The Linux desktop is already here

I found it more than a little sad that someone in 2010 could still think that Linux is "still a non-starter on the desktop." Please — wake up: We're all Linux desktop users now.

No matter what you're running on your desktop -- Windows 7, Snow Leopard, XP, whatever -- you use the Internet, right? And you use Google to search? You talk to your friends on Facebook, Twitter of some other social network, yes? Then congratulations — you're a Linux user.

Thanks to the Web, desktop Linux is everywhere. The old desktop metaphor is dying. Every day that goes by the lines between what used to be a desktop, a server, and the network keep blurring. Don't think so? Answer me this: How much work could you get done without access to the Internet?

Even if you work in a business that has Windows from one end to the other, once you go on the Internet to get to your Exchange server, guess what? Chances are almost certain that somewhere along your connection, you're running over a Linux-powered server, or your connection is being made by referring to a DNS server running Linux.

That's old news though. The new news is that phones and tablets are also growing more powerful. And, once again, thanks to embedded Linux distributions like Google's Android and Intel and Nokia's MeeGo, it's going to be a Linux world. Windows Mobile 7? Too little, too late. Besides, without any backward compatibility, Windows Mobile 7 is dead on arrival.

Google would argue that, with its forthcoming Chrome operating system, tomorrow's 'desktop' will really be Linux with a Web browser as the interface. I think they may well be right. But the old-fashioned PC-centric desktop is slipping on the banana peel of the Internet, and it's going to hit the floor faster than most people can even imagine.

In the meantime, comparing what Richard Stallman does with his 'Linux desktop' to what 99.9999% of Linux desktop users do is as relevant as talking to a horse and buggy vendor about the latest cars. Stallman may have started free software, but his use of technology is still locked down in the 1980s.

Today's Linux desktop users don't use shell interfaces and Emacs for their work any more than most Windows users use the command prompt and EdLin for their editor. Instead, today's Linux users run desktop distributions like Fedora, openSUSE, and Ubuntu, which are every bit as good and as powerful as Windows 7 or Snow Leopard.

This isn't just the opinion of Linux fans. Despite constant objections from Microsoft, big-name computer companies like Dell and Lenovo make Linux desktops, notebooks, and netbooks. I don't think they'd do this if they didn't have customers.

Is Linux as successful as a 'traditional' desktop at Windows or Mac OS X? Nope. But, a non-starter? Come on!

By most estimates, the 'pure' Linux desktop has 1% of the market. That may not sound like much until you consider that's still millions of Linux desktops. When it comes to 'new' computers like netbooks, Linux is doing much better, with current estimates showing Linux maintaining 32% of the netbook market, despite Microsoft bringing XP Home back from the dead and almost giving it away to netbook vendors. When you then consider that many 'Windows' users are spending a lot of their time running Linux applications like Google Mail and Google Docs, I think it becomes pretty darn clear that the Linux desktop is doing quite well for itself -- even if it is largely on unsuspecting Windows users' desktops.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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