Has the Linux Desktop missed its chance?

In series 2 episode 2 one of the topics was is Chrome a Linux desktop. I don’t intend to ask that here as this subject is already being asked and responded to in Show Feedback.

A supplementary question raised by @jonobacon and @jeremy was does the Linux desktop have a future. So step one let us know what you think in the following poll, step 2 post replies telling us why you believe this or what you think the open source community should be doing to improve things

  • Linux was only ever a niche idea, and only geeks were interested, so never had a chance.
  • Linux was a great idea but has missed its day so sadly doomed
  • Linux still has a way to go but we need to do more to promote it
  • Linux all the way dude it will become dominant

0 voters

Nailing my colours to the mast: I believe Linux has a future because of issues of privacy which I accept is not a major concern of most people now but people will get burned soon and so people will start to care.

OK, you know what I think. What do you think?

I don’t know if you ever heard of @bryanlunduke, He’s making a stupid daily show about Linux and stuff…
In his first show he interviews Barton George from the Linux division of Dell. I think this shows that Linux desktop is alive. It’s still a niche product but it seems to gain more attention.
There’s science where clever people always were using Linux systems. But even in this area Linux is getting more relevant on the desktop. A good example is NVIDIAs cuDNN.
At the same time I see more and more people which are not IT addicted and are telling me they installed Ubuntu on some old laptop to make it usable again.


Vaguely, I seam to remember is was active in this topic where he expressed particular views on the middle east but apart from that not much.

Of course I’m joking Bryan was and still is a well loved member of this community. I’m sure he will be missed as a presenter on the show but we all wish him the best in all his future endeavours

I’m assuming you are talking The Lunduke Hour on Bryan’s YouTube channel which is definitely worth subscribing to.

I agree that desktop Linux has a future at least amongst the engineering and scientific communities and I can’t see any reason why it should not be the OS for all. We need to see more preloaded Linux systems though as your typical, non IT expert, does not want to mess with installing operating systems - they just want to use it.


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I didn’t vote because the options don’t really tally with the question.

Linux on the desktop is destined to be nothing more than a niche. I’ve been saying this for years. It had its chance back in 1998-2000, when Windows Me was shit, and Apple were still relying on the bodge job that was Mac OS 8. And it wasn’t for lack of trying either.

Linux on the desktop has yet (in my not so humble opinion) to stand up to the popularity and reach of Windows, and the awesome engineering, stability, design and usability of macOS. The fact that WINE is still A Thing, and that many DEs still try to ape macOS (hi, Elementary), speaks volumes.

But Linux everywhere else - on servers, cloudy things, embedded systems, IoT devices - has already dominated, and “won”. A free POSIX OS with a rich userland (including GNU) that can scale from a TV set top box, NAS or credit-card sized board all the way up to a massively multi-CPU, multi-GPU scientific compute cluster is a magnificent achievement. The number of important FLOSS projects, platforms, frameworks and languages which have spawned from Linux and its ubiquitousness is almost immeasurable.

Here’s another metric: has Microsoft released Office as a native app on Linux? They’ve released it on every other major platform. Has Adobe released Photoshop or any other major part of Creative Suite on Linux? That the GIMP still exists tells me, no. Why? Not because there’s no demand, but the cost-benefit ratio for such a relatively small user base says, “I don’t think so”.

Linux, for the most part, is utterly dominant in computing today. Just not on the actual big computery thing you type things into.


I would say that it will only be a niche, and not very appealing for the average pc user, for the following:

  1. Perception. You get what you pay for. Free things are nice, but if they were good, they wouldn’t be free. I’ve ran into that often.

  2. You just cannot live without Microsoft Office. As @neuro pointed out, people want major software to run native on their system, preinstalled is even better.

  3. Peripherals and command line. (I’m lumping these two together) I got a new printer while back. It is a wireless network printer. I plugged it in and turned it on. I went first to my wife’s Windows machine, asked it to search for a new printer, it found it, loaded drivers and it just worked. I went to my Linux machine and asked it to search for the thing. It found it, couldn’t find a driver, and there I was. So, I had to find a Linux driver from the manufacturer. I downloaded it, tried to figure out which icon to double click and…nothing. I had to search online and found someone who made a tutorial on a similar printer. I then went into terminal and did that. Absolutely nothing intuitive about it. It was frustrating. The terminal, I think, would be very intimidating to the average person. In their mind, through the command line, one could melt down the whole system or cause a nuclear incident.

