Will 2008 Be The Year Of The Linux Desktop?

from the probably-not dept

People have been declaring the Year of Desktop Linux for years. Linus Torvalds himself declared the Year of the Linux Desktop way back in 2004, a prediction that now appears to have been a bit optimistic. Now, Forrester is predicting that 2008 will be the year that Linux becomes a "credible threat" to Windows. Color me skeptical. The suite of Linux desktop software—especially the excellent Open Office—has definitely improved over the years, with Ubuntu getting a lot of buzz over the last couple of years for putting out a polished and user-friendly product. But desktop users, and corporate desktop users in particular, tend to be very conservative. They want software they trust, and that they know will be compatible with other peoples' software. Unless Linux-based products offer compelling features that the Windows alternatives don't, it's just not going to be worth the risk of abandoning trusted software. Moreover, a lot of companies have a suite of specialized business software that was built around Windows that would be very costly to convert to another platform. Eventually, the cost savings may be compelling enough to get a significant number of companies to switch. Windows and Office are expensive, but switching your whole company to software that has unanticipated flaws is a lot more expensive. So the process of evaluating, testing, and transitioning to a new operating system is likely to take a decade, not a year. So I doubt that a significant number of companies will be providing Linux desktops to their (non-geek) employees by the end of 2008.

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Comments on “Will 2008 Be The Year Of The Linux Desktop?”

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Norm says:


While most of you points are valid, I have trouble believing that Windows users “Trust” windows. I use Windows, but I do not trust it any more then any other operating system. It’s not a matter of trust. It is a matter of comfort, not trust. They have used Windows in the past and stick with it because thats what they know.

Also, “unanticipated flaws”? In my opinion, Windows will have just as many unanticipated flaws (maybe not flaws, but more “Why the heck?”) than a different operating system.

Those are my only complaints, your other points are very true. Compatibility, Windows only software, and the fear of the unknown are the major barriers. But I see casual computer users (Email, word processor, internet, and the occasional game) start switching before the corporate workforce. They don’t have to deal with evaluating or testing, only transitioning (which, according to what read, is not that hard).

Overcast says:

Well, where I work, we have quite a number of process control systems running on Linux, mainly RedHat.

I think the ‘everyday’ office worker PC’s are a ways off still; however.

Microsoft is pretty competitive in terms of Enterprise Management. I can’t really see ‘ease’ in managing a huge Linux Network, although to be honest, I’ve never looked into it.

Novell’s NDS on Linux might be quite a good way to go; but to be honest, so many companies have gotten away from Netware, I’m not even sure how well it does work.

Most user’s have enough troubles just getting around Windows, I couldn’t see them acclimating to Linux well. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “They always change this stuff as soon as I get used to it”.

Andrew says:

Getting rid of the windows crutch

I was a windows user since the beginning. This year my year to stay completely away from windows. I looked at many option to see if i could do it. My first choice was Ubuntu, best decision that i have ever made. I have yet to have a problem. and have yet to experience “unanticipated flaws”. Does everything Windows does only faster, smarter, better. Linux will rule the day, well maybe not but as long as it take out Apple i know i will be happy.

Robin Stephens says:

Low cost PCs and Notebooks

In the article you make no mention of the new low cost PCs and Notebooks. To list 3 from the top of my head:

Everex Green gPC.
OLPC (One Laptop Per Child).

All running Linux and the first 2 selling faster than they can be produced.

These are excellent, low cost computers that are perfect for students and low income families.

People that will add to the pool of programmers and sysadmins in the future.

2008 may well be the year of the Linux desktop for the home/student desktop whereas the authors arguments are focused on why Linux might fail on the business desktop.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Low cost PCs and Notebooks

Tim Lee wrote:

Yeah, I was mostly focusing on the corporate desktop, since that’s what the Forrester report was talking about.

Maybe that’s the wrong thing to focus on. Linux may not have made much headway into the existing corporate desktop market so far, but it is a significant contributor to these new, up-and-coming market segments as mentioned by Robin Stephens.

