The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

Summary: Holding your breath for the 'Year of the Linux desktop'? Don't. It's not coming.


Linux is 20 years old this year, and for most of those years I've been hearing about how the 'Year of the Linux desktop' is coming. It's not coming. Linux it's stuck permanently at a 1% market share. And that's where it'll be ten years from now.

But that doesn't mean that there's no hope for the OS.

Let's take a look at some data.

Exhibit A - NetmarketShare data, Nov 2009 - Oct 2011:

Exhibit B - StatCounter data, Nov 2009 - Oct 2011:

Data from both NetmarketShare and StatCounter shows that Linux usage share (that is, browser traffic to selected websites from Linux systems) as a total flatline for the entire period covered by both metrics firms.

Around 1%.

Now, I'm no anti-Linux zealot. I like Linux. I like it a lot. I happen to think that it serves a valuable purpose in offering the world a free operating system that people can do with as they please. I also think that Ubuntu is well beyond the point where it's certainly easy enough for anyone who can install Windows to install it onto a PC. As long as there aren't any hardware issues (which are more likely on portable systems than desktops), then it's as easy, if not easier, to manage as Windows. Many consumers, in particular those who do most of their computing through the browser, would be more than happy with Linux ... if they knew about it.

And that's the problem. Sure, Linux is on servers and supercomputers. It's also used by the film industry to bring us movies like 'Cars' and 'Titanic.' Linux also lives in many smartphones and tablets, TiVo devices, routers, in-car GPS receivers and much, much more. A huge number of people make use of Linux each and every day and don't even know it.

The desktop/portable operating systems race is a one-horse race - Windows - and it seems set to stay that way for the foreseeable future. Even Apple, which has enjoyed enormous success over the past few years (especially since transitioning to Intel CPUs) can only manage a very distant second place with the Mac OS. When you consider that Apple, with all the resources the company has at its disposal, can only manage usage share measured in single percentage points, it's pretty amazing really that Linux is only a few percentage points behind.

Microsoft dominates, and the only possible threat to them comes from Apple, not Linux. So let's give up on the whole 'Year of desktop Linux' thing. I predict (and I'd place a wager on this) that Linux usage share won't be far from where it is today five years from now. I honestly don't think that even ten years from now things won't have changed much.

Around 1%.

But that doesn't mean we have to give up on Linux. Oh no. While the desktop market is far too stitched up (OEMs pushing Windows, Apple pushing Mac OS), Linux is still very important. Not just servers and supercomputers, but in the mobile space.

Exhibit C - StatCounter data, Nov 2009 - Oct 2011:

Android, which has a kernel based on the Linux kernel, is doing well. It is rapidly catching up with Apple's iOS, and with Symbian in decline now that Nokia has moved to Windows Phone, has a chance to be a really big player. I fully expect Android to become the dominant mobile OS in the next year or so.

People won't know (or for that matter care) that they're using Linux, but that doesn't matter. I happen to think that Ubuntu could be a big player on smartphones and tablets. I also think that Unity is just what's needed to make Linux less Linux-y for the average user (though folks such as my esteemed colleague Jason Perlow dislikes Unity with the heat of a thousand suns) and that these improvements might give it traction in the mobile market.

The 'Year of mobile Linux' IS coming!


Topics: Linux, Hardware, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

    This is actually fairly reassuring. Thanks.
    • that's FUD and lack of vision

      Those numbers are fudged.
      The year of Linux will be when the people will refuse to buy windoze 8 and will switch to Linux. That's circa 2012!
      The Linux Geek
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

        @The Linux Geek
        Ironically, Linux got there before Windows 8 - that is, Unity is a tablet shell on a desktop OS that shipped in April 2011, as Metro is a tablet shell on a desktop OS that ships in 2013ish.

