A quick look back on Linux and open source 2015

2015 was a banner year for Linux. From enterprise to mobile, Linux found solid footing in many areas some considered previously impossible. Jack Wallen reflects on some of the highlights.

Image: Jack Wallen

The year is almost over and what a year it has been. Once again I must bemoan the fact that the year of the Linux desktop has still eluded us. That's okay...for now. Why? Because Linux managed to dominate in a world that is far more important than the desktop.

Oh, and there's the fact that the desktop is slowly becoming irrelevant to a large portion of the world. More on that later.


If I were to consider the most important piece of the Linux and open source 2015 puzzle, I'd have to say it would be its continued dominance in the Enterprise. This is something no one would have predicted ten years ago. But lo and behold, 2015 saw the continued dominance of Linux in the space of space...big business. What was the cause that led to this effect? A large portion of that cause can be found in big data and SUSE. SUSE managed to prove that it could absolutely own big data with its in-memory databases and kernel updates sans reboot. Uptime, uptime, uptime.

But even beyond SUSE and big data, Linux has become the darling of the enterprise. Web servers, databases, security, virtual servers...the list goes on and on. If Linux had a claim to stake on 2015 it would be how it further solidified itself as that which runs the backbone of enterprise computing.

Distribution shuffle

2015 proved many things in the world of open source and Linux...especially in the realm of distributions. It used to be you could always count on a handful of Linux flavors to deliver big things and remain at the top of the "must try" lists. 2015 saw that ideal fall through the cracks. With Ubuntu continuing to disappoint, room was made at the top for other distributions to bubble up. One would have thought it easy for the likes of Linux Mint, Arch Linux, or even Debian to take command. What really happened, however, was a few unknown distributions began to take a large portion of that spotlight. One flavor of Linux in particular shined incredibly bright. Elementary OS Freya exploded onto the scene to become one of the favorites of many a former Ubuntu fan. In fact, Elementary OS Freya was such a wonderful release, it wooed me away from Ubuntu without even having to put on their dog and pony show.

Of course, Elementary wasn't the only new kid on the block. 2015 also saw the rise of a few Chrome OS clones (such as Chromixum OS) and flavors of Linux that can easily give the Chrome OS desktop a run for its money (like Solus and its Budgie desktop) - both of which are outstanding distributions which can bring a decidedly Chrome OS feel (with plenty of extra power) to non-chromebook devices.

And I cannot speak to 2015 and Linux desktops without mentioning Ubuntu Gnome 15.10. This release (IMHO) somehow squeaked under the radar, but wound up being the perfect Linux desktop distribution. Not only was it a thing of beauty, it performed better than any distribution I'd experienced. With the exception of one tiny blemish (the Ubuntu Software Center), Ubuntu Gnome 15.10 is as flawless as Chrome OS is user-friendly.

Speaking of which...


Let us not forget that Chromebooks are powered by the Linux kernel. Without Linux, there'd be no Chrome OS. And even though many predicted the landslide of cheap Windows laptops would outsell the Chromebook in 2015...that didn't happen. According to NDP, "Chromebook sales through the U.S. B2B channels increased 43 percent during the first half of 2015." That's significant. And with the help of what I call convergent data, the Chromebook/Android dominance will only continue to march forward with unprecedented numbers and power.

Again, I say, speaking of which...


Another major win for Linux as the Android platform continues to reign supreme as the leading operating system on the planet. And, in keeping with Chrome OS, without Linux, there'd be no Android. The fact that Android is so popular is mostly due to the fact that so many users are abandoning the traditional desktop platform...and they want a cheaper alternative. Thanks to unlocked Android devices, this is possible. In fact, this year Benedict Evans ran a poll of users' take on what was important to them. This was the same poll he asked in 2013. Here are the results of both years:


  1. Laptop 46%
  2. Desktop 28%
  3. Smartphone 15%
  4. Tablet 8%


  1. Smartphone 33%
  2. Laptop 30%
  3. Tablet 19%
  4. Desktop 14%

Those are some telling numbers...numbers which will only continue to rise in favor of the smartphone.

Speaking of...okay, we get it. Just move on.

The Ubuntu Phone

All was not perfect for Linux and open source. In fact, if there was one glaring dark spot for the open source platform, it would have to be the release of the Ubuntu Phone. We were all chomping at the bit for this device. For years we all predicted it would be the device to topple all other smartphone platforms.

Boy were we wrong. What finally came to light was a klunky (at best) platform that (at best) would give the user a few minutes of "new car smell", which would soon turn into the rancid stink of disappointment. And this is what Canonical spent so much valuable time and resources developing? They stole from the desktop for a flop. That convergent desktop Canonical promised will never happen, because they couldn't even deliver on one of the most crucial elements - the smartphone.

Granted, the Ubuntu Phone is still in its infancy; but judging by what was delivered, they have a long, long, long way to go before that platform could become even remotely relevant.

And this coming from one of those who was absolutely thrilled with the idea of a Linux phone. The more fool I.

Of course there were so many other great moments for Linux in 2015. But now, it's coming to and end and we must look forward to 2016...the year of the Linux desktop!

Oh wait...

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