“…almost all of the newest hardware coming out has Linux support. The critical mass has been reached. Go download Ubuntu 8.10 and see for yourself what the fuss is about. You won’t regret it”
That’s probably just the sort of thing you’d expect to hear from me right? Perhaps so but it’s not the sort of thing you expect to hear from veteran computer journalist John C Dvorak. I have my issues with Dvorak over certain things, I stopped listening to TWIT long ago but I usually found he was the only one I could agree with on the panel. Well, him and Cory Doctorow of course, he speaks sense on most subjects you care to mention but isn’t on the show that much. Dvorak has never had much love for Linux and he’s been very critical (some would even say derogatory) in the past. So when someone sent me an email saying he’d been writing about Linux again I groaned to myself and thought “another kicking from the mainstream press just what we need”. I was completely wrong though, he seems to love the latest Ubuntu and is even telling the whole world and his mate to go and try it out. This could have a big effect on the uptake as he’s a guy a lot of people listen to and trust for computer advice. If he says Linux is cool people might actually listen. At least the sort of people who would dismiss me as a liberal hippie douche 😀
Here’s a selection of the points he makes in his article:
“For lightweight work, the install disk comes with Firefox for Linux and AbiWord, a credible open-source substitute for MS Word. In fact, there is probably a Linux program that will substitute for just about any Windows programs with as much or more functionality”
“I seriously appreciate the fact that Linux is mostly immune from malware, in much the same way as the Macintosh.”
“If I had a small or mid-size company, I’d probably use only Linux and open-source software, just to stay out of the way of the software police and their onerous “audits”—another abhorrent situation that, to me, is intolerable”
Remember, this isn’t a guy who likes Linux particularly and yet it seems he’s been totally persuaded just by trying Ubuntu for a week or two. That’s pretty amazing. The two words that really stuck out to me in the article though were “critical mass”. Dvorak seems to be saying he thinks the dawn of Linux as a proper competitive option has arrived. That got me thinking, is he right?
There are still a lot of things to iron out with Linux in my opinion, it’s far from perfect and we can always improve but in many ways we are making great progress. We’ve been the underdog for such a long time now, we need to stop thinking like that and start thinking like winners. Year after year we’ve heard the famous old line trotted out “this will be the year of the Linux desktop”, it’s never quite come true and it probably won’t this year either but look at what’s happened in the last 18 months or so alone:
- The ASUS eeePC arrived, heralded the dawn of the Linux netbook, promptly took over the world and firmly ensconced Linux in a lot of homes where it would never have been seen before.
- Dell started selling consumer PCs with Ubuntu, specialist manufacturers had done this long before of course but this is a major hardware OEM and undoubtedly a coup for Canonical.
- The Google G1 phone arrived and though it’s still early days I reckon we’ll see lots more popular smart phones powered by the Linux-based Android OS in the very near future.
So what am I saying? A question I often ask of myself, as do others. I’m not saying 2009 is “the year of the Linux desktop”(tm) but I do think the momentum is building. It has been for years and it will continue to do so. I’m not so sure Dvorak is right that critical mass has been reached just yet but the very fact he of all people is saying that is a sign of the times. Real change doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time but mark my words, it’s coming. I doubt we’ll ever see Linux take over the consumer market and dominant desktops but I do think our share will continue to grow. Admittedly that share is still small but the longest journey starts with the smallest step. We’re doing well on netbooks and mobile devices so perhaps the desktop as such is an outmoded concept anyway. There’s never been a better time to be a Linux user and that’s just going to improve I think. So hold your heads up high people and be proud to use a free operating system, not just Linux but BSD, OpenSolaris and others too, we’re in this together. Say it once and say it loud, we’re open source and we’re proud.
People tell me I’m too optimistic and that in 2 years from now all the worlds computers will be running Windows 7 but I honestly don’t believe that. It’s a defeatist attitude. Turn off the Noel Coward record and lighten up (great artist btw just depressing). I for one am up for this fight and unlike the people on the other side of the fence, we don’t do this between the hours of 9am and 5pm because we’ve got bills to pay and we’re killing time praying for the weekend to roll around. Oh no. We do this 24/7 because we love it and we believe in it. That’s the crucial difference. Of course there’s work still to be done in providing people with the best open source alternatives possible but I believe it can be done.
So what does everyone else think? Am I just a loony optimist or are things really improving in the open source world? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading.