Well, it looks like the “Death of Desktop Linux” story is back for another round.
Yes, after countless debates and discussions of the topic ad nauseum over the years — the most recent being just a few short months ago, in fact — it recently reared its ugly head again, like a zombie that just won’t quit.
The claimant this time? None other than Miguel de Icaza, of GNOME and Mono fame.
The claim? Essentially, that Apple killed the Linux desktop.
Only problem is, FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software) fans can’t seem to find any evidence that the crime ever happened.
‘Then OS X Is on Life Support’
“Another one of these? Please,” exclaimed Google+ blogger Linux Rants. “Now Apple killed the Linux desktop? No. I’m afraid not.”
In fact, “the Mac OS in one form or another has been around since 1984, and in that time has managed to gain 6 to 7 percent market share,” Linux Rants pointed out. “Linux has been around since 1991, and has managed to gain at least 1 to 2 percent market share. Probably more. Possibly much more, depending on who you ask.
“If desktop Linux is dead — which I feel wholeheartedly that it is not — then OSX is on Life Support and it’s not looking good,” he asserted.
The reality is that “this is a very exciting time for desktop Linux, with Windows 8 threatening to popularize it like we’ve never seen before, and gaming companies committing to supporting it unprecedented numbers,” Linux Rants noted.
So “no, desktop Linux is not dead,” he concluded. “It’s had some difficulty gaining traction because it was a decade late to the Operating System market. Despite that, once it gets going it will be impossible to stop.”
‘It Seems to Be Working for Me’
Indeed, “if the Linux desktop is dead, why am I using it now?” asked Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien. “It seems to be working for me as well as anything.”
The real question, O’Brien suggested, “is what you want to accomplish. If it is total domination, with Linux having 100 percent of the desktop market, not only will that not happen, I wouldn’t want it to happen.
“Monoculture never works well,” he added. “So, I think de Icaza identifies some problems with development in Linux, but there’s problems in everything.”
‘Killed? No Way.’
Blogger Robert Pogson took a similar view.
“Apple killed nothing,” Pogson said
Rather, “Apple’s fanbois just wish they had 1K+ retail stores pushing product in China and India like Canonical has Dell doing,” he explained. “They wish they were shipping more than 20 million PCs — GNU/Linux will ship on that many PCs with Ubuntu next year. That leaves hundreds of other distros being installed by individuals and organizations on a global scale.
“Walmart Brazil barely sells any Apple products,” Pogson added. “GNU/Linux and that other OS top them in popularity.”
In short, “killed? No way,” he concluded.
‘We Have an Opportunity’
“I don’t think Apple killed anything,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed. “‘Killed’ implies a permanent state, and I don’t think it’s actually permanent — I’m seeing more interest from my non-techie friends, and announcements such as the porting of Steam to Linux give me hope for the future.”
De Icaza “is correct that the constant breakage caused by people completely rearranging interfaces and breaking apps on a constant basis set the Linux desktop back by years,” Mack conceded. However, “he is completely out of line for blaming Linus for it.”
Looking ahead, meanwhile, “the sad thing is that we have an opportunity to take market share, since Microsoft seems to be going out of their way to get rid of their entire userbase with Windows 8, but I don’t think we will have a non Gnome 3/Unity distro ready in time to take advantage,” he concluded.
‘It’s the Devs’
Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took an even stronger view.
“It’s the devs,” hairyfeet charged. “The devs can’t stand bug fixing and instead would rather write something ‘New!’ even if it breaks compatibility, makes third party support impossible, and makes Linux drivers practically impossible to keep 100 percent functional past a single update.”
Meanwhile, “you have Apple giving you 5 years of support, making sure their ABI doesn’t break software so companies like AutoCAD and Photoshop can actually support them, in short they make it NICE for the user, what a concept!” he asserted. “And you still have the BSD underpinnings, so the old-school Unix heads can have their CLI and have a functional system too!”
‘Dead on Arrival’
In fact, “the desktop distribution Linux community really has no concern as to whether it gets widespread adoption,” opined Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor.
“In the past few months, maybe out of frustration, I have gone the same route,” Lim explained. “I love my Linux distro, I use it, I benefit from it, but I do not bother to promote it with anyone anymore. This was some time after I got into a ‘discussion’ in a Linux forum about the issue of the need for change for widespread adoption — the overwhelming response was, ‘who cares?'”
So, “how can it win, when it is not even trying to fight?” Lim concluded. “Excellent article by Mr. Miguel de Icaza. But he is wrong about his conclusion: Mac OS did not kill Linux; Linux on the desktop was dead on arrival. His own article explains why.”
‘They Just Want Their Problems Solved’
Linux on the desktop has had “a number of important successes, but these are still very much niche cases,” noted Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.
Breaking into the mainstream, however, “has not happened and it isn’t about to happen,” Travers opined. “Linux makes a great desktop tailored at each and every user, but nobody has really figured out how to make users see why they should consider a switch.”
De Icaza’s article focuses primarily on technical problems with the attempts thus far to bring Linux to the desktop, but “in the end this doesn’t matter if you can’t convince users to switch, and you can’t do this by merely building a great desktop environment,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how great your desktop is, you have to find some way to sell the move to users, because moving operating systems is always a certain amount of trouble.
“If you don’t market it,” in other words, “you won’t sell it,” he added.
“People don’t care what is technically best,” Travers concluded. “They just want their problems solved.”