Has Desktop Linux Missed its Opportunity?

Does desktop Linux matter? Here's how it might

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Far from it being a simple case of FUD clouding the waters, the issues surrounding Linux's failure to achieve mainstream success on the desktop are complex, far-reaching, and diverse. It's such a thorny problem, in fact, that the chance of Linux taking Windows' place on the enterprise desktop is virtually nil.

But maybe it doesn't need to be.

Computing today is in a state of flux. The proliferation of broadband Internet access has made possible new modes of operation that were unthinkable even a decade ago. Increasingly, traditional desktop applications are migrating to the Web, and the rise of cloud computing means their data is going with them. Soon, typical computer users may be able to work almost entirely online, using nothing but a Web browser.

That's great news for Linux -- today's desktop Linux distributions offer browsers already. But the issue is actually bigger than that. As Jim Zemlin of the Linux Foundation put it at the recent Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit, "It's time to start asking yourselves: What is the desktop?"

As apps and data move into the cloud, the traditional PC metaphors are beginning to lose their relevance. We're entering the age of the invisible PC: a world where Windows may soon seem as archaic and limiting as the mainframes of yesterday. The new computing model is extending the digital workspace beyond the desktop to a range of new devices -- including smartphones, netbooks, and gadgets not even invented yet. Some of these devices run Linux now, and many more will in the future. The value proposition of open source for hardware manufacturers is such that Linux's future as a vital, thriving client-side OS is all but assured. It just won't be on the desktop.

The Year of the Linux Desktop isn't coming. But the Year of the Linux Client may already be here.

[ See why desktop Linux makes a better successor to Windows XP for most business users than Windows Vista or 7 -- if only businesses would give it a chance. ]

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