In a (large) video meeting at virtual FOSDEM, someone joked that maybe this will finally be the “year of the Linux desktop”. One of the oldest jokes in the community. Everyone sniggered. But the joke’s on them: it already happened, like a thief in the night.
While we were all waiting for the open source community to topple Microsoft’s desktop monopoly by replacing the locally-installed operating system, we missed the real revolution. Sure, there’s still plenty of money in both operating systems and in desktop apps. Microsoft (and indeed Apple) will be milking that legacy monopoly for a good while even if they have started hollowing out themselves — on Linux. It’s certainly been the target of competitive attention from open source software from the beginning; indeed, the open source productivity suite family now epitomised by LibreOffice has over its long history done an effective job in opening up that part of Microsoft’s monopoly (even if mostly by triggering the creation of ODF).
For those thinking that the supremacy of the Linux desktop is closely tied to the success of GNU/Linux distributions like Ubuntu and the downfall of Windows, this headline might come across as bizarrely fantastical. The reality we live and work in though, is one in which Google Apps adoption, the growth of Chrome OS and the unstoppable tide of Android and Android based devices, mean that Linux servers are powering the large majority of what goes on on our desktops.
Back in August last year you might have seen Miguel de Icaza’s blog post “What Killed the Linux Desktop“. Since then a debate has been smouldering yet again in the Linux community with regard to whether the “year of the Linux Desktop” is still an achievable dream. Google’s Chromebook is one solid response to that question. It runs a stripped down, single function Linux system that’s easily maintained and secured centrally.
But the reason it should really be considered an answer to the question of the supremacy of Linux is its focus on the browser. The browser has overtaken the desktop as the prime location for applications. Linux based applications form the backbone of today’s computer usage, being the powerhouse behind the majority of applications people actually use. The real metric is not replacement of Windows; it’s replacement of Windows applications. Read more and have your say in today’s InfoWorld article.