Monday, February 4, 2013

There's an Elephant in the Room

Elephant Eyes
Elephant Eyes (Photo credit: ricklibrarian)
By Dietrich T. Schmitz

That metaphorical expression comes to mind--you know--the Elephant in the Room that nobody will admit is there?

He's getting really hard not to notice, and as he grows, the room gets smaller.  Every day, there is yet more technology news which validates the strong presence and pervasiveness of Linux that simply cannot be ignored.

It's just that we, the collective Open Source Community, have lived and endured for many years in the hope that the proclamation this is "the Year of the Linux Desktop" would indeed come true.  Funny thing is, it never did.

How ironic, that Linux finds itself now with a fractured Desktop ecosystem.  Yet, still, it continues to move forward inexorably and thrive in spite of many conceptual differences in Graphical User Interface (GUI) design, all because of a simple yet brilliant idea: The GNU General Public License (GPL).   The GPL, version 2, keeps Linux and Open Source safe and ensures that any piece of code using said licensing will continue to exist--into perpetuity--always freely available to share and use for free.

Even if unresolved differences in the Community result in a fork, the resultant code will live on.  What a great concept.  Use the code, see the code, change it, even.  And, if you are enterprising and wish to use your code changes commercially, then simply give back your changes to the community so that others can benefit from them.

That idea was conceived by Richard M. Stallman, software freedom activist and computer programmer, who in September 1983 pioneered the developmental foundation of GNU/Linux by launching the GNU Project.  His early work enabled another computer programmer, Linus Torvalds, to see his own dream come true, the creation of Linux.

These combined historical events made possible emulation of proprietary Unix, and led to ports of the Linux operating system across virtually all hardware architectures in existence today.

Years of work have resulted in the refined Linux kernel of today at the center of a large, diverse, rich ecosystem of software applications spanning hundreds of Linux distributions now in existence.

Today, the challenges continue.  The Year of the Linux Desktop never arrived, but we witness an evolutionary process taking place.  The Gnome Project undertook a rewrite of Gnome 2 in the form of the Gnome 3 Shell. Canonical Ltd., owners of commercial Distro Ubuntu Linux, chose to create their own Desktop GUI, Unity.  KDE went from version 3.5.x, suffering their own 'bloody nose' for a few years starting with version 4.0.  Ultimately, KDE prevailed and now holds the distinction of being the (current version 4.9) only feature-complete Desktop GUI, replicating the entire KDE 3.5.x feature set.

The work on Desktop GUIs resulted in forks of Gnome 3 to Cinnamon and Gnome 2 to MATE.  Separately, a hybrid fork of Gnome 3 has been created by +Ikey D, Founder of SolusOS Linux, to marry the best features of Gnome 3 with the well-grounded 'fundamentals' of Gnome 2 that were lost in transition to Gnome 3.

The road to success for Linux is being paved by its broad use for Internet servers, Cloud infrastructure, and the spirit of Open Source now insinuates itself into recently deployed OpenStack and Stackato cloud stack implementations.  Red Hat Linux, a commercial Linux distro, continues to enjoy strong sales with year-over-year $1B+ revenue growth for a second year.

Moreover, Linux has found its way into all manner of small embedded devices, smartphones and tablets, and automotive systems utilizing the widely successful Android operating system.

Taken together, these achievements and the sheer number of Linux-enabled devices confirm that there is indeed one very large Elephant in the Room which, if ignored, will most assuredly displace the room's remaining occupants.

Beware Microsoft and Apple.

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  1. The Year of the GNU/Linux Desktop may not have happened but GNU/Linux definitely has arrived on the desktops/notebooks of the world. Don't believe the webstats. According to Canonical, Ubuntu GNU/Linux shipped on 10 million PCs in 2011 and they expect growth by doubling per annum. They should now be ~5% of legacy PC supply. If GNU/Linux is not yet on the desktop by some measure that should change very soon. By my calculation, GNU/Linux has been on 10% of desktops for a few years now. Remember, Canonical is not the only one promoting GNU/Linux on desktops. IBM, RedHat, Linpus and many others are hard at work. Is there any OEM who will not ship a container-load of GNU/Linux PCs this year?

    Dell has 1K stores with salesmen pushing Ubuntu GNU/Linux in Asia. Other hotbeds are Brazil, where Walmart does sell GNU/Linux on retail shelves and Europe where whole governments are switching to GNU/Linux. Schools are the pinnacle of GNU/Linux desktop usage. There are many millions of users of GNU/Linux in schools.

    GNU/Linux is on the desktop and in every other role of computers. Consider thin clients which have around a 10 year lifespan. While only a few million are produced annually, the installed base is about 10% of legacy PCs and many of those run GNU/Linux.

    1. I'd love to see a link to a citation on the 10 million PCs shipped claim.
      In the U.S. Canonical cannot get traction, no market penetration to speak of.