Desktop death is somewhat exaggerated

A stripped-down operating system, one that gives more responsibility to stripped-down applications, which can themselves use functions out of the operating system, seems like the way to go. Which is the final reason open source has an advantage.

All the computing excitement these days is on apps and the cloud.

Desktops are said to be dead. 

(The 1993 version of Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, is greatly underestimated. From Amazon.com.)

Part of this is Microsoft's fault.

The company has taken its eye off the ball, like Yahoo did in search and IBM did in PC software. It has looked at the market from its own perspective, not that of users or customers, and is paying a continuing price.

Part of this is also the fault of Linux. The continuing failures of desktop Linux, Ubuntu's inability to scale, has given Microsoft a financial respite but has also shown how uncompetitive the space remains. Monopolies may be profitable, but they're not fun.

Still, there are good reasons to believe desktop software will come back:

  1. Phones are evolving toward desktop power. Desktop power will mean desktop functionality in time.
  2. Clouds don't run themselves. You don't run a cloud off an iPhone.
  3. Microsoft won't stay stupid forever.
  4. Markets abhor a vacuum. If Microsoft does stay stupid, a true threat to its desktop ubiquity will emerge.

Ironically open source is in the best position to take advantage of these trends. That's partly because Linux, thanks to Android, has a big place in the mobile space, and a huge stake in the cloud space. It's also compatible with the desktop. No other operating environment can make this claim.

There are enormous opportunities here, and many different ways this can go. Google's Chromium might bridge the gap. Apple's iPad might replace the desktop.

What is most needed, I think, is modularity. Android smartphones have proven you can build a stripped-down, modular Linux, containing only what is needed to do a job, and succeed. A desktop needs some of those smartphone modules, but not all of them, and it also needs different ones as well.

A stripped-down operating system, one that gives more responsibility to stripped-down applications, which can themselves use functions out of the operating system, seems like the way to go.

Which is the final reason open source has an advantage. This form of development requires code transparency, which is a more important open source value than its being free, as in liberated, or free as in beer.

Who will seize this opportunity?