What's funny about this week back "in the seat" is plowing through the enormous backlog of email that I accumulated over the holiday period. It seems that while I was ringing in the new year and a new decade (the memory is a bit foggy ... champagne does that to me), quite a number of readers wanted my take on various predictions. By far the most popular "prediction" that you wanted me to comment on was regarding what part Linux will play over the coming 12 months and into the decade.
"Will this be the 'Year of Linux'?"
"Will this be the 'Decade of Linux'?"
I don't have a working crystal ball here at the PC Doc HQ, but I can tell you one thing, it's not going to be the year, or decade, of Linux of on the desktop, and I'd bet the farm on that.
Now, some of you are bound to be thinking that this statement is based on my personal bias. While I'm more than happy to accept that personal preference comes into play with many things, Linux is subject where I feel that I am very open minded. Years ago i was very skeptical that Linux would ever amount to more than a curiosity or a geek play thing. Now I see it as holding a very important place in the OS ecosystem. I value the fact that I have a completely free (in every sense of the word) OS that i can use for a variety of tasks and offer my sincerest thanks to all those who have devoted time, effort and material to make that possible.
But that still doesn't change the fact that Linux won't hit the big-time on the desktop. Why? Well, there are countless reasons, but we really need only look at two of these reasons to see why it's not going to be the 'Year of Linux' any time soon.
Reason #1 - There's no real demand for a third OS
As much as Linux fans want it to be the case, in reality there's no real urgent demand from consumers for a third desktop OS. Between Microsoft and Apple, the desktop markets (both consumer and enterprise) are pretty well captured.
Consumers and business users are, as a whole, satisfied with the OS that they currently have installed. This is evident from the fact that people still have a death-grip hold onto XP. Also, things have changed a lot since the heady days of Windows 95. People aren't as jazzed by OSes as they once were. Now, you'd think that this would play directly into the Linux camp, given that Linux is free. After all, if you don't care about your OS that much, why pay for it? True, but users aren't motivated enough to care. Despite endless Windows related grumbles, aside from a small shift to Apple, people stick with Windows. The idea of shifting to Linux is unthinkable for most.
Reason #2: Microsoft and Apple won't let it happen
Do you really think that giants such as Microsoft and Apple would stand aside and allow Linux to grab any significant desktop market share without a massive fight? Both these companies have deep pockets, and deep pockets mean big ad budgets.
Over the past few months we've seen both Microsoft and Apple cut prices of Windows 7 and Snow Leopard (a Snow Leopard upgrade is a particularly cheap buy), so the scope to push prices downward in the face of competition is already there.
So, where does that leave Linux?
It might seem like I'm painting a pretty dismal picture for Linux over the coming decade. In fact, I'm not.
While Linux of the desktop is unlikely to see significant traction, Linux is making significant inroads when it comes to consumer electronic devices. It's in these devices that Linux will gain serious ground over the coming decade. This is where users will really see the benefits of Linux.
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