"The year of the Linux desktop is coming!" This has been the battle cry of the Linux stalwarts for well over a decade now, but the operating system's impact on desktop and notebook computing has been insignificant.
But now with the era of the PC on the wane, and post-PC devices such as smartphones and tablets grabbing the headlines, where does this leave the open source operating system?
Linux has failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities over the years. While Windows was dominant, it had little chance of breaking into the lucrative PC market, but Microsoft has stumbled a few times with its operating system, with Windows Vista's release being mired by problems, and Windows 8 failing to ignite hearts and minds with its touch-centric approach to computing. On each of these occasions Linux could have stepped up to the plate as a real contender, and while there's been plenty of noise from Linux fans, traction has been painfully poor. In fact, in five and a half years the platform's usage share has gone from a little under one percent, to a little over one percent.
By any yardstick, that's slow progress. Perhaps now is the time to give up on the platform and call it a day?
But I'm not ready to give up on Linux just yet.
First off, Linux is all around it, as the kernel powering hundreds of millions of Android devices. Most users might not be aware of the Linux name, but without the effort that's been poured into the platform by countless enthusiasts and companies, Android as it is today wouldn't have been possible. It could be argued that without Linux, Android might not have come into existence, and the massive PC machine that was driving the tech industry might not have ground to a halt like it did.
So in some ways, Linux did bring down the PC industry, indirectly, and not by going head-to-head with Microsoft over the desktop.
But I'm also not ruling out Linux as a contender on PCs.
Microsoft has taken Windows 8 in a touch direction, and there's a large — and discontented — subset of users who are not keen on this shift and are planning to either stick with an older version of Windows, or look to alternatives. While OS X is one such alternative, it's an expensive route, and one that isn't open to all.
This is where Linux comes in. There was a time when application compatibility was paramount, and people simply couldn't switch to Linux, but now that the browser has replace the operating system as the primary platform, and apps have moved from the drive to the web, Linux becomes an option.
And there's a good reason for PC makers to embrace Linux on PCs – price. PC prices have been driven into the dirt, and Windows now makes up the bulk of the cost of a PC, and if manufacturers could eliminate this cost, it would allow them to cut prices a little, while at the same time pulling in a few extra dollars per PC. I've spoken to a number of OEMs who, off the record, have said that they are actively exploring the possibility of putting Linux on hardware aimed at mass-market users. The problem, I'm told, is marketing and how to make it clear that Linux won't run Windows applications.
Just because Linux hasn't made it on the PC yet doesn't mean that it won't. In fact, the stars might be better aligned now than ever. And while I don't think that Linux has a chance of ousting Windows as the dominant PC operating system, but it could offer consumers and manufacturers a way forward without having to embrace touch.