When Linus Torvalds was asked last week at LinuxCon where he’d like to see Linux excel next, he replied, “I still want the desktop.”
I nearly stood up an cheered when I read this, here in my house nearly 700 miles from the conference. That is until I became confused by what he said next.
“The challenge on the desktop is not a kernel problem. It’s a whole infrastructure problem. I think we’ll get there one day.”
What? What challenge?
Of course there’s not a kernel problem. From where I sit, there’s not a GNU problem either. I’ve been using Mint with Xfce for a while now and I find it better than any version of Windows I’ve ever used, many times over. Other than needing a little polishing with some distros, there’s no problem whatsoever with the penguin. Desktop Linux is only the best there is.
However, if by “infrastructure problem” he means that consumers can’t rush down to the local Best Buy store and pick a new computer off the shelf that’s already been loaded with a carefully configured Linux distro, I agree. That is a problem. Right now, it’s the only thing keeping Linux from having decent user share. But I’m pretty darn sure that’s getting ready to change.
We all know that most people will never install a new OS. When it comes to computers, most people are users, not tinkerers, and they don’t want to go there. Even if they purchase a machine loaded with a version of Windows they don’t particularly like, Windows 8 for example, they’re still not going to wipe or partition the hard drive to give Ubuntu or Mageia a try. While it’s true that it’s easier than ever to convince some users to install Linux to give new life to boxes that have become obsolete or burdened with malware, most users won’t go that route and never will.
Most people had rather trade-in an old computer for a new one, just as they do with their cars, refrigerators, microwaves and practically every other major purchase. It’s how we’re trained to do things in America and we’re not going to break that potty training on a grand scale with Linux, no matter how good we make it.
But Linux is going to soon gain traction on the desktop.
With the success of Chromebooks, it’s only a matter of time before the OEMs start pushing well designed laptops and desktops with customized versions of Linux installed. It’s bound to happen. Computer makers pay a fortune to Microsoft every year for the privilege of installing Windows. But Windows’ luster as a brand has faded, making this no longer money well spent.
Many of the software problems that once caused OEMs to push back from Linux are quickly disappearing thanks to the cloud. Office 365 seems to work just fine in Linux, for those users who think they absolutely must have MS Office. Even the Outlook Web App is functional. Evidently Adobe’s cloud version of Photoshop still doesn’t support Linux, but it’s only a matter of time before that service, too, becomes platform independent.
We’ve moved into an era where most casual computer users, those who mainly surf, send emails and watch videos, are no longer using traditional desktops and laptops. Tablets and such suit their needs fine. More and more, desktop users are those who need them for work purposes. And as the casual user moves to consumer devices made primarily for entertainment, the user base on desktops will become more tech savvy, which means less married to the status quo and more willing to seek out whatever will get the job done.
It’s true. There will be no “year of the desktop.” But slowly we will see desktop Linux use increase.