The following article has been contributed by Richard Brown, QA Engineer at SUSE and openSUSE Board Chairman. Follow Richard on Twitter @sysrich.
Recently there are discussions emerging about the reasons for the “failure” of the Linux Desktop – partly triggered by a German article on Heise.
Well – in the light of these discussions, I thought to make a provocative case here for discussion:
What if “Desktop” as a “general purpose, general audience, general unit of computing for the mass market” is a dying concept with a limited shelf life.
Fact is that phones, tablets, SmartTVs, and “appliance-like” desktop devices like Chromebooks are ‘winning’ in the general consumer area somewhat comprehensively.
In education (at least in the UK and the US), the shrinking of IT budgets has over the last decade lead to a broad adoption of “BYOD“. This dramatically diversified the devices in use by students, from Macs & Chromebooks to random Android and IOS devices, which itself forced an exodus to the cloud and web based services to facilitate this; an exodus that was happily funded as OpEx instead of the always reducing CapEx.
In the business world, we see the push to the cloud and web based services is partially a necessity because of this reality. You can find graduates this year who throughout their school career have never touched a Windows machine. The old assumptions that Windows is therefore the “cheapest” option (in terms of training), no longer hold true. I expect over the next few years this trend to continue, reflecting the reality of what we saw in Academia over the last few years.
So, where does this assumption leave the Linux *Business* Desktop?
I am sure there is a *business* potential for the Linux Desktop. Given businesses do now have a diversifying collection of client devices and a growing reliance on cloud services, a cheaper, easier to manage desktop platform is one that could potentially make significant inroads. Maybe not as THE dominant platform (… I am convinced the era of homogeneous business IT is dead …) but as a “companion” or “default alternative” perhaps. And if you’re going to have to support OS X, Windows 10, and Windows 8, and going to need to retrain your Windows 7/8 users anyway because Windows 10 is so different, there is a good chance for Linux to displace some of those Windows 10 users by offering a better platform. Thin clients, point of service / access, workstations running on Linux still have a future in enterprises. Also, companies looking into VDI find they can benefit from it, as it can simplify the entitlement, authentication, provisioning, and management of Linux desktops while adding a deeper level of security.
But what would it mean for the “User Desktop” or “Traditional Community” Linux?
Now let’s talk straight: In my view the Desktop, as a big box under a desk with a monitor attached to it, has its future mainly in the “enthusiast” sphere, specifically with Gaming and Creators (Developers, 3D printing, Design, Video, etc.). These are use cases where the flexibility of the desktop is still mandatory, and the current direction of travel of OS X and Windows are starting to cause frictions and problems.
This is one of the reasons openSUSE rebranded itself as “The Makers Choice” some year ago, and is emphasizing its more technical, enthusiast friendly aspects. With both of our distributions (openSUSE Tumbleweed and openSUSE Leap) and all of our tooling I think we’re very well positioned to address our tech enthusiast user groups.
More generally speaking though, we are also aware that Linux does have some application weaknesses in this space (let me just emphasize the lack of easy-to-use video editing tools), and development in these areas (e.g. the efforts around Gimp, Krita) need to be accelerated.
Gaming in the meantime sees increasing traction on Linux as more and more gaming companies no longer feel comfortable betting on Microsoft only to provide them with a (reliable) platform for their product. But these efforts are being led by companies who have little understanding of the Linux Operating System as a whole, and so are favoring technologies which treat the OS like a black box and run their gaming platforms in a container-like environment. Not the worst thing, but the wheels are starting to fall off as the reality sets in that such technologies can hinder access to hardware and libraries that would otherwise be beneficial to running demanding games. There’s scope there for an OS vendor (or a collection of OS vendors) to ease some of the pain by defining standards and collaborating in this space.
To summarize my provocative thesis, I think in the long run our traditional “user Desktop” as a universal standard of computing access is fading out. But I also believe there’s lots of potential for Linux – both business and community driven Linux – to anchor itself in the new “flexible desktop device world” we see forming as a result.
What is your opinion? Share it with us!