Thursday, 29 July 2010

Remember the year of the Linux desktop?

It´s a long standing joke, but I think two or three years ago people stopped claiming next year will be the year of the Linux desktop.

Not sure why that is. Perhaps because it is so self-evident to Linuxers that the day has already come and gone without anybody really noticing. Perhaps most have accepted that the year of the Linux desktop does not really matter because what is known as Linux will never be able to beat Microsoft or Apple in this space, nor does it even really try or want to. To think otherwise would be a fundamental misconception.
Because in the perception of most ordinary users and not so inclined folk it will never be easy enough. Just as it will never be good enough for the people with vested interests and investments to protect. You cannot prevail against prejudice once people think they know enough to judge and go by outdated myths and by hear say.

Because with Linux in the server space, on thin clients, on mobile and embedded and specialist devices, and with the advent of so-called cloud computing the OS on the desktop does not really matter any more.

Perhaps we have accepted that for the most part it will remain a hobby for the self-selected few, and inroads into the desktop arena will remain limited.

And that´s fine. I´ve always maintained that, far from being a guru or an old sys-admin myself, people should use whatever they want to use, the right tool for the job, what feels best and allows them to get on with it. A lot of people, usually Windows users who tried Linux and found `it´ was not for them, Fudsters and enthusiastic newbies, proclaim Linux on the desktop will never be any good until it has achieved sufficient critical-mass in market share to gain the mind-share in developers and the attention needed for commercial software vendors to finally write their stuff for our OS. Marketing speak from biased websites and the like they uncritically repeat, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. In the case of the disappointed they will proclaim that they´ll try it again when it has `matured´, another tired old saying. When exactly will that be? Does the unavailability of 64-bit flash from Adobe mean the OS is not mature? Is it even necessary?

There´s no crusade going on. Linux has the mind-share already, just look at the army of contributors behind Debian, and that is only one distro, or all the people working behind its parts, like on X11, Gnome, KDE and all the other free and open source software projects.

There are alternatives  and alternative ways of doing things to everything in the proprietary universe.  Admittedly gaming is a weak spot. I mean real 3d FPS and the like, but even this has always been possible with free clones and implementations and is an area that´s improving.

There are tons of great cross-platform and Linux only free shooters, strategy games and RPG´s available, maintained by fans who love what they´re doing. There are commercial games like the Postal series and demos (like this one for Shadowgrounds) if you just want to get the taste without shelling out money, just like in the Windows world. There are some that can be played through your browser like Vendetta-online which is making it OS-agnostic. But commercial Windows only gaming is still a problem, despite Wine. Some titles will work better than others. However, PC-gaming is not what it used to be 10 years ago. Alternatives are now available in the form of powerful consoles that provide action and graphics almost as good-looking as when played on a newer PC with powerful graphics card. That is because consoles are now personal computers as well, integrated and purpose-built. If you swap your PC-gaming habit for the console you at least won´t have to tread the constant upgrade mill any longer.

But in general people are creatures of habit, and they don't want to forget and relearn just to achieve the same thing but differently, even if that would mean it's making them more skilled in the longer term.

Some complain the Gimp could never replace Photoshop for them. Maybe they're just not serious about switching and cannot be bothered to learn another tool and perhaps a few more like Inkscape and Krita just to do what they're doing now. I can't blame anyone for not wanting to put in vast amounts of time to be as productive and simply go back to Windows because of the apps, but if they are serious they should. Or at least not blame it on 'Linux' not being good enough.

The Linux kernel and Gnu userland is not Windows, never will be, never should be. This is not even a case of old school vs. new school, if this OS was to be made to be a more or less Windows clone there would be no point. And it simply cannot be because it evolved very differently. If you want or need Windows, that is what you should use. Contrary to it seems popular belief these days we don't want everybody to switch simply because we use it. It's almost certainly better this way for everybody, and 'Linux' has come a long way on the desktop without dominating it. This may be hard to swallow for a generation brainwashed by marketing gobbledeegook and Wall Street propaganda, with eyes fixed on 'the market', 'mind-share', 'dominance' and such terms. Rubbish. If you don't like it, move on, use whatever you want to use as will the rest of us. Or join your favorite distribution and try and shape it.

Change is possible if you're really interested, you just gotta make up your mind and go for it. And with every passing day somebody out there continues to improve Gnash, and the Gimp, and all the other tools. If one video or the other refuses to play full-screen in Gnash but does so in Flash, is that reason enough to chuck a whole OS? Look at the resource usage and you may find Gnash is actually the better solution. Of course you're always free to use Flash, just not on 64-bit. Blame Adobe for it.

For me the year of the Linux desktop was 2005. I started around 12/1998 and found distributions that I tried at the time still a bit rough and sometimes crash-prone, not really much better than Windows '95. The real problem though was my ISA Winmodem. I never managed to get it to work and was too cheap to buy an external one which would have solved the problem. That was my decision and I cannot blame Linux for it. Then W2K came along and worked well for many years after applying some registry hacks and tightening of security. It got a bit long in the tooth by 2003, but it took until 2005 for Ethernet broadband to arrive at my household. I decided to give Linux another look shortly after and haven't looked back since - VectorLinux, Debian Sarge, Ubuntu Breezy Badger (5.10). I was able to do everything I wanted and more. I would never have bothered to learn Vim on Windows although it is available. I would never have got into the capabilities of networking tools as much, or into protocols, NAS and file servers (due to not wanting to purchase Windows server licenses).

The wealth of software, most of it is in your trusty repository, is unmatched, or I can compile it from source. Beats hunting down .exe files on CNET hands down. Then there are the easy to use tools that for example allow to create your own Live CD's and custom spins (although in Windows Enterprise users can also create slipstreamed install disks), and the way how we got used to running Live CD sessions and virtualizing as many instances of our OS as we like.

The year of the Linux desktop has come and gone, and nobody noticed because it wasn't some big event. It was different for everybody who could be bothered. The rest of the world just missed it, and they will never know they did.


  1. "I think two or three years ago people stopped claiming next year will be the year of the Linux desktop."

    You mean you've never had a go.........? You haven't lived I tell you! :p

  2. To me Linux Desktop Year is already. Since 2003 precisely.



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