How many times have you heard the famous “20XX is going to be the year of Linux desktop” sentence? What does it mean? When will it happen? Well, it already happened. You missed it.
Okay, let’s break it down into simplest steps possible. First of all, what is a “Linux operating system”?
Linux operating system is a combination of five layers:
- Linux kernel
- Some mid-level tools
- User interface
- Some mid-level tools
- Some apps
So, everything running on Linux kernel is actually a Linux-based operating system. (Who would’ve guessed?)
Now, what is desktop?
If we’re thinking about desktop, we’re usually thinking about one of these three things:
- A desktop computer. You know, that thing that has an external monitor, external keyboard, external mouse etc.
- Your personal user interface and your apps. Basically, how you experience your personal device.
- Any end device capable of connecting to the internet.
Okay, so the first thing seems rather outdated. How much do we rely on desktop computers nowadays? I’d say not much. Mobile devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets etc.) already took over. I bet you can’t think of a single example of a family that’s spending more time on their desktop devices than on mobile devices.
So, let us focus on other uses of the word Linux instead.
Linux or GNU/Linux?
Before I go any further, I want to clarify this thing.
With GNU or without GNU, every system that has a Linux kernel is a Linux system.
When you’re mentioning GNU/Linux (or just Linux) operating systems, what you’re usually thinking of is this:
- Linux Mint
- elementary OS
When you’re mentioning Linux operating systems, what you should be thinking of is this:
- Ubuntu, Fedora, Arch, Linux Mint, Debian, elementary OS…
- Chrome OS
- Firefox OS
Now we got that settled, let us look at the…
Let us divide this category first into three subcategories.
Linux on large devices never took it off and that’s no secret. It never reached 2% of the market share. But it did double its market share in the last three years. In 2012 it had 0.85% of the market. In 2015, it has 1.67%. Sure, that’s still incomparable with Windows and OS X, but Linux is there and Linux is stronger than it ever been before on large devices.
Medium devices (tablets):
Disclaimer: I did not include 2011 in this chart because StatCounter didn’t count tablets and mobile devices separately in 2011.
Okay, so what do we see? We see iOS falling down by 18% since 2012. We see Android doubling its market share from 15% to 30%. Finally, we see that Linux thing having solid 2.5% of the market share. Windows 8.1 has almost 1% and we can neglect others since nothing groundbreaking is happening there (they all individually have 0.5% of the market share or less).
Small devices (smartphones)
Here, we see Android dominating the market with close to 63% of the market share in 2015. iOS usage is slowly going downwards. Nokia’s old Series 40 devices went down from 13% in 2013 to 4.5% in 2015. Symbian is as good as dead.
Let’s combine all of this
Okay, so the usage of Windows 7 reached its peak at 44.32% back in 2012 and it’s going down ever since. The usage of Windows XP went from 40.97% in 2011 down to just 6.61% in 2015 (no surprise there). Windows 8/8.1 never made it nowhere near the usage of Windows 7. Windows Vista is down to 1.39%.
On the other hand, “Linux” (Android that is) reached the second place in 2014. In 2015, one out of every four devices is running Android. iOS usage is sitting there at 11% not making any sudden changes. Windows 8.1 usage went up to 9.41%. OS X lost a third of its customers (from 6% down to 4%). The statistics for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 8 (without .1) usage are going down at an amazing rate. Windows 10 has yet to come in this bigger picture.
So, Linux owns pretty much no market on large devices, it’s currently running on one out of three tablets and two out of three smartphones. Combine all of that and it means that every fourth device in the world is running Linux in one way or another.
Of course, StatCounter actually counts the number of hits on the internet and determines from which platform are you actually accessing the internet from. It’s a very rough estimate of the actual usage, but it’s the best estimate we could possibly have (without tracking the actual users that is).
I would love to switch to Linux, but it doesn’t support X
…where X is some game, Photoshop, Microsoft Office or whatever.
This could be considered to be a bit off-topic for this post, but let us take a quick look at it, shall we?
Let’s focus on games first.
Currently, Steam has 1,491 games Linux-compatible games, while the Linux support for another ~700 games is questionable (source). And let us not forget that Steam released its Linux client less than three years ago (February 2013 that is). So, Linux can now run one thousand and a couple of hundreds games that it couldn’t three years ago. On top of that, Steam has started to focus on SteamOS devices and the number of Linux-compatible games is probably going to increase even further as the time goes by.
Of course, this is nowhere near the amount of games Windows supports and it’s about a half of games that Steam has available on OS X. But this battle isn’t over. Two years ago, we thought that this battle was over a long time ago. Now, Linux is back in the race and the outcome of this battle seems highly unpredictable at the moment.
As for the program compatibility, Linux already supports both Photoshop and Microsoft’s Office. Don’t believe me? Okay, just go to Google Play and search for Word, Excel or Photoshop. Yup, that’s right. Linux already supports both Microsoft’s office suite and Photoshop.
But that doesn’t mean they run on Linux desktop.
You’re right. But, Google is working on supporting Android apps on Chrome OS devices. And what is Chrome OS built on top of? Gentoo Linux. Plus, although this method is currently in an experimental phase, you can already theoretically run Android apps on any Linux desktop device that has Google Chrome installed (if you can find a way to download its
.apk file that is).
Sure, this method is currently no less complicated than using Wine, but this time, Google is working on making it happen. If Chrome OS starts to support Android apps without any hiccups, you can be sure that it won’t take long before any Linux distribution + Chrome combination supports it.
Of course, there is a large amount of programs that are never going to become Linux-compatible, but as I keep saying over and over again, that’s not the fault of Linux. It’s a fault of those who made that program specifically with one platform in mind. Five years ago, it made perfect sense. Now, it doesn’t make any sense. If they don’t try to adjust now, they will start to look for a new job pretty quickly.
And don’t forget that this happened too.
From: Microsoft Loves Linux article posted by Microsoft’s Windows Server Team.
The number of popular technologically-related companies that started to get involved with open source projects skyrocketed. Apple open sourced its Swift programming language recently. Other major tech companies have a GitHub account for a long time. Here, I’ll give you a couple of examples: Microsoft, Adobe, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Netflix, Samsung, Sony and IBM. Even the freaking White House has one. And so does the NSA. (A bit of bragging: I became the very first civilian whose “very important” pull request got accepted by the NSA’s GitHub organization.) Plus, six days ago, Dustin Kirkland (from Canonical’s Ubuntu Product and Strategy team) said that more people use Ubuntu than anyone actually knows in a blog post in which he estimated that “there are over a billion people today, using Ubuntu – both directly and indirectly”.
Almost every single big technology company decided to embrace open source in one way or another. It seems impossible to measure how many of their projects you can use on Linux, but you can bet your ass that the number is not small in any single way. In fact, it skyrocketed in the last couple of years (especially in 2015). Of course, these projects are mostly focusing on developers and large scale systems, but still… there’s a reason why those technologies are no longer maintained behind closed doors.
A short conclusion
Sure, Linux might never get up to 10% of the market share on desktop computers, but I can guarantee you that the year of Linux and open source software is not going to happen, it already happened. Its adoption is skyrocketing and is only going to continue going up as the time goes by (think: Internet of Things devices). For a while now, every year is the year of Linux. We just don’t realize it because we’re constantly obsessed with Linux on the desktop devices when we’re debating about this. What we don’t realize is that one out of every four devices is running Linux, whether you like it or not.
As I said in the title: A year of Linux has already happened. You missed it.
DISCLAIMER: The first draft of this post was finished back in August. StatCounter images I’ve used are from that original draft, so they’re outdated by a couple of months.