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10/22/2007
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Why Linux Will Succeed On The Desktop

Former Linux Journal editor Nicholas Petreley argues that the open-source operating system will break through big time on the client side, especially if pre-installs increase and the KDE graphical environment is adopted.

[Editor's Note: This article offers a counterpoint and rebuttal to our earlier article, 7 Reasons Why Linux Won't Succeed On The Desktop.]

I believe Linux will become the de-facto standard desktop operating system. Though it'll take a while for many users to break free from ties to Windows, there is good reason to believe that this day will come.

Consider that the global community is already beginning to rally behind standard document formats. In addition, as browsers like Firefox gain more market share, users are less tolerant of Internet Explorer-only web sites. However, the transition is slow and will continue to be a slow one. Most people will switch away from Windows only when dollars are on the line.

The Perfect Generic Client

A desktop supports multiple methods of work habits. For example, you can edit a document with a local word processor like Microsoft Word for Windows, or you can use Google Docs. You need Windows to run Word, but any operating system with a good browser will handle Google Docs well. Once you eliminate the problem of migrating to a new document format, the question becomes, "Why am I paying through the nose for a buggy, bloated, insecure and buggy Windows?" Put more simply, take away the force of legacy inertia, and the cheapest, least-problematic desktop becomes the most desirable.

In the long run, Linux makes the perfect generic client. It is the hub of free software development, which makes it the focal point for generic, open computing. As people continue to use Linux as the basis for cell phones, DVRs (such as TiVo and Dish Network), routers, and other dedicated systems, it is becoming ubiquitous on just about every platform but the PC. This only makes it more likely to dominate the PC in the future.

The more Linux becomes the de-facto standard platform for software development of any kind, the more appealing it becomes as the platform for personal computing. Any overlap between appliances and PCs saves duplication of effort. The vast repository of free software available for the asking makes Linux even more appealing as the basis for development.

Many of the duties Linux must perform on a PC it already performs on appliances like cell phones. We may never see the era of $100 network computers, but network computing is advancing, nevertheless, as is evidenced by the increasing reliance on web-based email and the appearance of network applications like Google Docs. We owe thanks to AJAX and Java for the rich client features now available through your PC and/or cell phone browser.

The more we depend on this type of computing, the more invisible operating systems will become. Most people don't know or care what OS runs their cell phone. We may always care more about what we run on our PC, but the distinction between the two will gradually blur. As it does, Linux should be the best choice, because it is already prevalent on so many devices.

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