Linux is dead... at least on the desktop

While Linux implementations in the datacenter may be on the rise, PC World says that Linux on the desktop has already died, perhaps as long ago as 2008.

Ironically, Linux has become easier to use over the years with the Ubuntu distribution leading the way in ease of installation and use. It is no longer required to know how to compile your own kernel (like I did back in the Slackware days!), nor is it necessary to configure audio/video drivers or your XFree86 setup. Everything is done for you – which should make things easier for your mom and dad to use.

Unfortunately, as the article points out, a lack of content is what has kept Linux as an afterthought on the desktop market. Most of this has to do with Digital Rights Management (DRM), the system that content providers use to limit how and when you can use their media. For example, playing regular DVDs out of the box requires extra work due to the “Content Scrambling System” or CSS for short. In order to play DVD video, you need to manually install an extra package because it’s not included in Linux distributions due to licensing and legal issues. While the installation is not difficult, most normal end users would simply throw up their hands and say that Linux is broken if they can’t play a movie on their newly installed system.

Another problem is the fragmentation of Linux distributions. While most people have probably heard of Red Hat and Ubuntu, there are dozens more that are more obscure – from Absolute to Zorin. While most have a standard base (Zorin, for example, is based on Ubuntu), making tools compatible across all of the distributions is very difficult. The article gives an example of Flash not working well in the past due to Linux fragmentation and poor drivers.

The article goes on to say that the only hope Linux has on the desktop is with the current shift towards cloud computing, where the choice of desktop operating system is unimportant. That said, Linux is still strong in the server, appliance, and mobile markets and all signs are that it will remain so due to the very flexibility that prevents it from being a mainstream operating system.

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