        Of course, a lot of people refuse to switch to Unity, too. *shrugs*
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

        @The Linux Geek
        Don't be so optimistic. Switching OS/OS brand is never an easy task for any 30+ people. In fact, it is darn hard to even let them switch a restaurant!!!
        I can wait to the next generation, when virtually blind Windows-advocates have been dead.
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

        @The Linux Geek Are you seriously this stupid every day?
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

        @The Linux Geek

        Good luck on that. Even Apple right now only has about 5% worldwide marketshare of the desktop / laptop market. They're the only legitimate contender to Windows on the tablet, laptop, desktop space.

        Linux's best chance is on the server, where they are doing very well.
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

        @The Linux Geek And this differs from your announcement that the year of Linux will begin when the people will refuse to buy "windoze" 7 how? Or your proclamation that the year of Linux will happen when the people refuse to buy "Windoze" Vista is different because?

        I hate to tell you this but the numbers are not fudged at all - the Linux desktop share is quite small... the ONLY way for Linux to become the dominant desktop platform is if somehow Microsoft is gone and every single copy of Windows is destroyed. Good luck with that - SkyNet may be a much easier windmill for you to face... just watch out for those pesky terminators.

        Now go get me that shake I ordered before I complain to the manager and he puts you back on the fry station!
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming


        Go back to the mid 80s and look at IBM TopView and early Windows with non-overlapping tiles if you want to see early versions of Metro
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

        @The Linux Geek


        How 1998
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming


        How 1998[/i]

        Some things never change. Including monopolies.
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming


        I *used* Windows 1.0 and TopView, and Metro they were not.

        The primary feature of Metro (IMHO) is that the tiles are desktop widgets (as on Maemo and later Android) with very regular sizes and limited to a rather strict array and color scheme. Sort of "desktop widgets for the non-technical", or a cross between the iOS static grid of app launcher icons and palmtop widgets.

        Windows 1.0 et. al. had *nothing* on the desktop, and to launch an app you had to find the .EXE in the filesystem - truly painful. The "Program Manager" with an array of icons first made its appearance in Windows 3.0, if I recall.

        I'm certainly not a *fan* of Metro, as I prefer great reconfigurability to a dumbed down shell. Same with Unity, though I'm giving it a fair run with Ubuntu 11.10 before making a final decision.

        BTW, Ubuntu had 20 million active desktops in 2010 (this is by direct measure, as in unique IPs to hit the update server that year). Given about 1.25 billion PCs estimated to be active that year, Ubuntu's share of the desktop market would be about 1.5% - and that doesn't count Red Hat and Suse, which are far more popular in the corporate world than Ubuntu.

        So claiming that Linux has "less than 1%" based on surveys of web traffic is obviously wrong, as also shown by iOS dominating web traffic for phones even though Android and Symbian devices are far more popular in terms of sales volume.

        Linux actual share of installed base on desktops is probably closer to 3%, but that is a fairly static share, and I don't expect any Linux product to disrupt Windows from its stranglehold as Linux has in virtually every other market. Microsoft is master of leveraging their monopoly there.
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

        @The Linux Geek
        LOL!!!!! That's what they said about Vista! Vista 32-Bit crashed and burned big-time and Linux is none the better for it.

        Vista 64-Bit was rock solid! I still use it and would install it first before Ubuntu.

        I use Megia Linux as my host to Windows XP, Vista 64, and Windows 7. It's the only safe way to run Windows!

        Mr. Kingsley-Hughes' comments are exactly right. The only way the "Year of the Linux Desktop" is going to happen is if Microsoft fails miserably and they pack it in permanently.

        Until there's an O.S. vacuum, Linux has no chance! - And I am a Linux User too.

        It has many hardware, install and version-to-version full upgrade catastrophes that leave you with a flat machine every time and so Linux is still for Geeks. Ha, and look who I commenting to, a Linux Geek. That just further makes my point. Things you think nothing of are big reasons why most Windows Users walk away and buy the next version.

        For the first time, I would agree with Loverock Davidson and his comments! Yikes! - But this time around I would.
        The Rifleman
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

        @The Linux Geek There ain't "Year of the LInux on desktop" as it is just FUD made long time ago by MS fans.

