Happy birthday to the operating system designed by a student, twenty years ago, so that he could get his homework done. My, you have come a long way. How long of a way have you come? Well, not nearly as far as the majority of us followers would have hoped for. Let's hearken back a bit, shall we?
It was circa 1999 (and we were partying like it was). I was new to the whole tech-reporting gig, but not so new to Linux. I, along with every early adopter, thought, nay KNEW, Linux was bound for world domination. It wasn't a matter of if it was a matter of when. Even though, in the early days, the fledgling operating system struggled with hardware support and couldn't seem to keep pace with the competition. Even with its faults, we all still knew it was destined for greatness on a level no proprietary system could ever dream of.
When ... not if.
Every early adopter took it upon themselves to train new users and spread the word in every way possible, knowing that some day their part in building the foundations of greatness would be somehow rewarded — if only in the knowing that they helped make something special happen.
And we watched. And we waited.
And it never happened.
Regardless of how far ahead of the curve Linux was, it just couldn't gain any significant adoption...at least not on the desktop. On the server side of things, well, thanks to LAMP (and the horrible offering Microsoft offered in IIS) Linux managed to gain quite a majority of adoption. But that elusive desktop dominance just wouldn't coalesce.
No matter — it was still only a matter of time. It would happen. We all told ourselves and even fought off the mockery of every laughing, pointing finger saying, I told you so.
And here we are, twenty years after the creation of Linux, still clamoring to gain something, anything that might give us a sign of growth. We're lucky, depending upon the report, if we see that a paltry four percent of desktop users have adopted Linux. How did this happen? How is it happening?
I don't want to go off on my theory behind how the numbers cannot possibly be correct. Instead, I want to answer the big question — how.
I strongly believe, with regards to the desktop operating system, that any operating system could be the dominant player with the right marketing. BeOS could be on 90% of the desktops on the planet had it had the right marketing behind it. We could all be using OS/2, or Haiku, or (gasp) Amiga — had any of them had the power of marketing behind them. But instead what we have is Windows. Why? Because Microsoft has always had one of the single most powerful marketing departments of any company — bar none.
The race to the consumer desktop was never about the best operating system. No way. This race has always been, and always shall be, about business. And that, my friends, is the Achilles heel of Linux. Linux has no marketing. Linux has no PR, no power-house law firm standing in its corner. Linux has none of that and, therefore, it has no dominance.
Back in the day we were all so blind, so foolish. We all thought for sure the stability, security, and reliability of Linux was all it needed. The second the average user caught wind there was an operating system that would keep them from suffering from a plague of viruses that general public would come rushing to download the ISO images or bashing down the doors of the install fests. It never happened. And it never will.
Not without business behind it. Not without marketing and PR and power.
Linux turns twenty and there has never been and might not ever be world domination on its part. It hurts me to say that, but the reality of it is that the world of the PC is as cut-throat a business as anything and that cut-throat landscape has no time for players without the means or the desire to play dirty. And we all know who is the King of dirty business.
But you know what? In all honesty, I'm okay with that. I'm okay with knowing the operating system I use is only used by four percent of the population (even though I am certain that number is no where near accurate.) I'm okay with Linux being the underdog. I'm okay without World Domination. Why? Because even without that domination, my operating system works, without fail, day in and day out. When other users are calling support for help with cleaning out viruses, malware, and troubleshooting BSODs (TM), I am chugging away.
But I will tell you this: I am not okay with hearing so many support specialists enjoying the fact that "Windows keeps them in business." I know what that implies and, at least to me, that crap rolls straight downhill and lands squarely in the lap of the consumer. That's dirty business and something Linux will never have anything to do with. I think it's fairly safe to say, if the vast majority of users had Linux on their desktops, there would be far fewer calls to support.
So I say to Linux, happy birthday underdog of underdogs. You are only now reaching your prime and there is no shame in reaching four percent with zero marketing and PR to help you along in this race. Microsoft may be the big man on campus, but it's one willing to play dirty and will always, no matter how much market share it has, be inferior to you — Linux.
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.