If Desktop Linux Is Dead, Someone Had Better Tell All Those Users

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It seems scarcely a year can go by in the world of computer technology without some eager blogger or another grandly proclaiming the death of Linux on the desktop.

Here at PCWorld alone, we saw it in late 2010, and now here it is again, resurrected for one more tired round.

I can only speculate as to the authors' motives for making these weary proclamations, because they're nothing if not light on real information. What I can do, however, is point out a few small problems with their arguments.

First and foremost, what does it even mean to say desktop Linux is “dead” if it's being embraced and used by growing numbers of individuals and corporations around the world?

A Leap In Usage

OK, so here we go again--and this time it's easier than ever.

In fact, the timing of this latest anti-Linux song and dance was not chosen well for the point its author sought to make, given all the robust statistics that are coming out about Linux's growing usage.

Just two months ago, for instance, there was the report from none other than Net Applications revealing a significant jump in Linux usage on the desktop in the second half of last year, bringing it to 1.41 percent of the market by the end of 2011.

Net Application's figures, moreover, are conservative, given even stronger statistics from W3Counter (now 1.67 percent), Wikimedia (4.9 percent), The H (a full 25.36 percent), and O'Reilly (8 to 10 percent).

Those consumer figures are up by a lot compared with when I last had to point all this out, and among businesses it's a similar story. Indeed, multiple studies suggest that businesses and government organizations around the globe are increasingly relying on Linux and other open source software as well--not just on servers but on desktops too.

Bottom line: The old, much-abused “1 percent” figure for Linux's desktop market share is just plain wrong--probably more than we'll ever know thanks to the lack of sales data for this freely downloadable and sharable open source operating system.

Choice Is Good

Of course, what's perhaps an even greater misunderstanding in trotting out the old market share argument as evidence of Linux's desktop “death” is the idea that the OS needs a share of more than X percent--whatever number you set--to be “alive.”

Mac now enjoys a 6.9 percent market share, according to Net Applications--why does that single-digit figure make the platform “alive” while Linux's only slightly smaller (and estimated) number doesn't?

The fact is, with open source software, if it's meeting someone's needs, it's alive and well. The fact that Linux is not only doing that but steadily gaining users--even by the traditional researchers' counts--proclaims in neon letters that it's a success.

Operating systems are not “one size fits all,” after all--no matter how much Microsoft and Apple both wish it could be so. I've said it before and I'll say it again: More Choice Is Always Good for the User.

A Model for Copying

As for the anachronistic accusations that Linux's features are somehow below par or that it requires more work?

That may have been true decades ago, but those days are long gone. Today, in fact, many believe Linux is leading the innovation curve--and I don't just mean Ubuntu. Today more than ever, the advances coming out of the desktop Linux world are things to write home about--or copy, if you're a certain competing OS maker from Redmond.

Linux support, meanwhile, is comprehensive--whether through the community or through the many paid-support options available through companies like Red Hat.

No problem here, I'm sorry to say.

Post-PC? Not Quite.

Yes, Linux is a longstanding leader in the server world, and its Android derivative is now a leader in the mobile world too, though you can keep all the silly “post PC” hogwash.

Desktops will be with us for a long time to come, and as long as they are, a fully alive and fully free desktop Linux will have a rightful place among them.

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