        The idea was to make a static that shows Linux is terrible on desktop usage.

        I have converted hundreds of people to use Linux on PC's (and even few on Mac's) and so far it has much smaller support call rating than what even Windows 7 gives.

        What is different? I install other distribution than Ubuntu (what is causing lots of problems) and especially with custom made default setup, avoiding almost every most known problem.

        When you know software configuration, install process and needs of the user, then you can actually make almost a single click installation with pre-configured systems.

        Then almost only thing what is needed to do, is to create user accounts, copy a updated help document to home directory and make a link to it to desktop.
        Run a update (I use rolling release distribution) and write down the passwords.

        Example, If I make 20 installations a month, I receive about 2-3 calls from those. And they are usually very personal features what they did not even know before they learn over the basic functions and usually not even touching the software, but services like having a another email account, a way to get access to their email trough webmail on another computer or where they can send their photos so they can send just links in Email.

        It is just so damn easy when compared to Windows and it is one reason why I have moved more and more away supporting Windows computers as they really are pain in the mind.

        For me, "Year of the Linux" was 1998. For normal users, it was 2007. For my avarage tech-minded friends, it was 2002-2003.

        And when KDE, GNOME or others are not the answer and money is not the problem, I suggest to invest to Mac's. Even that I don't personally like OS X or iOS, I know when it is best choice.

        One of the greatest thing what Microsoft have never done, has been XBox. As with that, people have turn PC's away as gaming platform and chosed Playstation or XBox and it has done great thing for people to abandon Windows.

        There will never be a "Year of the Linux desktop" as there never were "Year of the Windows desktop". It is per user situation when they are ready to switch or take in use something else than Windows.

        Some people wait like "Year of the Linux desktop" would be like iPad release or iPhone when tens of millions customers buy such device in few months.
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

        @The Linux Geek No, they will not because 2 Application Developers refuse to support the platform! Adobe and Microsoft!

        If people could get Photoshop and MS Office on Linux then OS X wouldn't be the big alternative believe me.

        As for Unity, it is weak and if Ubuntu insists on staying with it they will likely lose Market Share.

        As for the Stats, Linux Usage World Wide is estimated to b around 10% but you don't surf the Net from Servers and Servers make up a fraction of the Dektops.
      • That would also have to be the year of heavy drinking.

        @The Linux Geek

        Ive used Linux. Linux SUSE to be exact and I thought it was pretty good for the most part. I was quite impressed to say the least with the whole installation package and the programs that came with it. In short it was a good little OS with lots of programs all to be had for free. Very compelling I must admit.

        But sorry to say it wasn't as good as Windows, and that was a few years back with XP. And I have seen nothing in any version of Linux that leads me to think that Linux is ever going to be better then Windows, at least for my purposes and the purposes of the numerous Windows users I know.

        I'm not going to go through the things that Linux isn't good enough at, but suffice to say they are often mentioned and my opinion of Linux is the same today as a few years ago, and that is; its good enough for the folk who don't do much beyond web surf and send emails, and its an interesting OS for the very computer savvy, the pro's who want an OS that responds to tinkering and fiddling and the particular user knows just what they are doing and how to do it.

        Its not so great for the semi power users who know quite a bit and do quite a bit but are not experts. Trying to do many things with Linux that such a user has come to do on Windows with ease will soon turn into a series of events where your not only learning the nuts and bolts of your OS all over again, a process that can take months to get down with out any training, but your also going to find out just how user friendly Windows is when the "difference" in the way Linux does so many things actually can add up to more work, sometimes a lot more work when you don't have a clue how to do it and you find yourself getting tiered of reading message boards that often tell you to "TRY READING THE MESSAGE BOARD BEFORE YOU ASK", and often tell you with attitude.

        Linux is not for the feint of heart users who don't want to spend a lot of time relearning how to do what used to be simple tasks in a new and often slightly more complex way. Sure, easy, for experienced Linux users, and probably a fascinating challenge and great learning experience for those interested in such challenges and learning experiences.

