How Much Does Linux Need the Desktop?
Does the true future of Linux on computing devices lie outside of desktop computers? It’s no secret that on the desktop Linux has held steady at only about one percent market share for many years, and that has caused many pundits to proclaim that it will never be a truly meaningful player on the desktop—especially on business desktops. Now, more and more stories are appearing about inroads for Linux on computing devices other than standard desktop and laptop computers. For example, some are saying that Ubuntu 10.10 will find a big home on tablet devices.
“When Canonical broke the news recently that Ubuntu 10.10 will include uTouch 1.0, a multitouch and gesture stack, it caused a flurry of excitement about the Linux release's potential for use in tablets. Thanks to the new technology, users of Ubuntu 10.10--also known as Maverick Meerkat--will be able to switch applications or tabs within an application, for example, using gestures. Android users have already been enjoying the power of touch, of course, but this new technology will bring it to the Linux desktop.”
Of course, the concept of Linux-based operating systems going on tablets is nothing new. There already are tablets based on Android, which is Linux-based, and many people expect sophisticated tablets to run Google’s upcoming Linux-based Chrome OS. But Ubuntu is Ubuntu. Its interface has become steadily easier to use over the years, it’s familiar to a lot of people, and it could eventually find its biggest market on niche devices such as tablets.
Of course, success on tablets doesn’t necessarily have to outrule continued presence on desktop computers. I have no doubt that Ubuntu and other distros will continue to evolve on desktops. It’s interesting, though, to consider the potential for Linux-based operating systems on non-standard computing devices—or at least devices that we have historically thought of as non-standard.
Amazon now sells more digital books for the Kindle than it does hardback books. A computing device that isn’t a straight desktop or laptop can have remarkable penetration and enthusiasm from users. Just look at the path the iPad is blazing. While many people have scrutinized Linux’s evolution from the perspective of how it does on the desktop, in the long run, how it fares there may be a secondary issue. It will definitely be worth watching how Chrome OS, Android and possibly Ubuntu-based tablets fare with users.
Of course, we've also written about how promising Linux and its variants may be as secondary operating systems. Jolicloud, Chrome OS, Android and other operating systems may have very bright futures running alongside other operating systems, and many Linux users have already adopted the multiple OS model.