TLWIR Special: Three Signs That GNU/Linux Has Arrived

by Rex Djere on July 25, 2012 · 4 comments


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Three recent news items provided evidence that the age of GNU/Linux on the desktop is arriving. The years of GNU/Linux languishing on the pc desktop are finally drawing to a close. Here are the three news items:

  1. Three new Dell laptops will come preloaded with GNU/Linux distributions starting in the Fall of 2013.
  2. Valve has decided to support GNU/Linux with its Steam platform to hedge its bets in case Windows 8 fails.
  3. Linus Torvalds loves Google’s Nexus 7.

The Gnome Desktop (Image Source: Wikipedia, licensed under GNU

Why Torvalds’ Opinion Matters

Though items 1 and 2 above are huge, I actually believe that item 3 is THE real game changer. The reason for this is simple: a smartphone does not yet feel like the full desktop pc experience. A tablet is much closer to the pc experience. If people become attached to Android on a tablet, it will do a lot to break their habitual dependence on Windows. Linus Torvalds’ endorsement gives the Nexus 7 a lot of street credibility. Torvalds’ comments on Google Plus routinely get thousands of +1s, evidence that people listen closely to what he says. As people get more and more used to Android, more of them will be willing to try the laptops and desktops that come with GNU/Linux pre installed. Android will prove to be a gateway to using GNU/Linux. This happened to me back in 2004, but my gateway was OpenOffice. Trying OpenOffice got me interested in learning more about free and open source software, and satisfying my curiosity naturally led me to GNU/Linux.

Valve Software Decides That GNU/Linux is Mission Critical

Nothing scares people more than abrupt change. Will all of the energy that they put into learning the old system be rendered instantaneously obsolete? Whether you are looking forward to its release or not, no one can deny that Windows 8 will be a radical departure from the Windows of the past. I have had at least 1 Windows computer in my house from 1996 to today, but Windows 8’s arrival marks the first time that I am actually not considering upgrading. The reason? Two words: Ribbon Interface. For me, the introduction of the Ribbon Interface in Microsoft Office a few years ago marked the once venerable office suite’s “jumping the shark”. The Ribbon Interface is, in my humble opinion, an un-usable mess, and Windows 8 will use it as the default menu interface for EVERYTHING! I could probably adapt to every other change offered by Windows 8, but the Ribbon Interface is just too much for me to swallow. I see people at work battle with it all of the time, and I just can’t see myself battling it everyday at home. I envision myself upgrading my last Windows machine from Windows 7 to Fedora 18 or Centos 6.3.

Gabe Newell, CEO of Valve Software, recently described Windows 8 as a “a catastrophe for everybody in the PC space”. That is a scathing indictment, and it explains why Valve has decided to support GNU/Linux with its Steam gaming platform. This is absolutely huge! One of the last things that was preventing GNU/Linux from getting a foothold in the desktop pc regime was the lack of a true gaming platform. Now, that deficiency has been corrected. If you are an OEM looking to build a pc, seeing the uncertainty surrounding Windows 8, GNU/Linux suddenly starts looking more and more attractive. I would be shocked if we don’t see more offerings of pcs with GNU/Linux pre installed in 2013.

Dell Decides to Invest in GNU/Linux
Large corporations do not make decisions lightly. A bad decision could cause a corporation to lose billions of dollars, have to fire a lot of employees, or in a worst case scenario, end up filing for bankruptcy. Given these realities, I am sure that Dell executives deliberated for a long time before deciding to sell three new laptops loaded with GNU/Linux starting in the Fall of 2012. Linus Torvalds accurately noted during a recent talk that the lack of machines sold with GNU/Linux pre installed was the one major factor preventing more widespread adoption. Dell is one of the top 5 pc manufacturers in the world, so its decision will definitely bump up GNU/Linux’s desktop market share.

For severals years, promises that the year of the GNU/Linux had arrived proved to be false. I predict that 2013 WILL be the year of the GNU/Linux desktop!!


IGnatius T Foobar July 26, 2012 at 7:43 am

You spelled Linux wrong. It doesn’t have the characters “GNU/” in front of it. That’s a political stunt propagated by Richard Stallman and the FSF. The operating system as a whole is simply called “Linux.”

dave July 26, 2012 at 9:58 am

I use Ubuntu at home, and would use it at work, but… However, my enthusiasm for Linux doesn’t change the reality — it isn’t going to happen on the desktop. Why? There are four reasons.

First is software applications. They are not as good as the Windows apps, and ever further away from Mac apps. This is not to say they are bad, and they are free. For example, I still use Microsoft Word under Wine because it is more productive than LibreOffice. LibreOffice is good and getting better, but Office is more productive. Office has a better grammar checker, has split screens, a very good help system, and there are a lot of god books on Office.

One other point about Linux applications is that many are out of date. I use Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Long Term Support) because I really don’t want to do upgrades every six months. The software repository for 10.04 has software that is at least two versions behind current stable versions. This situation is not unique to Ubuntu — most Linux distributions freeze the level of software apps. for each release. It is a lot of work to update the repositories, but that work must be done if Linux is going to make inroads on the desktop. Ubuntu should be leading the charge in this area, but not as of yet.

Another problem for Linux is device drivers, or the lack of good ones. This is the chicken vs. the egg in that if Linux were more popular on the desktop, vendors would make more Linux drivers. But then, if Linux had more drivers, it would be a little more popular.

Some other smaller problems are: figuring out the file system (C: and D: are much easier to conceptualize), and when something goes wrong, it can be really tough to figure out what happened and fix it. I’m going through that with the Java openjdk.

To Linux’s defense, it is very stable, it performs very well, and most important, I like it! Still, there are a lot of challenges before it becomes a viable player on the desktop, and no one seems to be doing much about it.


Rex Djere July 27, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Thanks for the comment Dave! I don’t use Windows very much anymore, and I think that my usage will drop to near 0 (at work only) when Win8 is released. I use GNU/Linux almost exclusively (Fedora 17), and I have not experienced the issues that you mentioned. The reason for this is that I do A LOT of research before buying any computing device, so I never run into driver issues. The only point that I could really disagree with you on is the software issue. I find free software to be just as good as proprietary equivalents. I find Libreffice to be easier to use than MS Office by MS Office is, in my opinion, bloated and stricken by the Ribbon Interface. Thank you again for the comment!

Rex Djere July 27, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Thank you for the comment “Ignatius”. I disagree completely. However, I respect your right to call it whatever you want. I will continue to call it GNU/Linux. I won’t rehash the reason why. It is very well explained here:

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