Linux on the Desktop, A Story Still to be Written

For nearly a decade I advocated the use of Linux everywhere and for everyone.  I wrote for local tech rags.  I would talk anyone's ear off who would listen.  TuborLinux Bible was probably the culmination of these efforts.  It was a howto/reference book that I wrote for IDG Books on the TurboLinux distribution.  That was the peak of my enthusiasm for the operating system.  I liked the "good ideals" that Linux followed.  I loved the dedicated, passionate and hard working community of developers and users.  It was the antithesis of the Windows experience - closed, prorietary, "evil" (but that's another story).

I also loved to tinker with software and systemts.  Linux was perfect for that.  As the years went by though, I was finding less and less time to tinker.  I had other demands to be met - being the best software developer, husband, and later on father.  I had less time to tinker with my operating system just to get it to talk to my printer, my network, etc.  I needed to write Java code for work, I needed to manage my pictures and digital media.  I needed something that just workedApple's OS X (Operating System Ten) was reaching maturity, had the same/similar open underpinnings as Linux and just worked.  

OS X was what Desktop Linux should have been.  As I wrote TurboLinux Bible it became clear that Linux was not "for the masses" as I had previously claimed.  It became clear that the last mile to the desktop would be nearly impossible without commercial adoption - providing hardware support, market focus, and polish.  I gave up on Linux for my desktop.  I bought my first Mac Powerbook in 2003.  It *did* just work.

To be clear, Linux didn't fail.  It was everywhere.  IBM invested billions in its development for server markets.  It was running my Tivo.  It was running my ReadyNas NV+.  It was running the Web.  The last mile to the Desktop was its only missed goal.  But the story is not yet written.

Linux runs Android and Chrome OS.  Commercial forces have been providing Linux the market focus and technical support it needed for the last mile.  Chris DiBonna from Google was recently interviewed and he has said of Android "It's your Linux desktop, it's the ultimate success story of Linux that I've been working on personally since 1995. And it's so gratifying to see Linux hitting literally hundreds of thousands of people every day."  Chris goes on to say that he's not so sure that Linux will ever be as big as the "classic desktop" environments like OS X and Windows.  But he also believes that those environments are inherently insecure. 

The future, for the masses, may be an environment more similar to network appliances like Chrome OS, Android, and iOS.  These environments have a more restrictive environment, are simplified, and Chris argues more secure.  I agree about the future being appliance-like devices.  PC's are general purpose computing devices and I love them.  However, there general purpose nature makes them more complicated.  Mom and pop and those that just want cloud services (the web, music, etc.) can get that with are more focus and simplified device.  Chris' argument that they are more secure means relying on data being stored in a more secure environment on the cloud.  You have to trust the cloud to be secure which, compared to your personal machine is probably a safer bet.  Although, if you look at the recent hacks against Sony.. maybe not.

In a sense, Linux has made it to the Desktop in a big way.  The number of Android devices in the market today is staggering.  It has yet to provide a compelling reason for me to venture outside of the Apple ecosystem.  iOS is still easier to use and it is literally made for the hardware it runs on.  Only time will tell if Android and vendors can mature together.