linux's accomplishments this year was the fact that Red Hat finally and officially attained its long-anticipated status as the first billion-dollar open source company. That's a testament not just to Red Hat's own business acumen, but also the fact that Linux can be profitable—and that's a big deal for increasing future business interest in the platform.

2. The Digital Divide

Those of us in the tech industry can argue over the merits and penetration of desktop Linux until we're blue in the proverbial face, but meanwhile a momentous shift has quietly begun.

I'm talking about the wave of tiny, inexpensive, Linux-powered PCs that flooded the market this year, putting significant computing power within closer reach not just for enthusiasts but also for those who would not otherwise be able to afford it.

It's truly a revolution in computing, as I've said before, and it's expanding Linux's reach even beyond the countless Android-using masses. Not only that, but it's surely going a long way toward bridging the Digital Divide.

3. Gaming acceptance

Gaming platforms may not matter much to many in the business world, but the fact is, gaming is extremely important to a whole lot of PC users. Over the years, in fact, a relative lack of games has been a key reason held up by many to explain why they didn't make the switch to Linux.

Well, this year all that changed when Valve announced that it was porting Steam to Linux, citing the Windows 8 “catastrophe” as a big part of its reason.

More recently, THQ is considering making a similar move, according to reports.

What it means: Linux users are increasingly being viewed as a market worth catering to, and that will only mean more and better applications across the board in the future.

4. Preloaded prevalence

This past year has also seen a dramatic increase in the number of hardware options offering Linux preloaded. Over the course of 2012, in fact, we saw machines from not just specialty makers ZaReason, System76, and ThinkPenguin offer this option, but also Asus, Dell, and more.

With every new entry that arrives, consumers' choices expand, and that can only be a good thing.

5. An open window

Finally, it's become patently obvious that Windows 8 has encountered a cooler reception than Microsoft might have liked, and that means nothing but opportunity for Linux. With Ubuntu 12.10 “Quantal Quetzal,” in fact, Canonical's popular Linux distribution has actually surpassed Windows 8 in many respects, particularly from a business user's perspective.

Tremendous inertia will allow Windows' dominance to continue for years to come, of course.

Still, with Windows 8 the landscape shifted, I believe, and desktop Linux has begun to compete on an even footing. I can't wait to see where that leads in 2013 and beyond.

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