Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Does it really matter?

by Daniel Sandman

I have lately contemplated over Linux and it's market share on desktop. We have seen a little upswing the last year and depending who you ask it is somewhere between 1.6-3 percent of all desktop computers. It's a small percentage but what people tend to forget is that it is a HUGE number. There are around 2 billion desktop computers running in the world today. The estimation is hard to do but it's the general number I tend to see on this. So that means it would be roughly 30-60 million desktop computers running with Linux in today's world. Not a small number. Even if you only took a third of that number it would still be 10 million computers which are actively being used. That is a lot of people.

I mean how many people do we need to have an active ecosystem? I have no clue, but would guess a couple of thousand is enough. That means a couple of thousands technical users. Those who can develop and maintain. It's a non-issue for desktop Linux currently. It's always nice to have a couple of more developers but a general feel is that we are good. So I have no fear to be honest. As long as we grow I am good. It doesn't need to jump several percentages to make me happy. Just a steady slow grow is enough and that is how it looks today. For me it's more important the openness is preserved than a market majority.

Sure I am happy to see Valve and gang joining the club. I mean it is good to have the choice. It also improves the support for drivers and hardware which could be better on Linux. I am not complaining though. My hardware on my machines has worked more or less flawlessly since 2008 or so.

So does it really matter?

Yes, I think so. The state of Linux today are big changes. We are watching Linux being commercialized at a rate never seen before. Android and ChromeOS have been good for Linux but Google are no RedHat. Sure RedHat do have some proprietary solutions but mainly aimed at enterprise. With Google we get core functionality like the distribution of software closed off. That is an essential difference from what we are used to. We are seeing Canonical taking steps toward a similar business model and others are surely thinking of it too. Heck even Apple have a similar solution with some parts open but others not. Is this the future of open source? Is the future a mix of open and close?

Maybe. I hope it is not but money talk and Linux is dependant on businesses donating developers to make code. In a perfect world this would not be needed but the world today is anything but perfect. Just because we need some commercialization does not mean I am happy about Google and Canonical. I wish they could have taken a more similar approach to RedHat and SUSE which base their revenue on support. If so it would have meant they might have not felt the need to use CLA and closed source on core functionality. So my main concern today lay in the commercialization of Linux and what that might bring us tomorrow. Not so much in the actual percentage of market share.

It could be fine but it could also mean that openness proves to be a failure. I hope on the former. We have to stay vigilant and especially on software with core functionality that is not open and demand opening them up. The danger lay in dependence on commercial software with core functionality. We as a community can not allow such things to happen. If we do it would mean the end of openness and the end of Linux as we know it.

So to me supporting Systemd, Wayland and Bodega are important for the future of Linux.

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