Opinion: Linux desktop turns 10; world yawns

A decade after the launch of the first distro for casual users, desktop Linux is still struggling

I began using Linux as a desktop operating system around 1993, two years after Linux was created. Countless developers, engineers and hackers were doing the same. But at that point, it wasn't what most people would recognize as a desktop OS. The credit for creating and marketing the first Linux desktop designed for ordinary users goes to Corel Corp., which launched Corel Linux OS 10 years ago, in November 1999.

Corel was then a Windows software company, but its founder, Michael Cowpland, wanted to do bigger, better things. Corel had already had some success in 1998 with its Linux-powered NetWinder small office/home office server appliance and its WordPerfect word processor on Linux.

Corel Linux 1.0 box

Corel Linux was built on top of the Debian 2.2.12 Linux kernel and used the KDE 1.1.2 desktop environment. Besides WordPerfect and the usual Linux applications (such as Emacs for text editing and programming), it also included alpha versions of the company's Quattro Pro spreadsheet and CorelDraw graphics programs for Linux.

It managed to run all this on PCs that were less powerful than the smartphone in your pocket. The desktop could run on PCs with 100-MHz Pentium CPUs with 24MB of RAM and 500MB hard drives.

Of course, Corel wasn't the only Linux vendor exploring the desktop at the time. Red Hat with Red Hat 6.1, SuSE with SuSE 6.3 (complete with an "Office Suite 99" add-on that included ApplixWare) and Caldera with OpenLinux 2.3 were all beginning to contend for the desktop. But Corel was the first to try for a mass market.

Alas, after Corel experienced some brief success, its efforts came to little. Facing strong opposition from Microsoft and financially ravished by an ill-timed move into the then-hot application service provider (ASP) market and inadequate profits from its application lines, Corel quickly found itself in hot water. By the end of 2000, Corel had changed management and partnered up with Microsoft.

Next page: Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

The Linux desktop, then and now

  Corel Linux 1.0 Ubuntu 9.10*
Released November 1999 October 2009
Linux kernel 2.2.12 2.6.31
Desktop interface KDE 1.1.2 GNOME 2.28
Office software WordPerfect Office 8.1 OpenOffice 3.1.1

E-mail/calendaring

software

Netscape

Communicator 4.5
Evolution 2.28.1
Web browser Netscape Navigator 4.5 Mozilla Firefox 3.5.3
Graphics software

Gimp 1.0.2,

CorelDraw alpha

Gimp 2.6.7,

F-Spot 0.6.1
Media player None Totem 2.28.1
Networking Wired Ethernet Wired Ethernet, Wi-Fi
Windows networking Samba 2.05a Samba 3.4.0
* To choose one recently released example of a modern Linux desktop.
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