  4. deb, rpm, tar, etc. etc. etc.: Package managers are fine, for the most part. But, what if one finds software on a website and wants to download it? With Windows, you download the exe file, click on it, and go from there. Not so easy with Linux and not intuitive at all.

So, I don’t really expect Linux to even get close to the percentage that even Apple enjoys. Of course, Apple is proof positive that a hooman and his latinum are easily parted. Just show him something shiny! :smile:

I’m generally of the opinion that the desktop is doomed, regardless of the OS, if we’re talking about the average consumer’s regular usage.

Other then software and users, I think Linux is only as doomed on the Desktop as windows and Mac.
Think about how bad Windows is, other then 7 its horrible with so many mistakes.

The only reason that Linux isn’t bigger is because Linux isn’t pre-installed and on shop shelves, if it where, even if the software isn’t there, the software would go there because people would buy them find out it doesn’t have the software and make a big enough stink to complain.

People will buy the desktop without the software when they don’t need it as well, if they’re younger, people without money will use Gimp on windows any ways so it makes little difference for paid software.

I don’t think desktops are dead. First laptops should count as desktops too because they run the very same OS. Second is business. Who works in an office and does all of the email communication over a mobile device? That’s just not efficient enough.

In the same way when I’m home and have the choice between phone, tablet and laptop, as soon as a communication has more than two messages I boot my laptop because I can type much faster.

If I was home I would write this text on my laptop too.

first… responses aren’t consistent with the question as pointed out above. Linux is obviously not a niche or doomed as it’s the preferred OS on most servers. So Linux itself is none of the available options.

Even saying Linux Desktop isn’t complete enough as the boys pointed out in the show… I think it was @jonobacon that started referring to it as “The Open Desktop” and that is bang on.

The Open Desktop is never going to be widely adopted for 2 main reasons:

  1. It’s not pre-installed on almost any device out there (there are a few exceptions but nothing mainstream). They talked about this in the show too… normal users (where normal = the % you need to make a difference in a market) don’t install operating systems. Never have, never will.
  2. Most users don’t even need a “desktop operating system” anyway. That is why Chrome OS is so popular. If I take my wife as an example of an everyday computer user… she has a Windows PC. She is running Win7 on it because that’s what came installed. She doesn’t know or care that the hardware is dated and slow (~3-4 years old now and can’t upgrade to Win10 even if she wanted to) because all she does is: 1. web email, 2. web browsing, 3. Facebook games like Candy Crush. That’s it. The other 3000 things a Windows PC can do are irrelevant. Even if you toss in office documents, Google Docs does all she needs to do.

So that is why I can’t see that the time for the Open Desktop is upon us. Mix in 5+ competing desktop environments, 4+ competing package managers/formats, 3+ binary distribution formats, and more of all these coming constantly adding to the fragmentation of a minuscule market and you literally cannot expect any better future for the Open Desktop in the mainstream.

(and btw, this was written on 1 of 4 machines running desktop Linux in a house that has but 1 Windows PC, that being my wife’s… so I believe in the open desktop… but I don’t think it’s anything but a niche)

I don’t think Linux on the Desktop has lost it’s chance. Desktops altogether might become more irrelevant but they are not going totally away for a while. Pre-installed linux machines have just become little more available (Dell, System76 etc.) and we can’t expect it to take over whole ecosystem overnight. It has long time been growing slowly and I think it will. Many open desktops are way better than commercial alternatives. Adoption is just going to take time. Possibly more time than the whole desktop computing is relevant.

That raises another possibility. Once iOS integrates with mac os and Microsoft starts to lose interest in the desktop (even more) the only alternative is some open desktop and eventually they will take over desktop market even though it might be dying market.

I know I’m a bit thick, ok, more than a bit, but, I thought the questions and the discussion was about Linux desktop and not about servers. So, I don’t understand how the responses themselves aren’t consistent with the question. I’m confused, a state that I’ve lived in for a long, long time.

I’m not sure that the desktop is doomed as @Flamekebab mentioned, although his point about the average consumer has much merit. This meme that the desktop is dead mainly stems from the decline in desktop sales. True, there were many who used a desktop to check email, Facebook, etc. and now can do that on a mobile device and rarely go to a desktop, if at all. But much of the decline in sales, I believe, derives from the fact that a 5-10 year old computer can still do the things that most people need. I’m running Manjaro on a Vista era laptop and it does all I need it to do. So, why buy a new one? Even where I work, we have an old XP machine that still does the job.

