Will Linux Ever Experience The Year Of The Desktop? [Opinion]

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For quite a while now, Linux users have constantly been discussing whether the open source operating system will ever experience a “year of the desktop” where Linux’s desktop market share suddenly rises in relatively dramatic fashion.

In most discussions, there are always those that are hopeful for such an event, and those who argue that it’ll never happen. But what are the actual chances of it happening, or can you even call it the “year of the desktop”?

Hardware Support

One of the most important points for desktops is the amount of hardware that is supported through Linux drivers. While a lot of people complain about how there are a lot of drivers missing in Linux that you can get in Windows (and I do admit that overall Windows has more support), there is still a heck of a lot of hardware that is supported in Linux as well. You also have to remember that most desktop users will only be using peripherals such as a keyboard, mouse, webcam, flash drive, etc.

Of course it won’t be as easy to get Linux to work well with specialized hardware such as digital turntables, but you have to think to yourself, “Will the adoption of Linux as a popular desktop operating system be affected if highly specialized hardware doesn’t have out-of-the-box support?” No. Plus in any case, if Linux gains in popularity, hardware vendors will be more willing to crank out such specialized drivers for Linux, so there is even less motivation to count drivers as a reason why Linux isn’t being adopted as much as current users hope.

Software Selection

The next important point for desktops is the selection of software available for the operating system. Linux distributions usually have tens of thousands of packages that can be installed with a single command or click, all from a single location. This contrasts to Windows, where all the software is highly scattered across the Web.

While Windows’ overall software selection is still bigger, the Linux software selection is still very respectable. However, most tasks can be taken care of with software freely available in Linux, so this isn’t quite an issue either.

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Commercial Backing

The main reason why the whole “year of the desktop” debate even exists is because of the current commercial adoption and what people hope will happen in the future. Currently, Linux has a small amount of commercial support on desktops, where a couple of products and games such as Oil Rush run on Linux. However, that support seems to be growing, albeit slowly.

This is the main component of whether Linux will experience a “year of the desktop”, so a year where commercial support massively improves would be considered a watershed year. I really don’t see it happening like some people hope it will, but I think it will happen rather slowly so that the change is too gradual to be considered  noteworthy. For now, software such as WINE is helping more Linux people use commercial software, but it’s far from perfect.


So, the final answer? Linux users won’t see a year of the desktop anytime soon, if ever. The fact that it has decent support for hardware (despite what some people have to say) as well as a large collection of usable and productive software is an indicator to me that it’s already an operating system that is good enough for any desktop. If things go the way they have been lately, more commercial support for Linux will arrive, but that will take its time. And therefore, I don’t believe there will be a sudden, magical year for Linux where desktop adoption dramatically increases.

What’s your opinion of the future of Linux on the desktop? Do you see something differently? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: Forrestal_PLStuart Chalmers

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Comments (51)
  • Jeff Fisher

    Will Linux Ever Experience The Year Of The Desktop? Not in the very near future!
    Users are not prepared/able to spend time fixing any breaks that may happen. I have been fortunate in that since Ubu 8.04 I have not had one serious fault occur. If you can afford to run Linux (even if it’s only on a second PC) – do it. You will not regret it. And you may just save some cash.

  • George Isaksen

    I am transitioning to linux with a limited knowledge on the subject. From what I have seen so far, I think it is highly unlikely that “The year of the desktop” will ever happen. I say this because there are no universal conventions among the many distros out there. There is no STANDARD package managers that all vendors can design for. And I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that also applies to adding drivers, which is at the kernal level (I think).

  • Backtrack5er

    I really don’t understand why Linux struggles for market share. Some would say that’s a dumb statement, but after 10 years of using windows and now about 5 with Linux I can truly say Linux wins hands down once you get past the initial learning of the OS.
    The reason more manufacturers don’t ship with Linux is because there’s a lot of lazy, brainwashed people in the world that don’t like change, even if it puts money in there pocket, and gives them something more secure. Bottom line, Linux is for the fairly intelligent and up, creative, curious types, that can handle and figure out problems. Windows is for the lazy, brainwashed, scaredy-cats, that help Bill Gates become the multi billionaire he is today.