By the way, I am typing this on an Asus Eee 701 that I bought a couple of days ago. It’s a small, yet perfectly-formed little machine, with a lot of useful capabilities provided at modest cost. I think it’s a really good demonstration of how Linux can be the basis of a resource-miserly, yet fully-functional desktop platform, in a way that Microsoft Windows would be struggling to match.

This is key (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Low cost PCs and Notebooks

I think many home users are realizing they don’t really need $800-$1000 worth of software to browse the web, email and prepare documents. Ubantu, Open Office and other open source products present an attractive alternative to WinTel approach.

But I agree with the author that businesses are unlikely to adopt a Linux based desktop in a big way.

Urza says:

With Mandriva, it is.

All I have to say is this: My girlfriend uses Mandriva 2007.1. Works perfectly on her Dell laptop, even the wifi card didn’t need any setup. And she’s not a geek by any sense of the word. Dropped out of her senior math class, took AP level German classes (which our school doesn’t offer as a standard class). So yea, she’s one of those creative arts and language types, and she has no trouble with it…so I’m pretty sure anyone with decent intelligence could manage.

Ubuntu on the other hand, everyone’s favorite distro…I have yet to see anyone use for more than a month or so without going back to Windows. It just doesn’t work.

Ezra says:

Re: With Mandriva, it is.

No, I don’t think that just anyone with a decent intelligence can run Linux. You really have to take AP level German classes which your school doesn’t offer. In fact, I’ve never heard of someone running Mandriva without taking AP level German that her school didn’t offer! It’s a good thing she wasn’t running Ubuntu — that usually takes at least AP Latin that your school doesn’t offer!

zcat says:


I’ve been using Linux (as have the rest of my family) on the desktop for about the last 5 years, and several of my friends were already using Linux as their primary or only operating system well before that.

More importantly, 90% of the people I know who are still using Windows _could_ easily be using Linux. I know there are “Power Users” who absolutely must have Photoshop or DragonNS or who want to be able to play Every FPS Game Ever Written but there are many ordinary home users who only surf the web, send and receive email, and edit simple documents that OpenOffice is more than capable of handling.

I’ve converted many people over to Linux and I support them afterwards. And so far almost everything they’ve wanted me to install for them (eg PDF reader, MSN client, basic photo editor/filing system) has been something that was _already_ installed, but they just didn’t know where to find it. I’ve hardly even needed to introduce them to the 18,000 packages available one checkbox away through synaptic!

They year of Linux on YOUR desktop starts any time you feel like installing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: compatibility

And you show me a Linux system that can run my games WELL (incl. DX10 games like Crysis) and MS Office, then I’d consider switching.

Don’t give me any crap about OOo and how it’s better than MS Office. I’ve tried it and it’s not. It’s the best alternative if you don’t have MS Office, but I do have it.

Windows – It just works…most of the time
Linux – It just works…if you code it to
Mac – It just works…for idiots

wizard says:

Re: Re:

Not all Microsoft based software is Windows compatible without having to download patches and stuff. Widows doesn’t recognize all Microsoft based software as being safe or passing certain standards. You must have come across some installs from Microsoft that Windows says doesn’t pass certain tests, I do all the time.

farkus says:

Re: Re:

This is crazy…Operating systems will always be different. There are things programed for Mac only and will never run on a different system…and there are plenty of Linux apps that kick Windows apps in the ASS that will never run on Windows (Amarok just to name one). So you show me a Windows box that can run 100% of my Linux apps and I’ll think about switching (wait already thought…uh no!).

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve ran linux at home for about 6 years now, and I’m happy with it. Is it for everyone? Probably not, but thats completely developer support. The only thing keeping Linux from taking off is, the exact same thing that keeps Apple from taking off, entrenched proprietary apps. I doubt corporate users will switch anytime soon for the same reason, legacy apps that only work on windows. Heck, there are huge companies out there that are still NT4 shops because of legacy applications. Sooner or later they’ll need to update those apps, and whenever that happens, Linux could start looking like a very good alternative.

zcat says:

That’s my experience too.. I’ve talked to plenty of businesses that would really like to switch to Linux, but they have some custom-written inventory management or line of business application that ties them to Windows and/or MSOffice.. and often even just migrating the application to a later Windows or later version of Office is virtually impossible.

