Linux is about to take over the desktop but not like you think it will

Summary:You'd better get ready for the personal computing, BYOD, and corporate computing revolution. Linux is coming to a desktop near you. But not like you think or had hoped. It's coming in the form of the Chrome OS on Chromebooks.

For years I've heard that year X is the year of the Linux desktop and I've always scoffed at it. I scoffed because it's ridiculous to think that Linux or Mac OS X or anything could supplant Windows on the desktop. That is until now. And don't get me wrong, it won't happen for at least another year in businesses but for personal computing and BYOD, it's already happening. The Linux that's taking over the desktop is called the Chrome OS and it will happen on the Chromebook device.

Yes, I know I write a lot about Chromebooks but they fascinate me. I'm kind of obsessed by them. I wish that I had been more receptive to them two years ago when I first saw one. But I guess there's a time and a place for everything. And it just wasn't my time yet.

But the business Chromebook revolution is about to happen and either you'll be part of it or you'll be left behind.

Fortunately, the learning curve isn't very steep. You can easily catch up. Chromebooks are easy to use.

For business, Chromebooks make sense because they're inexpensive, secure, and reliable. No moving parts is a very good thing.

But let's get back to the whole idea of subverting Windows with the ChromeOS. It's Linux and it's the desktop. 

The primary drivers behind this idea of desktop Windows displacement are:

  1. Interface - People don't like Windows 8.x.
  2. Price - People are tired of the constant hardware, software, and OS upgrade cycle.
  3. Security - People are tired of viruses, malware, and hacks.
  4. Loss - People are tired of losing data when a disk crashes or a device is stolen.
  5. Battery Life - Mobile users need longer battery life.
  6. Usability - More versatile than a tablet. Less cumbersome than a laptop.
  7. Browser-based - The future of software is SaaS.

Interface

I think that, for businesses, Windows 7 is the new XP because users don't want to make the switch to Windows 8.x. The transition from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 was easier than the transition from Windows XP, Vista, 7 to Windows 8.x and there are some people who will never make that transition. I even gave up on Windows 8.x and went back to Windows 7 on the "floating" laptop that my wife and kids use as a community computer. It was frustrating for them and it's frustrating for me to use. Sorry Microsoft, I really tried. I hated it, I liked it, I even had a brief moment of Windows 8.x love, but now I'm back to "It's just too much trouble". I predict that businesses will go Chromebook before they go Windows 8.x. This might spell the end for Windows on the desktop. Unless Microsoft makes a big change in Windows 9.x or whatever they call it.

Price 

Do you ever feel like there's a conspiracy between hardware manufacturers and Microsoft? Each new OS has new features that require new hardware and new hardware requires a new OS. It's like changing from 8-track tapes and vinyl records to cassettes to CDs to MP3s. The only people who win are the ones who sell the stuff.

On that note about music (You have to admit it's been a while since I've gone off on a good tangential digression), the RIAA is so ready to sue people for swapping songs and downloading music but each time the format changed over the years, we never got any rebates, trade-ins, or discounts to upgrade our music to the next big thing. Or at least I didn't. Nope. Each time, it cost me hundreds or thousands of dollars to replace my collection in the next format. Now, I have hundreds of CDs lying around and no one even wants them anymore. The same goes for my hardware and software. The old stuff is just a loss.

I, personally, am tired of feeling pressured or forced to upgrade every two to three years because of the latest OS or the latest hardware. It's too expensive. It's time for the hardware revolution to benefit the consumer. The Chromebook will do that for us.

Security

I write a lot about security too. I hate having to install antivirus software on everything, keep it updated, and hope it doesn't corrupt something in my OS that it thinks is a virus. I hate having to worry about keeping my systems patched because someone in a bookstore might scan and hack my system. I hate having to waste my time scanning for malware and updating the malware software. And I hate having to wonder what email beastie some friend of mine will innocently send me that will take hours or days to fix.

With a Chromebook, I can reboot or reset the whole thing and not have to worry about evil gremlins that lurk about. I'm tired of the irritation of having to remove Conduit Search because I chose to download a freeware utility. I think you get the point. I'm tired of fighting every security windmill that I encounter. I want an operating system and a device that's secure to use. It makes me happy to use ChromeOS for that reason alone.

