Will 2018 Be the Year of the Linux Desktop

2018 Year of the Linux Desktop

The “Year of the Linux Desktop” is a fabled time when Linux finally rises up and becomes the dominant desktop operating system, supplanting Windows.

Now, that might sound ridiculous, but the notion has been fueled over the years by Linux’s rise to dominance in every other market. The vast majority of servers run Linux. Just about every supercomputer runs on Linux. If you have an Android phone, it’s running the Linux kernel. Even the Internet of Things and automotive computers are primarily running some variation of Linux.

So it’s not too hard to see why Linux fans would keep hope alive that their favorite operating system would someday claim the mainstream desktop market too.

If you really think about it, this concept of the “Year of the Linux Desktop” is harder to pin down than it seems. Does it mean that Linux will be more common than Windows overall? Does it mean that Linux takes the majority of the desktop market? Or does it just mean that Linux moves into the mainstream and gets respect as a first class citizen? It’s really hard to say.

To make matters worse, the desktop market itself is changing. How many people still use a traditional desktop? Laptops and tablets are becoming the same thing. In that case, does Android count?

For this article the “Year of the Linux Desktop” is going to be considered the year that traditional desktop GNU/Linux (Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, etc.) moves into the mainstream and becomes a serious choice for non-technical users. That seems like a fair balance.

Ubuntu on Dell

One of the main reasons that Windows rose to such dominance in the 90s was the fact that it shipped with nearly every computer sold. When you bought a computer, it had Windows, and it had key Microsoft products like the Office suite. Microsoft was brilliant with this, engineering dependence on their products. It was so effective that the US government had to step in and treat Microsoft as a monopoly.

To some degree, that’s still the case today. The vast majority of computers still come with Windows installed. Now, though, there are clearly other choices. Macs are more popular than they were in the past, and Google’s Chromebooks (running modified Linux) provide a great low cost alternative. So where does Linux fit in?

To be perfectly honest, the outlook for Linux still isn’t very good. Dell does offer a handful of Ubuntu laptops geared towards developers, and there are a couple of smaller specialty PC manufacturers catering to Linux, but the chances of walking into your local electronics store and picking up a computer running Linux are still very slim.

linux-hidpi-kde-plasma-desktop

Is Linux ready for mainstream daily use? Absolutely. There is no reason at all why even the most technologically challenged can’t use Linux.

While it’s still possible to use Linux in the most obscure and arcane ways imaginable, the majority of Linux installations give you a complete, functional, and user-friendly experience. If you set up a distribution like Ubuntu on your computer, you’ll probably find yourself with most things that you’d want from your PC without needing to install any extras.

The main desktop environments like KDE, GNOME, Cinnamon, and XFCE are all very complete, with GNOME and KDE Plasma being the top contenders. Not only do they have all of the features that most users would want and expect, they look really nice, too. Plasma, in particular, easily looks just as good, if not better, than anything Microsoft or Apple have put out.

Installing software packages isn’t exactly perfect. Graphical app installers have most of the functionality that users would want, but they’re still a little clunky and don’t always show accurate search results. They’re getting better, though, and all provide a simple way to keep the computer updated.

Most installers are very easy to use now too. Ubuntu’s is probably the best, and almost all Ubuntu derivatives, like Mint, use it. In reality, if you can install a program using a wizard on Windows, you can install Linux.

Linux Games on Steam

Gaming on Linux is an unfortunately complex topic. There isn’t exactly one way to play games. Is it a native Linux game? Is it a game for Windows? Is that Windows game supported by Wine? Would you rather have a launcher like Lutris? There’s a lot more consideration that goes into things than just inserting the disk and installing.

There are actually a surprising amount of games available natively for Linux. Services like Steam, Humble Bundle, and GoG all support Linux very well. Steam even has over 2000 titles available for Linux. However, the games available for Linux tend to be indie titles with a few bigger name ports coming from studios like Feral Interactive.

Then, there’s Wine and the launchers like PlayOnLinux and Lutris that use it. Wine is a compatibility layer that translates Windows code to something that Linux can use. It’s not perfect, though. There is a performance cost, and not every game will work. Even still, there are plenty of games that you can play through Wine.

Linux gaming isn’t perfect, but as long as you don’t need the latest games as soon as they come out, you can definitely get by and have a great time gaming on Linux.

Openrazer Project

Third-party support for Linux is a big topic. There’s a lot to cover. Both hardware and software support have been gradually improving for a long time, though.

Hardware support was a big problem in Linux’s past. New devices were simply not supported, and even more were really poorly supported. Now, though, that’s not the case. The vast majority of devices work immediately on Linux systems.