Blaise Alleyne (user link) says:

Windows Upgrade

Agreed for the most part, but it’s not like staying with Windows doesn’t involve unfamiliar operating systems… the transition to Vista hasn’t exactly been smooth. Those sorts of forced upgrades don’t happen in the free software world.

I do agree though. It doesn’t seem like there will be a “year”, but rather it will be a gradual process.

Anonymous Coward says:

Personal experience

Just from personal experience as work – we’re slowly moving more and more of the less savvy people to ubuntu. We’re tired of resurrecting some older machine that barely run XP or 2000, so it’s easier to just use Ubuntu. Most of our people only need a web browser, open office, and an email client. Ubuntu does just fine.

We did, however, just invest in a new phone system that has fancy software for managing phone calls, and it only runs on windows. Only management uses that software, though.

We use Samba for network files. We don’t use roaming user profiles or anything like that, and I don’t know how that works on linux.

Anonymous Coward says:

People tend to prefer the devil they know (in this case XP) to the devil they don’t. That will work against a switch.

XP volume license agreements will probably also slow the switch. My company doesn’t plan on shifting to Vista in the foreseeable future, but they won’t have to switch to Linux because they plan to keep installing XP on all of the new machines. I don’t know if all license agreements are like that, but if they are I suspect most companies are going to just ride with XP as long as it is supported. Now if Microsoft does something incredibly stupid like not renewing XP agreements or jacking up to Vista pricing then the switch to Linux would be a lot more attractive.

zcat says:

Re: lst few comments..

Fancy new phone system that can only be managed from windows?

Sounds like you should have invested in some nice hardware from Digium and/or Cisco and set up an Asterisk server, with a web interface that works from any browser (the name of the web app. temporarily escapes me..)

Shared calendar-like application? Evolution seems to do this just fine. It even ties into the Outlook server so you can run a mixture of Outlook/Windows and Evolution/Linux systems while you migrate. You could also move to a web-based collaboration system like zimbra.

zcat says:

Re: Re:

Oh, I see you mentioned Zimbra.. the paid-for version is only if you want proper support. And I don’t mean the kind of support you get from Microsoft with a support contract, I mean REAL support, not Microsoft support:


You can use the free version and get at least the same amount of support you’d typically get from Microsoft for just-the-licence-fee-no-support-contract (which is SFA)

wizard says:

Linux is a Unix based system and on the whole has less problems than Windows. I work in IT support and there are many machines used for the oil industry that only run Linux software because Windows is not reliable enough. In our building alone there are nearly 100 Linux boxes because Windows can’t handle it. It is also true that Windows is used for daily humdrum things like spreadsheets, email and word processing but the high-end programs are Linux based.

Lee Gagnon says:


I have evaluated copy of Ubuntu Linux over last three months and really wanted to see that OS work. However, in the end the OS has some real shortcomings such as compatable software and criptic program upgrade routines. In the end the frustration factor was too much. My opinion is that Linux has not reached an acceptable maturity. Windows is still a better OS even with its lousy tech support. However, one saving grace from this experince was Open Office and a like product Google Pack. What great alternatives to overpriced MS Office.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

So imaging and maping applications are high-end? Geographic analysis or a GIS (Geographic Information System) is high-end? AI is high-end and interestingly enough has nothing to do with the OS, on any level, it’s Software Engineering. It’s like saying because your wallpaper is a stickman figure and mine is an image of Angelina Jolie my desktop is high-end.

Evil Mike (profile) says:

A Linux Anecdote

“Also, “unanticipated flaws”? In my opinion, Windows will have just as many unanticipated flaws (maybe not flaws, but more “Why the heck?”) than a different operating system.”