Loss

Yes, I know I'm supposed to backup my files and I do. But there are a lot of people and businesses that don't—or they do, but then find that their backups are no good. It's happened to me more times than I can count. If you've kept up with my blog/column here, you know the stories of failed backups or having no backups.

It's a very common problem.

But with ChromeOS and a Chromebook, you have to store your files in the cloud. I know, the horrible cloud—the evil cloud that everyone hates. Well, I don't hate it. I like it because it gives me a backup that I didn't have before. I'm forced to use it. I'm OK with being forced to use it. 

Battery Life

Sure some laptops manufacturers have created laptops with longer battery lives but the tradeoff is weight and heat. The term laptop is really a misnomer. You probably can't keep one on your lap for very long.

My Acer C720 has a very long battery life. Eight hours long to be precise. Eight hours of untethered bliss. I can carry my C720 to any WiFi-enabled location and enjoy the feeling of only carrying that three pound wonder with me. It's funny that we have a local pizza joint here that sells a "3-pounder". I never thought of it as having the same weight as a Chromebook. But I ask you, what's better than using a three pound Chromebook while eating a pizza called the 3-pounder? I got nothing.

The point is that battery life is important to those of us who like to change locations with our computers. The longer the better. I love the idea of being able to work an entire day untethered, especially if I forget my power cord, which actually happened to me when I went to Austin last year for Spiceworld. I forgot my laptop power cord. I had to really just not use it at all because the power on it lasts for two hours if I'm lucky. Fortunately, I had my iPad in an iHome case that included a keyboard. Without that, I would have been wandering around with just an iPhone trying to write notes, check email, and play Angry Birds. I know, I know...First World Problem, there Ken.

Usability

The Chromebook is an extremely portable device. At only three pounds, a full keyboard, and a screen that rivals any laptop computer, there's just no competition for it on the usability scale. You can hook it up to external devices such as monitors, keyboards, mice, wired network connections, and more. You can't do that with a tablet.

And unless you like lugging around a standard laptop with a power cable, the Chromebook lightens your load. That's great for me because I'm usually also burdened with a DSLR camera, an extra lens or two, and maybe an extra camera or two in my camera bag. I don't need another eight or ten pounds of added weight hanging on me.

Plus, when I'm busy, I don't want to wait for my laptop to come on and I can't afford to just put it in sleep mode because that takes some power too. I also don't want to wait on a bunch of stuff to close or the OS to ask me to force applications to close. Just close already. Chromebooks are instant on, instant off.

Browser-based Everything

If you haven't heard, software as a service (SaaS) is kind of a big deal. Even Microsoft sees that writing on the wall with it's Office Online, Office 365, and Outlook.com webified Office applications. In fact, I'm using Word Online right now on my Chromebook. Awesome? Yes.

Between webified applications and virtual application solutions such as those from 2x Software and Citrix, there's no reason to use localized applications anymore.

Even Intuit has created an online version of Quickbooks, which was one of the last reasons why some people needed to stay on Windows or Mac systems. Well now's your chance to make the leap to web-based everything.

Frankly, I'm ready to see the ChromeOS and the Chromebook revolution. It's way overdue. When I spoke to folks from Acer a few days ago, I made the prediction to them that the Chromebooks for business revolution is about one year away—setting my sights on Fall 2015. Acer currently owns 51% of the retail Chromebook market. If I were to give someone business advice, I'd say "Gear up for the coming onslaught of business adoption of the Chromebook".

Although I made some clever suggestions and some wild guesses, Acer is playing its cards close and not letting anyone know what's to come but if I were a betting man, and I'm not, I'd say that they're going to manufacture tiered Chromebook offerings: A personal Chromebook, an education Chromebook, and a business Chromebook. And the differences will be in number of ports, screen size, and possibly a docking accessory for business use. They wouldn't throw me a crumb on anything upcoming and I'm just guessing here, but I think I'm pretty smart for an old country boy. Keep your eye on Acer in the next year*.

What do you think of my outline of Linux usurping Microsoft's hold on the desktop? Do you think the ChromeOS and Chromebooks can do it finally or is this another lame prediction from another myopic techno-journalist writer type? Talk back and let me know.

*Disclaimer: I don't own any Acer stock or hold any stake in Acer except for the many Acer products that I've bought over the years—all of them still operational, by the way.

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Topics: Google, Browser, Hardware

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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