There are two sore spots here: wireless adapters and gaming hardware. Some wireless adapters are still poorly supported. Most are fine, but it’s something you should check before switching. Most “gaming” peripherals aren’t supported at all, meaning all of the special gaming functionality won’t work, and the device will behave like a standard USB keyboard or mouse. That said, there have been plenty of third-party community efforts to get these devices working, so some do. Again, it just requires that you look into it before making a purchase.

Obviously, software is a different story. There aren’t nearly as many companies developing commercial software for Linux. A lot of commercial software doesn’t support Linux at all. It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds, though. The open-source community has created a rich ecosystem around Linux that provides just about everything you could ever need. The open-source alternatives to many commercial products are not only just as good, they’re completely free of cost.

When considering the “Year of the Linux Desktop,” it’s important to consider the current desktop market. It’s bad. The sobering truth is that desktop computing isn’t nearly as big a deal as it once was, and the majority of people don’t care.

Desktop and laptop computer sales have plummeted over recent years. Microsoft even saw the proverbial writing on the wall and has shifted a lot of its focus into the cloud. Apple went so far as to suggest that tablets would make the computer as we know it obsolete in a recent ad campaign.

So, if it does arrive, what will the “Year of the Linux Desktop” even look like?

Is 2018 going to be the “Year of the Linux Desktop?” No. In fact, the idea is a little ridiculous. There’s not going to be a year where a switch gets flipped, and suddenly everyone starts using Linux. It currently is and will continue to be a gradual move.

As bugs, security issues, and invasions of privacy that come from commercial operating systems continue to be a problem, people, mostly younger people, will seek out an alternative. Meanwhile, desktop computing will become more and more of a specialized professional practice. Somewhere along the line those things will intersect and create the climate for Linux to overtake Windows. And, by that point, Microsoft won’t care. There simply won’t be enough money in it for them to care.

Actually, there is a remote, but still somewhat logical, scenario where Microsoft themselves will usher in the “Year of the Linux Desktop.” They’ve already thrown their weight behind supporting Linux on their Azure platform because it makes sense from a business standpoint. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that a future Windows release may use the Linux kernel because it’s more economical to develop that way.

In any case, 2018 won’t be the “Year of the Linux Desktop,” but it is a great time to give Linux a try. It’s a modern operating system, and it’s absolutely mature and stable enough for daily desktop use. Give it a shot, and see for yourself. You may just find yourself falling in love.

14 comments

  1. “Will 2018 Be the Year of the Linux Desktop”
    No. Neither will any year in the near future. Linux is too amorphous. Windows had one company pushing it – Microsoft. Apple OS, ProDos, macOS, OS/X all had one company pushing it – Apple. Linux is spread among many companies – RedHat, Oracle, SUSE, Canonical, etc. None of them are pushing Linux as obnoxiously as MS and Fruitco pushed their O/Ss. I cannot remember the last time I saw a Linux commercial. What Linux needs is something analogous to the Apple “1984” commercial or the Apple vs Windows commercials. Linux community is satisfied with growing the popularity through word of mouth. The high poobahs of Linux are not out conquer the world the way Bill Gates, Steve Balmer and/or Steve Jobs were. They remind me of the hippies of late 1960, early 1970s.

    I think that tech writers, pundits and even Linux proselytizers are working against Linux. They keep emphasizing the wide choice of Linux distros and applications, and the power of CLI as the great strengths of Linux. To those already using Linux these are strengths but to those that learned their computers skills in the “you can have any color as long as it’s black’ worlds of Windows and Mac, choice is very scary and CLI is nothing but Greek. Let the newbies start with one distro and find out about others when they get familiar with Linux. Let them find out about the power of CLI on their own as they get comfortable with Linux.

    “Is Linux ready for mainstream …..?”
    Is the mainstream ready for Linux? As you said, desktop use is evolving. More and more people are moving from desktops and laptops to tablets, phablets and phones. Applications are being moved into the cloud. Software is becoming a service. It is becoming less and less relevant what O/S one is using. Users have even less need to know or care what O/S is on their device. Pretty soon all O/Ss will become niche products, along with desktops and laptops. To paraphrase, Linux may conquer the desktop but it will be with a whimper, not a bang. And, by that time, not many will really care what is on the desktop.

    • Try to type your comment on a 7″ tablet.
      If you do “desktop” on tablet – you are doing it wrong.
      How do you read even news on this crappy thing (hint I can’t without my kick ass triple 24″ monitor setup one in portrait mode and 10 fingers keyboard). Let alone to read more serious articles or do a research.
      If you “desktop” only Facebook then you are okay maybe walking on the street.
      For me desktop Linux is already here since 20 years (Debian).

  2. “Is Linux ready for mainstream …..?” Yes technically, but no in reality The Linux Desktop will not be ready for the mainstream as long as FUD exists.(Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt).

