Client-device Linux use reaches 2-5%, world better off

Preston Gralla, in a provocative article entitled “Client-device Linux use reaches 1%, world yawns”, makes a series of negative claims about desktop linux;

  1. Linux will never be a big player in the desktop market
  2. Linux should not be
  3. Linux flounders on the desktop because there are too many variants
  4. Linux flounders because it is too hard to install or update

Addressing these points one at a time:

Could Desktop Linux reach 10% ?

Time will tell, but Desktop Linux has well and truly exceeded 1%, especially when we compensate for the methodological flaws of the Net Applications study on which the 1% figure is based. A more realistic global figure is 2-5% (“Linux Desktop Market Share: Greater Than One Percent?”). With ARM-powered netbooks and MIDs on the way, that may well rise. It could be argued that Desktop Linux has only been a viable alternative for about 2 years so it is early days yet.

Does Desktop Linux make us better off?

Definitely. Desktop Linux provides competition for the dominant desktop systems (XP on netbooks, Vista and OS X on the rest of the “desktop”) and that creates pressure to innovate and helps keep prices in check. For example, Linux has set the price Microsoft can charge netbook manufacturers for an OS very low (see “Netbooks bleed Microsoft profits. It’s about to get worse”).

And Linux has a much better security record than Microsoft OSs, enables society to reuse lower powered machines, and saves consumers a lot of money. If you’re not from Redmond, what’s not to like?!

Too many variants of Desktop Linux?

Not really a credible complaint any more. If you want to follow the mainstream, just install Ubuntu. If not, try Fedora, Mandriva, or possibly Suse. And there are many more for specialised needs. But there is an obvious choice now, Ubuntu, making the total number of Linux distros irrelevant.

It is good there is a choice because it keeps the pressure to innovate high (boot speed wars etc) but there is no longer any cause for confusion amongst ordinary users. Which is possibly why we are seeing adoption rates for Desktop Linux rising.

Is Desktop Linux hard to install or update?

This is a valid point – although it must be noted that Ubuntu is much easier to install than Windows + applications + anti-virus + antispyware etc. The success of Desktop Linux depends on mainstream hardware manufacturers. If they continue to increase their support for pre-installed Linux, we can expect adoption rates to increase. And if software publishers start having to produce Linux versions, there could be a tipping point of sorts. Linux adoption could suddenly rise from, say, 5% to 20% if a number of prominent hardware and software providers got on board and the rest stampeded to avoid being left out. We will see.

The web provides an analogy. Once Firefox + Safari + Chrome + Opera exceeded 10% it became difficult for the mainstream of the web to produce content for the Microsoft ecosystem only. And once web developers made the shift it made it easier for people to adopt non-Microsoft browsers. The pattern has been self-reinforcing.

Conclusion

Whether you use Windows, OS X or Desktop Linux, we will all benefit from growing uptake of Desktop Linux. And I believe Ubuntu could be the Firefox of OSs within 10 years, enjoying 20-30% of the “market”. And not before time.