Year of the Linux Desktop?

I just read this article over on betanews (not I site I’d ever seen before) stating that Linux was dead on the desktop because of Windows 10.

I sort of agree with the cut and thrust of the article that there was a wasted opportunity to capitalize on the failings of Windows 8.x but the real the problem I see with getting Linux on the desktop is one of choice. At this point all the Linux fans start beaming because if there’s one thing Linux has it’s choice but I think that’s actually part of the problem. Linux on the desktop feels incredibly fragmented and almost completely directionless.

I don’t claim to be an expert but I’ve been running Linux desktops on and off since about 2000 and I’ve seen enough to convince me that Linux won’t be on the desktop anytime soon; if anything I think it’s getting worse. Scroll back a bit and there were two main competitors for the desktop KDE and Gnome which were battling it out for supremacy. I personally favoured KDE but industry largely selected Gnome as it’s base and since then I’ve not heard much from KDE (it’s still active though).

I breathed a sigh of relief, while I felt the wrong one won at least it might result in a bit of stability and standardization. Unfortunately we then got Gnome 3 which lost the plot and a host of desktop environments was born the most well known probably being Unity. Linux Mint is, at the moment anyway, the most popular desktop environment according to DistroWatch but that comes with no less than four different flavours of desktop environment: Cinnamon (Gnome 3 based sort of), MATE (Gnome 2 based), KDE and Xfce.

Over the years some (most maybe) of these desktops have reached a reasonable level of maturity but they all lack the maturity and consistency of Windows and Mac OS. Worse, as a user, it doesn’t feel like any Linux desktop can be trusted to remain consistent over time. Windows 8.x didn’t crash and burn because it was a bad OS it died because Microsoft let a guy with a vision and a total failure to understand their users design a completely new way of working. You see the funny thing is the vast majority of users don’t care if it’s ugly or awkward, they care about whether it changes. They don’t want to learn how to use a fancy new interface.

I’m going to give Linux on the desktop another go, I’ve got a machine prepared and ready to go. I think I’ll probably have a go with Mint (Cinnamon flavour) but I don’t hold out much hope of sticking with it. Since it’s Ubuntu based I already know a lot of the packages that I need are either missing or pitifully out of date. For example I generally develop in NetBeans which is current on release 8.0.2 but the latest package is 7.0.2. If I want to use Eclipse it’s even worse, the latest packages there are 3.5.1 which isn’t even supported any more. I’d like to use Java 8 but the latest official packages are Java 7 and the list goes on…

I would really love to see Linux succeed on the desktop. The underlying OS and the power it offers is amazing but no one group has yet understood what the desktop needs – one clear direction and consistency.

As for whether Windows 10 will totally kill Linux on the desktop. I don’t think so. There are some serious privacy questions surrounding Windows 10 and Microsoft still haven’t made it clear how they plan on extracting money from people that opt for the free upgrade. My guess is updates will be pay-for probably using a subscription model. In that scenario Linux starts to look a lot more appealing.

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