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Linux desktop: Not pining for the fjords

September 20, 2011 16 comments

When radio became a popular form of entertainment, the prevailing wisdom of the time provided that live theater was dead. Of course, this so-called “wisdom” was just a little off, since live theater “survived” the onslaught of radio entertainment and still lives to this day.

When television became ubiquitous in households across the land, the death knell for movie theaters and radio was sounded by the day’s pundits. There would be no reason to go to the movie theater any longer. Of course, they were wrong again, since movie theaters and radio still exist and are an integral part of the social landscape.

Even the death sentence for newspapers at the hands of the Internet — not the fault so much of the Internet as it is of bean-counting pinheads in publishers’ offices around the world — is still widely premature, though admittedly it doesn’t look good for the printed word.

Now there’s the future — or lack thereof — of Linux desktop, where tech writers are tripping over each other recently to announce its untimely demise.

I’ll just let time prove them wrong.

The problem is, to paraphrase the oft-quoted (and misquoted) Mark Twain on this particular topic, the report of its death is an exaggeration (the popular misquote, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” admittedly sounds better than what Twain wrote to the New York Journal is 1897: ” . . . the report of my death was an exaggeration.”).

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols points out in a recent article that the resounding butt-kicking that Android and Chrome are laying on the digital world these days doesn’t bode well for the Linux desktop. Vaughan-Nichols links to a blog post by Jason Perlow that says that, essentially, we are entering the post-PC era in which, while the x86 may be dead, personal computing across different-sized hardware will continue.

I can see this and generally have no qualms with that, however I think this sales pitch for a brave new world of tablets and smartphones goes overboard. Arguably, what Perlow describes doesn’t sound like post-PC, but rather PC-plus-(fill in your additional hardware here).

Linux’s success in the non-desktop realm is hardly an accident and I am neither belittling it nor taking this for granted. On the contrary: Linux’s superiority in servers, supercomputers and mobile provide resounding proof that it is a successful operating system, to the point where “the year of the desktop” has now become laughable since it is no longer the standard by which Linux’s success should be gauged (if that was ever the case in the first place).

Yet, to those risking injury jumping on the Linux-desktop-is-dead bandwagon, my question is this: Does Linux’s skyrocketing use and popularity in the mobile and tablet realms necessarily mean the “death” of something else in Linux, like — oh, I don’t know — the desktop, as some sort of technological quid pro quo?

I’d say “no,” and I’m willing to bet history has my back.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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