Buy the way, @ChloeWolfieGirl, good to hear from you again!

This was certainly the intent of my question: On embedded systems which are complicated enough to need a real OS I think Linux is winning, On servers and super-computers it has won. It is on the desktop we are asking about. Unlike @neuro I can survive easily without Microsoft Office but I do run Windows as well as Ubuntu because I need good 3D CAD software and PCB layout software which I have not been able to find in Linux: I use Autodesk Inventor and Altium for this. If someone can point me in the right direction to open source alternatives I would love it and be happy to contribute: both in the sense of being a user a knowing what engineers need and as a developer keen to make better software,

Seconded, have you been away or just quiet, following the forum and shows but not being vocal?

I would like to see more female voices here. I appreciate that the nature of the topics we discuss is going to appeal more to a particular type of male than most women. That’s fine but I wouldn’t want to see anyone feeling they are not welcome

TBH: If [self_deprication] I’m considered suitable as a moderator [/self_deprication] then all are wecome

I have been toying around with Freecad. While it’s not ready for prime time, I’m impressed with what they have done as an open source project. And they are asking for programmers!

Particular or peculiar? :smile:

Doing fine. Yes, doing fine, and much appreciated.

Think about how old Windows is versus Linux plus, say, XFree86 (to start with).

Windows wasn’t really useful until Windows 3.0 came out in 1990. The Linux kernel was released in 1991. XFree86 came out in 1992. Windows NT (which is essentially what modern Windows is based on) came out in 1992 as well.

Linux, as a desktop-class operating system, and based on browser usage, has an estimated 1.5% of user share as of last year. Even if you believe the more optimistic estimates of 8-10%, that’s still less than macOS.

It’s had it’s chance.

In saying that, if you enjoy using Linux as a desktop-class OS, don’t let me stop you.

Without the contractions that would be “It is had it is chance.” Sorry, but that tickles me. (I very well know what you meant, probably the darn autocorrect?) :smile:

Actually, I’m not sure why there is this concern over percentages. If that was the actual focus, then macOS is quite the loser. But tell that to Apple that has billions in cash, and the many, many users that love it! I’ve heard of writers using decades old word processors running under dos and are quite happy about it. One mentioned that it is less distracting. What it really comes down to, as you said, does it fit your needs and do you enjoy it?

But, I agree with you, Linux Desktop probably isn’t going to make any great headway into the pc market. But, if more vendors, like Dell is doing, will offer decent units, then, who knows?

I think that The Donald may be the best news for adoption of the Linux Desktop for decades (every cloud…). Protectionist policies, and security concerns, are likely to encourage many government and institutional users around the world to adopt locally maintained open source IT solutions. In the longer term this could lead to wider use in a domestic personal computing context. Remember that computer use is growing rapidly in the emerging economies, and these are a much larger future market than the US or Europe, etc.

Hmmm, interesting notion, @Stephen. I definitely see the security angle as a possibility, particularly if people are mainly using web apps.

I doubt the Donald is going to significantly affect locally adopted open source projects. Why would this be the case?

Arguably, he is getting rid of regulation which may make more general OSS adoption easier.

@jonobacon, I think that if Trump implements his threats to impose punitive import tariffs on countries such as Mexico and China, then it is very plausible they will respond by boycotting, where practicable, US products. Switching from Microsoft to FOSS solutions is surely a relatively easy thing for them to do, especially for institutional users with IT support? In Europe many government bodies are doing this anyway. The Cuban trade embargo did wonders for Linux usage, I gather. Are the Iranians still using Windows to control their nuclear enrichment centrifuges? If you were a Chinese administrator would you be relying on Windows to control your electricity grid, train networks, or financial system? Of course I hope that such conflicts don’t come to pass, but it may only require an increased perceived risk, or mere patriotic bloody-mindedness, to accelerate FOSS adoption.

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Was just about to write a carbon copy of this and decided to read though first (good call).


I hate windows and always have but linux will eventually catchup to windows/MAC EASE OF USE AND PROGRAM AVAILABILITY, but this is changing daily. Plus everything is FREE in linux and everything is paid in windows and even more expensive on Mac.

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