Could this be the year of the Linux Desktop? I've heard this question repeatedly over last couple of years. At this point, it is clear that the process of overtaking M$ will be a lengthy one. However, I'm not so sure that the effort is actually necessary. Linux has already displaced UNIX and NT in the server room. It is the largest and arguably the most successful Open Source project. Apache webserver being the other. Despite all of the hoopla over the GPLv3, I really don't think it will slow Linux adoption or discourage commercial vendors from attempting to make a mint off Open Source software.
Actually, I believe the more interesting question would be the following:
How long will it take Linux take to dominate the embedded space? Analysts and technologists agree that the PC is no longer going to be the center of the IT universe. Intelligent devices like WAP enabled PDAs and mobile/smart phones, PVRs and other portable hardware will become the new frontier for software developers. The intelligence is actually heading to the edges of the network. Peripherals are becoming much smarter and useful. These devices offer a more compelling value proposition to customers in the near term for several reasons:
- Always on, portable and lightweight
- Easy access, and relatively simple to use
- Low cost of entry
So given the above added value features. Where does Linux fit into this picture? Where is its niche in this space? Well, you don't have to look very far to begin to answer that question.
The very popular PVR, TiVo is an example of a fairly successful embedded appliance runs on top of Linux.
Regarding embedded appliances, there are many other devices that are doing quite well with consumers. The Linksys routerhas become the preferred device amongst consumers who wish to have control over their hardware, as it is hackable (read: customizable),disruptive, and extensible. You can find many other Linux embedded appliances here.
So where does this leave the PC? Well, since economies of scale and Moore's Law have done a tremendous job in lowering the cost of hardware. We're starting to here more conversations about the $100 dollar laptop. Essentially, the PC will fade into the background and become just another appliance for home use. It will no longer be the central dominant device in the household.
Even the woolly mammoth of Redmond is beginning to figure out that the PC must be repurposed.
If you're thinking, "I'm not going to squint my eyes on tiny cell phone to surf the web or I need high fidelity sound to enjoy music." You're simply missing the point. These devices are lifestyle changers. Entertainment is just a part of that equation.
I believe you'll begin to see the return of the client/server models for software applications. This is possible due in no small part to the spiraling price of storage space. The only real barrier is the cost and availability of bandwidth. Projects like FON are attempting to address the bandwidth access concern.
Linux has the ability to dominate in the embedded space and it's well on its way to cornering that market. I really don't believe that the desktop holds sustained value or growth in the long term.