I have the Linux desktop blues • The Register


Comment Recently, The register Liam Proven ironically wrote about the most boring desktop Linux distributions. He inspired me to do another take.

Proven pointed out that Distrowatch currently lists 270 — count them — Linux distros. Of course, no one can watch all of this. But, having covered the Linux desktop since the big interface debate was between Bash and zsh rather than GNOME versus KDE, and being the editor of a now defunct publication called Linux Desktop, I think I have used more than anyone else who also has a life beyond the PC. In short, I love the Linux desktop.

But that’s not what Linux desktop fans want. They want Windows crushed and bleeding under the Linux juggernaut

Many Linux desktop distributions are excellent. I’ve been a huge Linux Mint fan for years now. I also like, in no particular order, Fedora, openSUSE, Ubuntu, and MX Linux. But you know what? That’s a problem there.

We have many excellent Linux desktop distros, which means that none of them can gain enough market share to make a real dent in the overall market.

It’s been that way ever since people started talking about Linux stomping Windows on the desktop. But dreaming as one might of a real year of the Linux desktop, that’s not going to happen. As Forrester principal analyst Andrew Hewitt recently pointed out, “Overall, only 1% of employees say they use Linux on their primary laptop used for work. This is compared to 60% who still use Windows …Linux is highly unlikely to overtake Windows as the primary operating system.”

He’s not wrong.

That’s not to say Linux can’t be a great end-user environment. He is. Indeed, you can argue that Linux, not Windows, is the most capable operating system for the end user. This is because there are over 3 billion Android phones and Android is just a Linux distribution specializing in smartphones.

It’s not the only Linux hidden in plain sight. Chromebooks, which you’ll find in every school across the country, and in my travel bag, are everywhere. Chrome OS is simply Chrome reworked as a web browser and interface on top of Linux.

Add it all up and you can say bluntly that Linux has long been the most popular user operating system of them all.

But that’s not what Linux desktop fans want. They want Windows crushed and bleeding under the Linux juggernaut.

Sorry. It doesn’t happen. Linus Torvalds once told us why we’ll never see a classic Linux desktop on every PC: fragmentation.

Think about it. In addition to over 200 distributions, there are 21 different desktop interfaces and over half a dozen primary ways to install software such as the Debian Package Management System (DPKG), Red Hat Package Manager (RPM), Pacman, Zypper, etc. many others. Then there are all the new containerized ways to install programs, including Flatpak, Snap, and AppImage.

I can barely hold them straight and that’s part of my job! How can you expect ordinary users to understand all of this? You can not.

None of the major Linux distributors – Canonical, Red Hat and SUSE – really care about the Linux desktop. Of course they have them. They are also major influencers on desktop computers. But their money comes from servers, containers, the cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Office ? Please. We should just be happy that they spend as many resources as they spend on them.

Now, all that said, I don’t want you to get the impression that I don’t think the conventional Linux desktop is important. I do. In fact, I think it’s essential.

Microsoft, you see, is abandoning the traditional PC-based desktop. Oh, Windows doesn’t go away, but it moves. In its crystal ball, Microsoft sees Azure-based Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) as its future. Of course, Windows users will still see what looks like a PC on their desktop, but in reality it will just be a smart device connected to a Windows 365 Cloud PC. The real IT intelligence will be in the cloud.

This means that the future of a true desktop operating system will be in the hands of Apple with macOS and us with Linux. As anyone who remembers the transition from centrally controlled mainframes and minicomputers to standalone PCs, I don’t want to go back to a world where all the power belongs to Microsoft or any other company.

The Linux desktop will never be as big as Windows once was. Between the rise of DaaS and the fall from desktop to smartphones, this cannot be the case. But it can still, by default, become the most popular true conventional desktop.

So will 2028 be the year of the Linux desktop? What do you think? ®


Comments are closed.