  • Aaron

    Hardware is still a huge issue for linux because it has problems with regular hardware, not just exotic devices. I run Ubuntu 12.04 on two laptops, both less than 5 years old. It has problems with the Intel wifi card in one of them, and with power management and the Nvidia graphics card in the other one. All this hardware works fine under Windows, but under Ubuntu if I wasn’t a “power user” I’d never have gotten it working. Linux will never take a big chunk of the desktop market as long as it has problems with recent, mainstream hardware.

    Beyond that you need to recognize that it really can’t just be “as good as” to get adopted, it needs to be BETTER in some way that’s meaningful to the mass market and/or the supply chain. I’m not sure the “less malware” argument is a convincing one vs a Mac or PC with decent security software, but I think being free could be a major appeal to OEMs especially on lower-end netbooks where licensing Windows is a huge part of their total cost.

  • Robert

    I have been using Linux for a number of years now and currently dual boot with Windows 7. I run Linux for most things however there are still some major omissions (at least for me personally). I am a gamer and there just are not many current commercial games running natively under Linux so I still use Windows. This may be gradually changing due to the efforts of Valve porting their Steam Client over to Linux along with some of their games. They have already identified some Open GL problems in the Nvidia and ATI drivers that I believe has spurred these companies to fix their Linux drivers, Valve’s developers have also identified some issues with the Linux kernel The other problem for me is on my Home Theater PC, there is no easy way to play commercial blue ray movies and I cannot play Netflix under Linux. Yes I know this is because of their use of Silverlight and not a Linux issue per say however it is still a fact that if I want to subscribe to Netfilx then I cannot use Linux. This is due to the resistance of many of the Linux distros to having any form of DRM. Yes I understand the arguments and in a perfect world I would never have it on my systems, however I am also a pragmatist; I just want my stuff to work and preferably with my OS of choice but alas it does not in all cases. I know that a lot of these reasons are of a personal preference but there is one that is not and has been a source of confusion for new people looking at LInux for the first time.

    This one area is that there are several different ways of doing package management. You have Slackware’s system, Debian .deb, Red Hat’s RPM and a few others not as widely used and source based distros like Gentoo. All of these have their pros and cons. However because of all the differences between distros it makes Linux a very unattractive platform for Commercial software and games because there is no universal way of installing software. I have had many people over the years ask the same question, “what is the best Linux distro for a new person to try” We all have our favorites that we recommend but I find the question of why there are so many different ones to choose from a difficult question to answer and it usually takes some time to try and explain the differences. I have often felt that there is a lot of redundancy in the Linux camp, the different distros seem to constantly be reinventing the wheel. For example they all want to have their own utility for configuring WiFi, or sound when there are several already in existence that work well. They also all have their own software repositories requiring many developers just to keep them maintained. It seems that the major players could get together and combine all the best features of all the different package management systems already in existence and create a “Unified Linux Package Management System” you could call it a .ulp package. If this were done then you could have one central software repository for Linux that all the different distros could then tap into. I feel that if this occurred then this would free up each development team for each distro to concentrate on innovating the features of their distro without having to worry about package management. If you had a centralized software repository it could also have a commercial section where an end user could purchase software or games that commercial companies wanted to supply to Linux. Something similar to Steam but not limited to games for Linux, if the repository sold commercial software some of the profit could go for paying the costs of maintaining the repository for everyone to use.

    I know that a lot will not agree with me but these have just been a few of my thoughts over the years. One of the things we the Linux user needs to ask is what we want Linux to be, if we want it to be fully functional with respect to all the various games and commercial media then Linux will as a result become more and more commercialized with all the evils that this brings, on the other hand if we do not wish Linux to fundamentally change then we better hope that there never is “The Year of the Linux Desktop” for if there is our favorite OS will never be the same.

    • Danny Stieben

      It’s true that Linux is far from perfect, and that some things do need to be figured out in order for things to make more sense. I believe the idea came up once to have a ULPMS, but I’m not sure what happened to it.

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