    • “The Linux Desktop will not be ready for the mainstream as long as FUD exists.(Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt).”
      IMHO, you have that backwards. Their is no FUD in the Linux community about the mainstream. Linux is perfectly willing and able to join the mainstream. It is the mainstream that has to get rid of its FUD before it is ready to accept Linux.

  3. I’d argue it’s already happened, but we don’t acknowledge it because folks interested in the question are too hung up with the desktop part of it. When the idea was first broached, back in the 90s/early 00s, a desktop was the way for people to access computing and computer networking. Today, that occurs primarily on phones and tablets. I read this article on an Android phone (Linux), my spouse and kids use Fire tablets (Android, Linux), may people who never do more than surf the Web and write the occasional letter are switching to chrome boxes/chromebooks. Given that iOS is based on unix, and OSX on linux or bsd, I think one could objectively say to the extent it matters to most people, the struggle has long been won.. I’ll admit, it’s not the FOSS victory that idealists like myself would have preferred, but a result none the less..

  4. For me, 1997 was the year of the Linux desktop. Does Linux do everything I want to do with a desktop operating system? Not quite. Does Windows? Not at all. How about an iOS Mac? Not too close. Those of us who live digitally several hours per day are silly to confine ourselves to one vision of the desktop.

  5. It will never be the year of the Linux desktop. With a lot of luck, Linux might attain a market penetration of a few percentage points, but that’s all. That’s a good thing though, as far as I am concerned. Indeed, current Linux desktop offerings do everything that I need, and they do it well. However, by holding a negligible market share, the Linux desktop will not be worthy target for criminals. In this sense, Microsoft is our ally, for it insists in making it easy to hack Windows. The Gnome and KDE people are also our allies, for by trying to push their horrid offerings, in an apparent effort to out-Microsoft Microsoft, they are contributing significantly to maintaining the statu quo.

    It is for all this that I hope and expect that the year of the Linux desktop will never arrive.

  6. It is the matter of the desktop and the fixation on this one segment that creates all of the controversy. Linux has already become a dominant server system, and has been dominant for many years.

    Back in the late nineties when these discussions first began, I felt that Linux would eventually be a strong player in server and mobile environments. I did not know at that time if Linux would ever replace Windows, but I figured that eventually that market, as we knew it then would decline or be replaced by something else.

    If you look only at the “desktop”, sure, Windows is still dominant in that space. If, however, you look at the overall computer hardware market across the full range of device types, in the eighties there were only a few distinct markets and desktop fit for most of the “interactive” market. I doubt that market is over 30%, but if I’m way off, I’d be extremely surprised if desktop is more than that number unless the term is used VERY broadly. Interactive, on the other hand, covers a huge percentage of devices, including smart phones, appliances, as well as desktops, laptops, and any other category. For all interactive devices, Windows desktops are not a majority as they were when interactive devices were predominantly desktop devices.

    Because of this, Linux can be included in the conversation, but only if you are looking at Linux only from a kernel perspective. A GNU/Linux desktop has, more than likely, a lower total percentage than ever, but if you include all devices, desktops, phones, appliances, and servers, Linux is definitely on the list – strong on servers and the current generation of interactive devices except for the classic desktop.

  7. The question is not relevant any more simply because the “desktop’ has ceased to exist. Microsoft is running as fast as it can to bring to market the Windows-equivalent of the Chromebook. When that happens, there will be only two major OS choices, neither of which requires the user to know ANYTHING about the computer.
    The ‘desktop’ is dead. For proof, you need look no further than your closest major book-seller, and your closest (what remains of) major ‘computer store’ (even those are getting harder to find). The computer-book offerings of both venues ranges from pathetic to non-existent, compared to as little as two years ago (I have learned that it is simply a waste of time to go to a major book-seller in search of general books on computing).
    The desktop is dead, simply because the vast MAJORITY of computer users–and, hence, computer purchasers–don’t WANT to know anything about their ‘computer’, so long as it passably performs the task(s)for which they bought it, and it’s as easy to use as their phone. (For example: why SHOULD they care if their new device lacks an Ethernet port?)
    Perhaps that is as it should be.

  8. Why does every story writer who asks if it is the year of the Linux desktop only looks at the home user and whether Linux can game?

    When PC’s were first introduced it was in business, not the home user. A PC back then could set you back two to four grand, they were too expensive for the home user.

    Businesses are the way we need to focus if we are going to get Linux on the desktop, after that the home users will follow just like they did in the 1980s when PC was first introduced.

    Chris

  9. TBH, I really think the ‘year of the Linux desktop’ was only ever a blue-sky concept in the minds of a few wishful developers.

