I know, I know. Every year is supposed to be the year that GNU/Linux "really takes off" and that "Windows is doomed", etc.. But this year... well this year could actually be the tipping point for Linux and open source. Look at the signs:
- Despite assertions to the contrary, Microsoft Vista has unquestionably stumbled. It has compatibility problems with older applications, it requires hardware upgrades to get full functionality, it's more expensive than what it replaces, and it's being banned by many organizations and government agencies.
- Dell. The company that practically invented the turn-key commodity PC market for ordinary people is making plans to sell entry level computers with Linux pre-installed and ready to go. There are a lot of people out there who just want an inexpensive PC for web surfing, email, and word processing. For them, it doesn't matter whether the computer is running Linux or Windows or AmigaDos as long as the apps are there and they can use them right out of the box.
- Linux and open source in general has far more "gravitas" in corporate circles than ever before. Oracle is trying to break into the market, Red Hat is flexing its muscles, and even Microsoft is selling Linux vouchers.
- Linux desktops are looking better than ever. Gnome and KDE, with Xgl and Compiz and Beryl give the eye candy. Ubuntu pioneers ease of use. Linspire makes it familiar to people who are used to pre-Vista Windows.
- Open source applications have achieved a critical mass. Mozilla Firefox is an excellent browser, and Open Office can handle all but the most diehard VBA hacker's productivity needs. Eclipse and NetBeans provide excellent free development environments for multiple languages. And many applications are moving to the web anyway, requiring no local software install besides a modern web browser.
OEMs like Dell can benefit from customizing the GNU/Linux desktop and OS far beyond what Microsoft will allow on Windows. Dell could provide a completely branded experience, from startup screens to wallpaper, from icons to online help, browser home pages, and bundled applications.
Linux has a unique window of opportunity right now while Microsoft gets its act together with Vista. And Dell is in a unique position to take their users by the hand and jump through that window to bring Linux to the masses.