We have to face it. Linux isn't going to win the desktop war any time soon, but perhaps we don't need to. With products like MeeGo and Android, Linux is going to complete its domination of the embedded space, and find itself in every single home.
It’s just six months since all of the “2010 will be the year of the Linux desktop!” articles and I’m getting in early for 2011, well sort of. I know that you all hate these, but fortunately this is not such an article. In fact, it’s quite the reverse.
Let’s face it. Linux is just not going to make much of a dent on the desktop. We simply cannot compete with Microsoft’s marketing power (who has all the manufacturers sewn up), nor people’s unwillingness to change. Linux is not Windows, it’s fair to say. All of these articles which come out saying things like, “Linux needs to be more like Windows”, are just utter rubbish. Linux is Linux, and should concentrate on being Linux. That’s not to say that we can’t make things easier, but the bottom line is we should be making great software for us, not to try and win converts.
Sure, users are not always able to waltz down to the computer shop and buy some random dodgy peripheral and expect it to work on Linux. Generally, it just doesn’t work that way. It’s true that desktop Linux will continue to struggle until manufacturers start to play ball and release (or support) open drivers for Linux. Consumers who buy (or install) a Linux based PC expect (rightly or wrongly) to be able to buy any device and install software to make it work. No-one expects that from a Mac because people know that they are buying a Mac and their expectations are different. No doubt the Linux desktop suffers from these and other proprietary devices like iPhones that require proprietary and non-Linux based software. It’s great that Linux does support a majority of these devices anyway, but it would be even better if they got official support.
OK, so I’m dreaming – that’s never going to happen. Or is it? Hang on a second and take a look around. Things are changing in the industry. First Linux conquered the big iron, and now it’s conquering ahh, little titanium. Gadgets. Gadgets are the future, my friend (well not so much gadgets but appliances). Embedded devices are becoming common place and technology is finally catching up with long held dreams, so items like tablets are finally becoming a reality.
Apple knows it. They turned complicated technology into usable (but unfortunately, proprietary) appliances and it has literally saved the company. Apple’s value is now more than Microsoft’s – not bad for a company which many wrote off just a little over a decade ago.
Now imagine what it would do for Linux if Apple’s products worked perfectly with it. That’s never going to happen of course (not if Apple can help it, anyway), but another important shift is coming. Linux is becoming the king of the appliance world and that’s a really big thing. Android and MeeGo are changing the scene. The growth in Android’s market share has been impressive and is only set to rise. Nokia just announced that they will drop Symbian for MeeGo on their high-end smartphones phones. I mean does anyone even realise how amazing it is that one can go to any retailer and buy a Linux powered phone? What these products have done, is turn Linux into a truly wonderful, y, easy-to-use appliance and it’s only going to get better from here.
It’s not just phones. Consumers can also buy (or will be able to soon) Linux based:
..and just about everything else without ever realising it. You see, the tide has turned and we have truly outstanding Linux based products. Manufacturers are finally embracing Linux (as are consumers) and it will do well in these areas because these aren’t already dominated by Microsoft. So before consumers know it, they will pause their Linux based television to receive a call on a Linux based phone, while they use their Linux based tablet to browse the net through their Linux based router. Getting the picture?
Perhaps with the rise in popularity of Linux based appliances, more manufacturers will start to support Linux which this will trickle down to the desktop. Devices running Linux will be more compatible with a Linux desktop. MeeGo phones for instance, will use standard protocols which should make synchronization seamless.
Unless every single manufacturer turned around tomorrow and started offering Linux and Windows on their full range of computers, Linux will not see a massive rise in market share any time soon. I mean, what choice to consumers really have? They just need a computer and all they can really buy is Windows. With the compatibility problems of proprietary devices a non-issue on Linux based devices, the barrier for entry of Linux on the desktop would be substantially lowered.
Next year we will see Linux everywhere, finally (well those of us who know it’s Linux, anyway). Just about every single computer power device imaginable will be available for consumers running Linux. That’s right. Consumers will be unwittingly buying Linux powered devices left front and center. With Linux in people’s hands, it will make getting Linux onto the desktop that much easier.
The times are a changing. Big companies are embracing Linux in the consumer space (like they did previously on big iron) and it will surely win out in the end. This way the revolution for Linux on the desktop might actually come about via a completely alternate route. This is opposite to how many of us have been expecting it to happen, by winning over the desktop first and then extending out from there. Actually Apple has helped to make this a reality and Linux can follow their model – make great appliances and therefore win people over to free software. Linux needed to “bring the magic” to the computer space and that’s finally here. We are truly watching history unfold.