You obviously have no understanding of the Linux kernel. Once upon a time, I experimentally built a system out of, shall we say, “buggy” crap parts. I knew the parts weren’t the best, but was in dire straits and needed a system. Put Windows on it… and no matter what I did or tried, Windows would always crash within 30 minutes *(sometimes 3 minutes).

For a lark, I put Linux on the same machine. Solid as a rock. Pillar of goddamn strength. In incredulity, sure it was a fluke, I maxed out everything (even artificially, eventually); the RAM, the CPU, the disk IO, everything. SOLID AS A FUCKING ROCK.

You obviously have no understanding of the Linux kernel.

homerslice says:

It all boils down to cost (Warning Ramblings)

Personal Example of a reason to switch

Windows is a great OS, but to be honest, I find myself stealing to much when I use Windows. I would get a ripped copy of Windows XP or Vista. then I would get ripped software for DVD Burning, Photo editing, you name it (don’t forget winzip). I would have justification for it too: ” I already bought Nero and lost the serials, I’m entitled to a hacked serial.”

I can only imagine what the total software cost would be.

Since Using Ubuntu Linux full time this has stopped and I have thrown out all those crappy old versions of hacked software. Its funny cause friends assume that since I work in IT that I have software just laying around for them.


And for lack of games,(you would think that would be incentive for Corps to swich) I got a wii.

even more.

I noticed something very special the other day. my friend who I setup with Ubuntu last year had a wireless problem with his router. He used to work in IT but has went onto other endeavors. I was able to help him out and fix it, but the amazing thing is, is that he new nothing on how to fix his computer. If you think about this. The reason that he didn’t know how to fix it was because it never needed any maintenance. He would just turn it on and use it. It was a 1gig computer, slightly slow but good enough for him. It was all he needed.

My neighbor, on the other hand, was having some computer problems. I went over to her place and he computer was getting “slower and slower”. She said “I’ve only had this computer for two years and it slowly dying”. Her anti virus was out of date and she told me how he had been defragging it once a month and its still slow. she wanted to know if she needed more ram. And she wanted to know if I had an extra copy of Office. I help helped her a little bit but told her that she needs to re-image and start over. There was just too much crap going on. Her computer was some 2gig Toshiba thing (ugly too).

and it a freaking pride issue too.

Heaven forbid! Someone who’s the big IT MAN at a company look like they don’t know what they are doing. I have never seen so much dragging of the feet and stupid commie comments when my IT group took some Linux classes. To get them to understand the power of using the shell and not using a gui was a failed effort.

Good night

Nick (user link) says:

Well, the points about windows and office environments are very well made – where I work (tens of thousands of PC’s), they only moved to XP from NT early this year, so they are unlikely to jump.
But I see windows largely abandoning the low end – if they go ahead and stop providing XP, then what will be put on lower end machines? Including the new ultra portables like the ASUS eee. If Vista becomes entry level, then there will be no low powered options.
And away from relatively wealthy western countries, Vista and MS products are so expensive in local terms they are untenable. Note Russias response to pressure to legalise their software base – not to spend billions on MS products, just enforce a switch to open source…

lazloman says:

Sorry, not this year either

People, stop torturing yourselves! Linux is great for providing network services, but there’s no where near the cohesion needed to move to the desktop. Its not just about MS Office, there are loads of custom applications designed around Windows, that would be prohibitively expensive to migrate to Linux. And think about it: Why would a company spend millions of dollars and years of development and testing to end up where they already are? Linux will have redefine what desktop business computing is before you’ll see large scale adoption in the corporate world.

The VAR Guy (user link) says:

Watch Dell with Ubuntu Linux

As a journalist and blogger, The VAR Guy remains impressed with Dell’s decision to ship selected PCs pre-loaded with Ubuntu Linux. No, Linux won’t dominate the desktop market in 2008. Or 2009. Or 2010…

But there’s a bigger point here: For the first time in nearly two decades, there are real alternatives to Windows in the market, thanks to Apple and Linux.