    I haven’t used Windoze for years. For me, it’s already the ‘year of the Linux desktop’, for that is what I prefer to use. I don’t own a smartphone or tablet (not interested, stat). I DO own an elderly laptop, but I wouldn’t want to lug it around with me; it’s the kind of thing that those laptop back-packs were once invented for. It’s, er, shall we say…..heavy.

    If I’m going to do anything online or otherwise, I much prefer a full-size keyboard, a large screen, and a comfortable chair. Much easier, and simpler as far as I’m concerned. I leave my computing at home; I don’t wish to take it everywhere with me. I never want to get like those folks you see in restaurants, or in a group anywhere together. They’re obviously together…..but no-one says a word, for they’d rather communicate via Twitter or FaceBook or WhatsApp, whatever. Absolutely ridiculous…..and sadly pathetic at the same time.

  10. Every few years, I try the newest hyped “Ready for the Desktop ™” distro just for kicks (I have a strong generic UNIX background since around 1997). Here’s what I found this time with Linux Mint (preface: I must admit that Mint with Cinnamon is the first Linux distro I’ve EVER seen that ISN’T ugly out of the box, so kudos for that!). But other than that…

    – In a test VM with Linux Mint as a guest, VirtualBox guest additions can’t be installed (some strange compilation error)

    – On physical hardware, installation went relatively smooth, but then:

    – On boot, the USB WiFi interface has to be unplugged and replugged for it to work. Yes, I can put modules manually in some configuration file, but Aunt Tilly can’t.

    – Installing Chromium is quite flaky: Clicking on “Install” in the Software Manager doesn’t seem to do anything (nothing happens) — after multiple attempts, it somehow magically appears in the Start menu

    – Software installation through the Software Manager is hit and miss in general

    – Suddenly, I get a “Busy spinner” as a mouse cursor all the time, everywhere, forever

    – Chromium: Switching themes gives huge graphical glitches, a mixture of all previously selected themes is used for various slices of widgets

    – Chromium: All taskbar buttons show the default Chromium icon, not the one belonging to the Chrome app

    – Chromium: Each taskbar button has a strange vertical line before the window’s title

    – File Manager: Situations can arise easily where the File Manager recursively tries to copy a folder into itself, yielding an infinite “Preparing to copy: 4298742398743298423789234789234 files (42723484329742389423 GB)” dialog

    – VirtualBox installation (as host): Entire computer simply freezes (last seen outside of Linux in Windows 95) when launching a Virtual Machine

    – Installing current NVidia graphics drivers is impossible except if you’re at least 3 rocket scientists

    – Even if you manage to install them, nvidia-settings forgets its settings on each reboot (yes yes, I know you can put them in a “Startup script” with special voodoo command line options, but Granny doesn’t want to do that)

    – Mounted samba shares simply stop working after an update (“Input/Output error”). 2 hours of Googling and trial and error reveals that the default protocol version simply changed from one version to the next and there’s no mention about that, no useful error message, and no fallback, anywhere.

    – Desktop compositing is much, much slower and laggier than on Windows with exactly the same machine, graphics card, and official NVidia drivers (verified to be working and in use). I mean, REALLY slow. Like 10 FPS. Dragged windows lag visibly behind mouse cursor.

    – OpenGL is extremely slow. 12 FPS on Linux, 20 FPS on Windows, exactly same machine and test (WebGL Aquarium, browser doesn’t matter).

    – Lots of obscure character set problems when mounting network shares, too many details to mention

    – Some apps don’t “see” network shares mounted in certain ways. For example, FreeFileSync simply doesn’t list SMB shares mounted via the “Files” app, which makes it unusable except if you have mount -t cifs and fstab voodoo (which aunt mary doesn’t have)

  11. Today, that happens basically on telephones and tablets. I read this article on an Android telephone (Linux), my life partner and children utilize Fire tablets (Android, Linux), may individuals who never accomplish more than surf the Web and compose the incidental letter are changing to chrome.
    They continue underscoring the wide decision of Linux destops and applications, and the energy of CLI as the immense qualities of Linux. To those as of now utilizing Linux these are qualities yet to those that took in their PCs abilities in the “you can have any shading as long as it’s dark’ universes of Windows and Mac, decision is extremely alarming and CLI is only Greek. In reality, current Linux work area contributions do everything that I need, and they do it well. Notwithstanding, by holding an insignificant piece of the overall industry, the Linux work area won’t be commendable focus for offenders. In this sense, Microsoft is our partner, for it demands in making it simple to hack Windows.
    The architecture of linux device drivers third edition has clarified their structure and their strike records framework, and it had a supporting archives too.
    however, the Desktop compositing is a whole lot slower and laggier than on Windows with the very same machine, designs card, and authority NVidia drivers (checked to work and being used). That is to say, REALLY moderate. Like 10 FPS. Dragged windows linger noticeably behind mouse cursor.

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