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2021 is the year everyone can blast off with Linux! There’s the ageing meme – it’s the year of the Linux desktop! – that’s supposedly a call to arms for mainstream consumer Linux adoption. The irony, of course, is that it hasn’t happened, even though Linux is now running pretty much everything else in the world: from your Android phone and tablets, to the fastest supercomputers and large chunks of the internet. The last holdout is the consumer desktop.
There are very good reasons why Linux hasn’t had a look-in here. The Microsoft Windows monopoly ensures consumers only ever get to see Windows pre-installed on systems they buy and, of course, there’s human laziness to factor in. You might not like it but Windows works well, and has all the software and games people need. So why would the average punter or even business exert any effort to switch?
It’s clear that in all the other areas where Linux has succeeded, there’s been a specific need that open source has fulfilled. Android needed a customisable kernel for mobile hardware. Supercomputers need custom kernels that can run on thousands of cores without extra charges. Internet services have developed out of academic Unix research and development that fits in perfectly with Linux. The Raspberry Pi needed an education-friendly, low-cost operating system and Linux was there.
With the consumer desktop, people just want something that works, is recognisable and runs their software. The late-2000 EeePC fad dabbled
with Linux to cut costs, but was ultimately swapped to Windows as people returned them because they couldn’t run MS Office.
This sounds awfully negative, but the big picture is that it doesn’t matter. The Linux kernel and supporting ecosystem has developed just fine without the consumer desktop, and will continue equally well having to make do with just the developer desktop, educational desktop, enterprise desktop, enthusiast desktop, high-performance desktop, media-creation desktop, science desktop, sysadmin desktop, the International Space Station desktop and beyond, so enjoy!
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