PRMan (user link) says:

Ubuntu is good enough now

For home use.

But the problem, as many people pointed out, is that businesses have many custom applications that cannot easily be moved to Linux without the vendor’s help.

But what the vendors probably don’t realize, is that it’s most likely easier to recompile their current .NET application on Linux under Mono than it is to get it to work on Vista. Once companies start figuring this out, they should start offering Linux versions. And once this starts happening, you’ll start to see large-scale migrations away from Windows.

But with SharePoint and other OS-tying technologies, Microsoft will continue to lock many people in, no matter how bad their OS is.

winctrlaltdel says:

Linux vs. Windows

to start off, windows applications are Bloated. And everytime i want to upgrade to a newer version of windows, i need to either buy a new computer, or upgrade hardware. The backwards compatibility of windows is a nightmare. there are some ways around getting some apps to work, but its still a nightmare.

Microsoft leaves bugs in there OS and apps on purpose. Just to bring out an update with even more bugs. Which can be totally insecure.
Microsoft had a good OS they called Windows 95, it may not have looked great to what we have now, but looks arent everything!! Microsoft, when released windows 95, in turn released windows 98 which should have been free becuase essentially it was a fix for windows 95. So instead they sell it through retail stores for a price!!
Microsoft will often release bug-ridden, incompatible software just to have customers pay.

Just for the picky about 64-bit Operating systems, In 1996, Bill Gates promised 64-bit support in Windows NT. This stifled the market for Unix, a proven enterprise product. 64-bit support arrived in Windows XP 64-Bit four and a half years later!

Linux is opensource, therefore anyone can compile there own distrobution of linux and redistribute it. Thus making bugs in the OS less likely.
Each release of a linux distro benefits the users, not the creators.
Linux may have some problems with hardware, like winmodems and such, but its getting a lot better. Ubuntu is defiantely making a name for itself, its usability is awesome! Great for new linux users! and the best part about Linux is that Linux is free, as in freedom, and free, as in price.

Linuxfriend says:

Decade for Linux

So really the point isn’t, “is this the year of the desktop” but rather is this the decade. As was mentioned in the article the transition won’t be a year…it will take time. I think what is obvious is that Linux is here to stay and it is getting much, much better. I have been using it for several years and I have a couple of research groups who are using all Linux. There are things that I can’t do with Linux very easily (like gaming), but that will slowly change if more people start using Linux.

Sure maybe there won’t be a “year for Linux”, but I see things heading in the right direction and I like it!!! Linux is improving very fast…I am ready for that!

Gillian says:

Windows or Linux?

I have been using Ubuntu for nearly 6 months now. I used to use XP and still keep it running on another family machine because he doesn’t want to switch (not least because some of the websites he needs to use for business won’t function in anything but IE). What I love about Ubuntu is its ease of use even for the ‘beginner geek’. I also use Open Office (have done for 2 years now) I think the main difficulty for people to switch over is simply getting used to something new. The person who said they used windows because it was comfortable was right, I think. It doesn’t take much to learn to use Linux and I love that it’s so much harder to screw things up permanently in it!

Angelo says:

Ubuntu, Redhat, Susse and Mandriva

Tried all of these on a little Via 12V System with a touch screen. None of them can make the touch screen work. All have issues of some sort or another.

Ubuntu users should beware, a system where you can’t change the root password is a HUGE security risk. Passwords are your first point of protection for your data.

No doubt that all the free stuff out there is great and there was nothing that my Linux box could not do better than Windoze and faster EXCEPT RUN THE TOUCH SCREEN and no one out there knows how to get them to work so back to WINDOZE for me.

The sad truth when I asked the vendors of commercial versions of the above none would commit to getting the screen to work. The Windows driver that came with the screen ofcourse works and there is the difference. It all works in Windoze maybe not 100% but works in an acceptable manner most of the time. LINUX to date doesn’t.
Gates charges like a wounded bull but thats the price you have to pay.

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