The Perennial Year of the Linux Desktop

February 21, 2010 by
Filed under: linux, opinion, Ubuntu 

It's become a tradition (and a bit of a running joke) for bloggers and tech pundits to declare that this year (whatever year you're in) will be The Year of the Linux Desktop. So in following with that tradition, I'm here to declare that 2010 will be The Year of the Linux Desktop, but not in the sense that many other bloggers have stated. You see, every year is The Year of the Linux Desktop.

Linux has failed to take the desktop OS world by storm as so many have predicted it would. Instead, it continues to slowly pick up users one at a time. As each of these users dip their toes into the GNU/Linux waters and discover that they can not only survive, but thrive in a world without Microsoft Windows or Apple's OS X, they experience their own, personal year of the Linux desktop (YOTLD).

My YOTLD took place in 2004/2005. I'd heard of Linux back in its early days in the '90's, but I didn't really give it much notice. In the Fall of 2005 I read an article about how Linux could breathe new life into older computer hardware. I'd recently built a new computer, so I figured I'd mess around with Linux on the old one. After downloading a few different LiveCD distros and struggling with finding one that works, (tip: don't try to use CDRW's, use a regular CD-R), I finally had some success with Slax on my old computer. I was amazed that I could boot my computer to a CD and have a fully functional desktop OS running directly from RAM. (BTW, Slax is still a great live distro. It's worth checking out.)

While Slax can be installed to a hard drive, it's really designed and optimized to run as a LiveCD. It's authors recommend installing Slackware instead. It didn't take too much research on my part to discover that installing Slackware was a daunting task for a Linux noob, so I continued on my search for the right Linux distro for me. I ended up choosing SuSE (I think it was version 9.1). It seemed to take forever to download the 5 CD's required for installation, but it turned out to be worth the wait.

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The installation went surprisingly smooth and I was soon dual booting SuSE Linux and Windows 2000. At the time, all of SuSE's packages were on the CD's. This meant that installing new software was often a CD juggling act to get all of the dependencies installed. Enabling DVD and MP3 playback was a little bit of a challenge at the time but was doable with a little bit of searching on the net.

As I got used to using SuSE Linux, I got more adventurous and continued to attempt to install software from 3rd party sources such as PackMan. This soon led me to situations where I got stuck trying to resolve circular package dependencies; a situation known as RPM dependency hell.

Around the time I was getting frustrated by SuSE, I started hearing a lot about a newer distro called Ubuntu. It was claimed that it was easier to use for Linux noobs. Shortly after the first LTS version was released, (version 6.06 Dapper Drake), I made the jump to Ubuntu. It was really the power of Debian's Apt Package Manager and the diversity of the Ubuntu Repositories that won me over.

I imagine other people have similar stories of making the transition to Linux as their main OS. I still have a few installations of Windows XP around for the rare occasions that I have to deal with an incompatible website (my employer still has a webmail system that only plays nice with Windows). For the most part though, I typically only boot up to Windows on the 2nd Tuesday of the month to download the Patch Tuesday goodies.

Without a major marketing push from a corporate giant, Linux is not going take the world by storm. The gains must come gradually, one user at a time. For me, the year of the Linux desktop is long gone, but I still feel like a relative noob at times. For others it was more recent. Perhaps for you 2010 is the year of the Linux desktop. I'll make the call now, 2011 is sure to be another year for gradual gains in Linux desktop marketshare.

So what is/was your year of the Linux desktop?


8 Responses to “The Perennial Year of the Linux Desktop”

  1. My year of the Linux desktop was 2005. My year of the FreeBSD desktop was 2002, but I had a laptop that wouldn't play nice with FreeBSD 5, and my wife had just come home from playing Frozen Bubble at a friend's house and asked if I could put Ubuntu Hoary on her laptop ...

    The actual Year of the Linux Desktop for everyone? 2007. That was when the Eee 701 came out and gave Microsoft sufficient competition to wreck its bottom line since.

  2. Will says:

    To be fair, Steve Jobs has criticized flash on OSX as well--note that the iphone/ipad have chosen not to support it. The fact is, Flash isn't that great to begin with, and then Adobe only really cares about its Windows implementation. Widespread HTML 5 use can't come soon enough.

    • Linerd says:

      I've always figured that Apple didn't allow Flash onto the iPhone for security reasons. Flash tends to be a popular (and vulnerable) attack vector for malware.

      I too am looking forward to HTML 5. If only we could get agreement on a video format. I'd love to see Ogg Theora win out, but I fear we are going to see another great format war drag on like we saw with BlueRay and HD DVD. Unfortunately, we'll probably see h.264 emerge as the de-facto standard with Google backing it on YouTube.

  3. brad says:

    Everyones "year of the linux desktop" will be different.. its the year you let go of the training wheels of windows and took your chances and learned as you went along to get used to doing what needed to be done, but with linux instead of windows.. that year was 2006 for me.. using pclinuxos, it "just worked" then when i got a 64bit machine it was mint 64, then ubuntu 64, then mint 64.. all basically based on the same ubuntu.. then i grew up, and grew out , and went slackware 64(was happy with the speed, but to me it took "work" to make it work), then after many trials and screwups and formats, I learned the ins and outs of Arch linux and that was 6 months ago, and now i'm never looking back.. linux's biggest strength is "choice" but it's also it's even BIGGER weakness... too many choices, to many distros, to many options (for a newbie) too many EGOS, in IRC rooms, on forums and in the philosophies of some distros..that scare the hell out of new users and keep them using windows.. until the developers and communities of some of the top 20 distros, can keep their "RTFM" "you aint ready for the bigtime" "go back to ubuntu" "go back to windoze", "just turn off your computer and take it back" blah blah blah, attitudes, and generalizations to themselves it will NEVER be the YEAR of the linux desktop.. itll be the hour , day, week, month, but NEVER the year.. lets NOT have more choices for the same things in the coming year, but less EXTENSIVE , but better choices in the coming year, and lets not scare away new users, cause we WERE ALL THERE ONCE.. that's my .02, now i'm broke!!!

    • Linerd says:

      I haven't given Slackware a try yet. I does sound like a good deal of work. I've only dabbled a bit into Arch, but I haven't taken the leap.

      Regarding the issues around the Linux community, Ubuntu does tend to be one of the more welcoming to new users. The Ubuntu forums tend to be fairly patient with new users and I think that's one of the main reasons Ubuntu has become so popular. There is a lot of great information on the Gentoo wiki as well. The info tends to be pretty thorough. I haven't been involved in the Gentoo community though to speak to the attitudes there.

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  5. Tommy599 says:

    For me, the year of the Linux Desktop (and Laptop) was 2009. I was getting fed up with the sluggishness of my XP SP3 running on an Intel Celeron 2.66 with 1GB RAM. It's a decent machine and things should run more smoothly on it. Ofcourse it would run faster without antivirus, firewall and antispyware. But then I would be more exposed.

    So I installed Ubuntu 9.04 on it as dual-boot and rarely looked back. It runs faster, although flash is still an issue on the Desktop.

    Now I have Ubuntu 9.10 on my desktop and laptop, and the only thing I use Windows for is .net and mssql-server related homework and stuff.

    • Linerd says:

      Good to hear you made the switch. Flash is certainly a CPU pig on Linux, but it's better than nothing. Gnash and swfdec are getting better, but still have trouble. I'm guessing your Desktop is 64 bit since you mention the Flash issues specific to it. Adobe has released an alpha version of Flash player for 64 bit Linux. I don't have a 64 bit machine, so I can't comment on its quality. It's time to build a new computer.

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