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