The Perennial Year of the Linux Desktop
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.
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?