In 2007, thanks to netbooks and Vista, Linux briefly exploded onto the desktop. Microsoft soon realized they were losing the low-end laptop market and they brought XP back from the dead and practically gave it away to original equipment manufacturers (OEM)s. It worked. Linux's popularity receded. In 2012, Microsoft is once more bringing out a dog of a desktop operating system, Windows 8, so desktop Linux will once more get a chance to shine... if it can.
While much of the reason why Linux hasn't gone much of anywhere on the desktop has been because of Microsoft's iron-grip on OEMs and anti-Linux FUD, Linux hasn't helped itself much either. So what can Linux do to be as competitive as the Mac with Windows?
5) Give independent software vendors (ISV)s more support.
I, and a lot more important Linux figures than I am, such as Linus Torvalds, think Miguel de Icaza, one of the GNOME's Linux desktop creators in his article What Killed The Linux Desktop was often off-base. But, de Icaza did make some good points. One of the most important of these was that “no two Linux distributions agreed on which core components the system should use. Either they did not agree, the schedule of the transitions were out of sync or there were competing implementations for the same functionality.”
Sure, fundamental programs work on all versions of Linux, but say you're an ISV, what desktop should you build for? KDE? The slumping GNOME? Ubuntu's Unity? My own favorite Linux Mint Cinnamon?
De Icaza thinks the only way Linux on the mainstream desktop will ever take off is “to take one distro, one set of components as a baseline, abandon everything else and everyone should just contribute to this single Linux. Whether this is Canonical's Ubuntu, or Red Hat's Fedora or Debian's system or a new joint effort.”
He's right. I think that's been Canonical plan for Ubuntu all along. Linux pros may not care much for Unity, but even the most un-techie people on the planet can use Ubuntu Linux with Unity. While lots of great distributions, such as Mint, are meant for desktop users, only Ubuntu really targets the mass-market. If I were an ISV, Ubuntu would be my Linux of choice. After all, it's already Valve's pick.
4) Slow down the pace of change.
I like playing with the newest toys more than most people. Most hardcore Linux users do. Josephine User doesn't want to deal with a major update of her desktop every six months. That's why the successful Linux vendors—Canonical, Red Hat, and SUSE—release long term support versions of their operating systems.
Three years, not six months, is an update cadence that works for most people. Yes, that may mean your desktop release is running the Linux 3.5 kernel. Do you really think most people care about that? They don't. There's a reason why Windows XP, after 11-years in the top desktop spot—has only now been overtaken by Windows 7. People prefer King Log over King Stork. They may say they want the shiniest gizmos but at the end of the day they want their desktop to look and work the same as they did the day before.
That's a lesson that both Microsoft, with Windows 8 Metro, and Linux distributions that default to GNOME 3.x should learn.
3) Work even harder to get low-level hardware vendor support.
Over the years, Dell, HP, and Lenovo has all fooled around with pre-installed desktop Linux. Even now if you're Joe Consumer you can't just go to their Web sites or a store and be sure you can buy a Linux PC or laptop. Outside of the US and Western Europe, it's actually easier to get Linux PCs.
Yes, it's actually easy to install Linux on a PC—I do it at least every other week—but most people won't go to the trouble.
What the Linux distributors can do here is simply promote Linux on the desktop more to the OEMs. As far as I can tell only Canonical, once again, is really making a determined effort to promote the traditional Linux desktop. If you really want to see Fedora, openSUSE, whatever, Linux desktops in the market their distributors need to get on the stick and start pushing and working with OEMs.
1) Linux distributors need to take the traditional desktop seriously.
I like my fancy tablets as much as anyone does but when it comes to punching in words or keying in data give me a real computer with a real keyboard any day of the week. That's not going to change.
Only two Linux companies seem to get this. One, of course, is Canonical. The other is Google with its Chrome OS and Chromebooks. Google is trying its best to get you to buy, and now rent, Chromebooks. Google gets it. Google may be the king of the Internet, and Chrome OS may be just the Chrome Web browser on top of a thin layer of Linux, but they know the CPU on the desk with a keyboard in front of it is far from dead.
If we really want to see Linux desktops compete, you have a couple of choices. One, you can start supporting Ubuntu or Chrome OS, since they're only Linux distributions that seem to take the business of the Linux desktop seriously. If not them, then the Linux community must back another distribution to the hilt
You see, de Icaza was right on one fundamental point. For the Linux desktop to really take off, we must “take one distro, one set of components as a baseline, abandon everything else and everyone should just contribute to this single Linux.” Then, and only then, will we have a desktop Linux that will be able to really take advantage of the opportunity that Microsoft is handing us with Windows 8.