This is a tricky, multi-layered question that needs to be asked. Before I dive into it, you must know that I have been using one form of Linux or another as my only OS since the late nineties. So, for me, the ability to use Linux is crucial. Why? Without Linux, getting my work done would not be nearly as easy, trouble-free, or cost effective.
That being said, let's take a look at this question.
Linux on the desktop has been a primary driving force for the open source platform for a very long time. I remember having the "World Domination" poster hanging in my old TechRepublic office back in 1999. I picked it up at my first Linux convention (where most of the participants walked around in trench coats, with their sticker-riddled laptops, hardly speaking a word to one another). That was so important to me and every working day I added to that battle cry. I was certain that Linux would some day usurp Windows as the leading desktop platform.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum...it ceased to really matter.
How could that be? Better yet, how dare I speak those vile words?
Let me explain.
Linux has been fighting this fight for so long. And at every corner, it wins...only to see another long struggle ahead of it. Take for instance, gaming.
I've spent a lot of energy talking about how Linux is perfect for the "average user" and that the "average user" is not a "gamer". Gamers are a special breed...one which single-handedly fuels the PC hardware industry. Gamers buy the goods the industry sells. When the industry sees a demand by gamers...they fill it. Unfortunately, gaming has always been the Achilles of Linux. And the fight has gone something like this:
- Linux has no games
- A company rises from the ashes to support games on Linux
- Linux users refuse to buy games (because Linux was meant to be "free")
- Said company cannot support themselves on "free" and goes under
- There are no more games for Linux
That was exactly what happened to Loki Games. Now, we have Steam - an amazing platform that offers an entire host of games - regardless of operating system. You asked, they responded.
Yes, there is still an unfortunately.
The numbers released from the latest Steam usage report are telling...Linux use on Steam currently stands at a whopping 1%. Before everyone calls out false positives, I know these statistics depend upon user surveys (many of which aren't actually filled out and submitted)...so we can't proclaim those numbers spot on. However, the margin of error cannot be all that great. That being said...
What gives? Is this Loki all over again? Not exactly. Thankfully, this time around, Steam is in this game for the long haul and won't shutter their doors after a few short years and regrettably low representation from the Linux community. They do, after all, have large enough numbers from the Windows and Mac communities...
Did you see what just happened there? Shame, shame...I know your name.
But seriously...if you, the Linux faithful, want more "stuff", you have to be willing to buy more "stuff". Otherwise, the only "stuff" you'll get is the same free "stuff" you've had for years. I don't know about you, but Kill Bill was funny in 1999, but now it's just a senseless waste of time and the Linux platform deserves better "stuff" than that.
The backs are turned
This, of course, doesn't actually answer our question. The truth of the matter is, platform really doesn't matter any more. What really matters is the ability to function in the requisite environment. We've already witnessed Linux (and open source) taking Enterprise computing by storm. Without Linux, enterprises across the globe wouldn't be nearly as flexible, agile, and stable as they currently are. Along those same lines, mobility has enjoyed massive gains, thanks to the Linux kernel. Android and Chrome OS might not even exist if it weren't for Linux (or, best case scenario, they'd be years behind). And what of the mobile platforms? The numbers don't lie...users have made their choice and said choice has nothing to do with the desktop. Consumers have turned their backs on tradition methods of consuming data and, with that in mind, only two platforms even remotely matter: Android and iOS. Fortunately, Linux has something to say about one of those platforms.
Have we answered the question? No. Let's do so, shall we?
Keep on keepin' on
The best answer to that tireless question is simple: It doesn't matter if Linux has 1% or 99% of the desktop market share. Because of the very nature of the platform, it will always exist. Linux is not beholden to shareholders or boards filled with directors crying out for "Bottom line!" Even if Redhat, SUSE, and Canonical were to fold, the Linux operating system would continue on (Of course, we all know that Redhat, SUSE, and Canonical are going nowhere, but up).
Linux was born of a need. Linux rose to popularity from passion. Linux will exist well beyond mine and your time on this planet out of sheer force of will. Does the fight for Linux on the desktop really matter? From a practical standpoint...no. From the perspective of someone who has fought long and hard to help spread the word about the open source platform...it does. But being a reasonable man, I know that at some point in time the battle for desktop domination will hold zero relevance. Who know, in the end every single thing we do might be tied up inside a browser and Google will have been right all along.
But that doesn't mean we can all just sit back, breath a healthy sigh of relief, and continue on as-is. Linux needs to continue pushing the limits on innovation. In order to do this, there has to be a reason. Said reason, is you. And if the fight for the Linux desktop matters to you, then keep fighting.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.