        I know that many Linux users will simply never understand why it is that so many Windows users are not interested in Linux. They are rife with excuses about "well thats what comes on computers so thats the reason they use Windows". Only partly true.

        Yes its what comes pre-loaded on almost all PC's and thats what get people started using Windows, but its not in any way what keeps them using Windows. Linux is free. Lets keep that in mind. And free got Firefox and Google Chrome and even Open Office for many, where they are today. Its not like people will not take up free software when it does just what they want and does it well. Linux has been around long enough.

        Think about it, people download low quality Free movies to watch all the time. People download all kinds of free things they are not supposed to, risking malware and all sorts of potential problems, and all because its FREE. People love free, they love it to death.

        But sorry, they don't love Linux.
      • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

        @The Linux Geek

        Problem is that people do not have a change to choose would they buy or not a Windows, it is forced to buy it by OEM's and Microsoft.

        And every single person who comes to say that you can order a PC with Linux from somewhere... it ain't the answer. As most people walk in the malls and other stores and they buy PC's from shelf in their local stores.
      • my my aren't you a bit militant,

        @The Linux Geek reality check 1.02% to 1.19% over the course of 2 years is not an indicator of a year of Linux more like the 2 decades of Linux. Growth is happening and needs to be nurtured an installation at a time. Don't ramble and make the rest of us look like tools.
      • Windows is the market leader in servers too

        @ smulji

        Even the server market isn't a safe haven for Linux.

        According to IDC, from 1996 to 2004, Unix (which doesn't include Linux) was the market leading OS in server hardware revenue -- if you added up the prices of servers (hardware, not OS) running Unix, Windows, Linux, etc., Unix was in the lead. I don't know which OS was the market leader before 1996, but it was probably some minicomputer or mainframe OS. Windows NT Server and Linux existed in 1995, but were insignificant.

        2005 was a crucial turning point. It was the year in which Windows Server overtook Unix for the first time ever. This happened both because Windows was gaining market share and because Linux was cannibalising Unix. By Q4 of 2010, Windows was up to 42 per cent, nearly as much as Unix (26 per cent) and Linux (17 per cent) combined. The most important OS in the other 15 per cent was IBM's z/OS, which represented 11 per cent of server hardware revenue.

        In Q2 of this year (2011), more than 45 per cent of server hardware revenue came from servers running Windows. The article reporting this didn't give details of Unix and Linux, but unless z/OS suffered a sudden drop, 45 per cent would mean that Windows has, for the first time ever, overtaken Unix and Linux combined. If it's happened, it would be a stunning victory for Windows, which has strangely gone almost unreported (most journalists probably just think servers and Microsoft are boring).

        The trend has been that Windows gains a few percentage points in the server market each year. Linux has been gaining too, but less than Unix has been losing (i.e. Linux has been cannibalising Unix). If Windows's 45 per cent share holds for 2011 as a whole, it means that by 2013 or 2014 we could see Windows Server winning a majority of server hardware revenue. Sustained share of more than 50 per cent of the market is when scale advantages can take on a life of their own (as happened with MS-Dos/Windows on PCs in the late 80s), so the next few years will be very interesting times in the server market.
      • That won't happen

        @The Linux Geek
        Where have you been in the last 10 years? That didn't happen with the Vista fiasco, why should it happen now? People will keep using Windows 7, as they did (and many still do) with XP, OR, if anything, they'll move to OS X.
        Apple, Macs and OS X are what people want now, not Linux.
        Many "advanced" (by that I mean developers and similar) users have already moved to Macs.
        Unless you mention Android, but Android is not a desktop OS.
  • RE: The 'Year of the Linux desktop' isn't coming

    @toddybottom Since when is it not safe to surf the net with Linux? Any data to accompany that statement? As far as the article goes, I think that it's a pretty accurate appraisal... although I am not sure how Unity is going to fare in the future and how it will impulse/diminish Linux adoption on tablets and such.