Monday, October 18, 2010

Is Linux Dead?

When Facebook blew up in popularity a few years ago, this blog asked the question, "Is MySpace Dead?". Now, we're forced again to ponder another once-beloved and often-hyped technology and ask, "Is Linux Dead?".

PCWorld's Robert Strohmeyer wrote an article yesterday that's lighting up the discussion boards in the open-source community. He argues that yes, indeed, desktop Linux is dead. As much as open-source advocates would hate to admit it, he makes a pretty convincing argument.

The argument goes like this...

It kills me to say this: The dream of Linux as a major desktop OS is now pretty much dead. Despite phenomenal security and stability — and amazing strides in usability, performance, and compatibility — Linux simply isn't catching on with desktop users. And if there ever was a chance for desktop Linux to succeed, that ship has long since sunk. ... Ultimately, Linux is doomed on the desktop because of a critical lack of content. And that lack of content owes its existence to two key factors: the fragmentation of the Linux platform, and the fierce ideology of the open-source community at large.

Ouch. Strohmeyer goes on to say that the reasons for its failure are NOT what critics often cite - that it's "too geeky" - but rather a lack of, specifically, online multimedia content and compatibility.

Something of a Linux enthusiast myself, I would have to say that there is some truth to that statement, but it's also overblown. Most of my multimedia files run fine on my Ubuntu distribution the majority of the time, however, I admit, when quirky things happen, - for instance, when I want to watch Hulu, - I often go straight to my Windows machine instead.

Also admittedly, the lack of total multimedia compatibility is probably the main reason why I maintain my Linux desktop as my secondary computer to fiddle around with, while I continue using my Windows computer as the primary machine for when I actually need to get serious work done.

There is still hope for Linux in the form of HTML 5 (which makes streaming multimedia a more open process), but in the meantime all trends indicate that the desktop itself is becoming irrelevant as cloud computing takes over the world. Ironically, if Linux does manage to pull through it will only be because of "the sheer irrelevance of the operating system itself".

To be clear, this discussion is strictly about the demise of Linux for the Desktop. In other areas, Linux is still quite strong. For instance, it's totally entrenched on mobile devices, underpinning everything from Android and LG phones to Web-enabled HDTVs and set-top boxes like Roku, Google TV, and Boxee. For this reason, one CEO is quoted as saying that Linux proponents should instead focus on pushing aggressively for open Web platforms.

But nevertheless, having failed to acquire more than 1% market share in the operating system universe, it's becoming increasingly clear that despite being a fantastic free, open-source product, Linux is never going to quite catch on. To those of us who actually use it, that's a shame (and let's remember that there is a reason why it has such a hardcore loyal following). But 1% is pretty irrelevant in the overall scheme of things. Perhaps that's how Linux deserves to be treated.

Heck, even MySpace has more that 1% market share, and they were pronounced dead long ago.


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