antipaucity

fighting the lack of good ideas

this is not the year of the linux desktop

2013 will not be the YoLD.

Nor will 2014. Or 2015.

This will be a shock to the fanatical FLOSS heads out there. But not to me. I’ve never thought that “this will be the year of the Linux desktop” – regardless of how many magazine, journal, blog, and other articles have been published about it. Regardless of the ardency of LUGs: it won’t happen.

There will never be a year of The Linux desktop.

And it’s not because Linux is bad. Or because there’s too much of a learning curve. Or because there is not interest in running Linux at home (as opposed to “merely” on servers).  It’s not because you can’t run Office on Linux (see CrossOver).

It’s because we don’t care any more. Linux is here. Windows is here. OS X is here. iOS is here. Android is here.

We have GUI devices ranging from smartphones to tablets, netbooks to all-in-ones, desktops, workstations, portables, stationaries … nobody cares any more.

All anyone has really cared about for the last decade+ is whether or not they can get their work done. For more and more of us, that is being done via web interfaces, email, remote connections, portable apps, cloud computing, and a host of other non-strictly-platform-dependent tools.

I can collaboratively create and edit documents in Google Drive with scores of colleagues (if I wanted) as long as they have a “modern” browser. You can edit on an iPad while I’m running KDE while she’s on a Mac while he’s on a Windows box. I can sync files with tools like Dropbox and Copy (and scores more).

As long as I am running on “traditional” hardware somewhere (ie x64), I can run [almost] any platform’s native applications – I can run VirtualBox on Linux, Windows, or a Mac and install Linux, Windows, or OS X (if on Apple hardware) in the VM. I can even run platforms like Solaris x86.

We have been treading steadily towards platform-independence for years. Major companies like VMware, Google, Salesforce, and Canonical have all been pushing us in that direction, in their own ways – along with thousands of smaller outfits: there is very little reason to ever worry about what platform you are running as your main environment for at least 5 years, perhaps as many as 10.

There used to be lots of underdogs in the race. Ghandi has been quoted as saying something incredibly relevant to the nature of the current platformless monoculture:

First they criticize you
Then they laugh at you
Then they fight with you
Then you win.

How does that apply to YoLD? Red Hat used to have a “Road to Red Hat” monthly seminar series offered to college students on how to get into their internship program. They had an energetic video every month that would lead-off the presentation, and it always had the Ghandi quote in it. They used it in the context of being a then-substantially-smaller company than Sun, Microsoft, IBM, etc – but one that was helping to disrupt the establishment and bring about change in IT worldwide.

Sun and Microsoft for years ignored, laughed-at, and attacked Red Hat because they were not following the mold that so many others had used. They were going into the most staid of technology environments, and acting-out, effectively, a blue-ocean strategy. (Irony – everyone I knew who worked at Red Hat at the time ran Windows as their primary desktop because there were no good (or even semi-good) non-proprietary tools for things like productivity software where you had to continue to maintain “Microsoft compatibility“.)

I remember seeing my first YoLD article back in 2001 – a year or two after I had started “really” playing with Linux (back when Red Hat Linux was in the release 6 family (first edition I ever tried was 3.3 way back when)).

Linux never got “its year”. Instead, it got something far greater – the ability to be healthily ignored. It became ubiquitous.

The same thing was true of Adobe Flash for years: every computer had it installed. It was so widespread, no one thought about it. Adobe never needed the “Year of Flash” – it happened. AT&T never had the “Year of the Telephone” – people got so used to using them that they spread everywhere.

That’s happened with Linux on the desktop. Oh, sure, there are still the ardent fanatics who scream death to Microsoft. There are the religious nuts who get into yelling matches over whether Ubuntu contributes enough back upstream. There are folks who complain that everyone should use the .rpm standard (and those who want .deb, and those who just want .tar.gz files – they can compile themselves, thankyouverymuch).

The simple fact of the matter is that because you can run a “modern” web browser anywhere (Firefox, Opera, Chrome, and more) – there is no over-arching need to worry (in general) about what OS is running the app. The Operating System’s job is to, well, operate – schedule and manage running tasks so users get stuff done. In truth, that should be the job of any tool: enable the user to get work done. OSes should be the concrete and rebar of the computing world – they enable other things to get where they want to go in an organized fashion. The ergonomics of computing – a fascinating area of inquiry, may I add – theoretically has as its ultimate goal that the computer be intuitive, natural, and even invisible.

So, folks, there will never be a Year of the Linux Desktop.

And I’m OK with that.