2007 is year of Linux desktop? Far from it

It's the time of the year for the annual fortune-telling ritual, where soothsayers get their say on the upcoming trends for the year. In my few years as a technology journalist, I've been asked--every now and then--when the Linux desktop will really take off among consumers.

It's the time of the year for the annual fortune-telling ritual, where soothsayers get their say on the upcoming trends for the year. In my few years as a technology journalist, I've been asked--every now and then--when the Linux desktop will really take off among consumers.

As a Linux desktop user, I swear by the reliability of my white Linux box, because it has never failed me once. With it, I pay my credit card bills, chat over IM, make Skype calls, trot the globe with Google Earth, admire photos from my last holiday on Picasa, and edit stories written with Microsoft Word on OpenOffice.

Thing is, no one realizes that the Linux desktop is now as easy to use as Windows. It has come a long way. There was a time when I had to edit my 'fstab' file, so I could 'mount' my USB drive. I no longer do that.

Still, my younger, non tech-savvy sister simply refuses to use Linux, though she has zero problems with it. She still prefers Windows XP out of familiarity, and not because it offers her a superior user experience.

Most humans, and even animals, will stay in their comfort zones if they could. A visit to Singapore's Night Safari--an open concept zoo--last year left me wondering why the animals could stay in their own habitats without venturing into their neighbors' territories. A zookeeper said that was because animals don't like to venture into the unknown.

It is precisely this fear of the unknown that desktop Linux needs to overcome. Linux aficionados can claim that their OS is as easy to use as Windows (and indeed, it is) but they will never be able to win over new fans, simply because most of us grew up with Windows.

That's why many open source advocates are targeting schools and the education sector--and so is Microsoft--to cultivate a new generation of Linux-aware citizens, while making usability improvements to the OS along the way.

This year, I am not expecting the Linux desktop to make significant inroads, though usability can only get better. My wish list includes a standardized click-and-go software installer, better support for USB scanners and more ready-made software packages (so I don't have to compile anything from source and deal with missing header files).

To the geeks out there, you get what I mean.

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