The market has rejected Linux desktops. Get over it.
November 23rd, 2009
Linux has failed to win either mind share or market share on the desktop. Google’s Chrome OS will do little to change that. Learn why.
I’ve been running Linux on PCs since 1998, when Red Hat still cared about the desktop and Mandrake was supposed to be the distribution that was going to bring Linux to the masses. That was also about the time that the mainstream media got infatuated with the story of the free operating system from the Finnish hacker that was going to bring down Microsoft Windows.
Spoiler alert: I’m going to give away the ending now. It never happened. In the decade since it was first proclaimed as the “Windows killer,” Linux on the desktop has made virtually no progress in real adoption numbers. According to market share trackers (based on real PC activity and not just sales) such Net Applications [ http://marketshare.hitslink.com/operating-system-market-share.aspx?qprid=8 ], StatCounter [ http://gs.statcounter.com/#os-ww-monthly-200810-200911 ], W3Counter [ http://w3counter.com/globalstats.php ], and others, the market share of Linux has been hovering around just 1-2% of total PC operating system installations for a decade.
Even in the past two years since the netbook phenomenon began with Linux as its primary OS, Linux market share has failed to make a major jump. The chart below, based on Internet visitors tracked by Net Applications, shows the trajectory of Linux desktop market share over the past 24 months.
Notice that Linux market share got a little bit of a bounce (mostly from netbook sales) in the first half of 2009 but has been dipping since then. Even so, the top line here is the 1% market share threshold, so the peaks and valleys are pretty insignificant when viewed from the perspective of the larger desktop OS market.
Despite this consistent evidence that Linux desktops were going nowhere, pundits, analysts and Linux enthusiasts have been repeatedly predicting that Linux was on the verge of a breakthrough on the desktop. At the end of nearly every year, some writer or publication has prognosticated that the following year would be “The year of the Linux desktop.” Here’s a quick selection of these Linux prophecies:
Desktop Linux: What happened?
Why hasn’t Linux succeeded on the desktop? There are several simple reasons:
What about Google Chrome OS?
Now we’ve got Google Chrome OS [ http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=27578 ] being hailed as the latest savior of the Linux desktop. Google is taking a very different approach than Ubuntu or SUSE. The search giant is taking its Chrome Web browser and turning it into Web-only OS that will boot instantly, rely solely on Web apps, and drastically minimize local storage.
The Chrome OS will technically have Linux as its foundational software but it will not allow users to install Linux applications or even get to the Linux command line. It will be a non-standard, custom Linux kernel that serves only to boot the Google Chrome Web browser as quickly as possible.
Chrome OS is an intriguing concept and it will be one of the first big tests of the extent to which consumers and businesses are ready to accept the paradigm shift to cloud computing. However, it’s a concept that’s probably still several years ahead of its time and unlikely to make a major impact on the PC market in 2010. It’s also a little spurious to call Chrome OS part of the Linux desktop movement since the only thing it really does for Linux is to strip it down and get it out of the way.
It’s time to stop all of the misguided predictions about Linux becoming a force on the desktop. That ship has sailed. The masses don’t want it. Businesses don’t want it. Even Google can’t change that.
Linux is still building major momentum in servers and mobile devices. In the data center, Linux is replacing lots of Unix servers and is more than holding its own head-to-head against Windows servers. In mobile, Linux quietly serves as the underpinning for both Google Android and Palm webOS, the two platforms that pose the biggest challenge to the incumbents in the smartphone market. However, on the desktop, it’s time to just admit that the market has rejected Linux.