January 22, 2004

2004 the year of Linux? I don't think so

It's quite amusing to see various pundits predicting that 2004 will be "the year of Linux" (including Linus himself, but this shouldn't come as a surprise).  Never mind the fact that the past eight years have all been predicted as the "year of Linux", there are quite a few signs that make me think that if anything, this year will be the year of Windows.

If Linux ever had a chance, I would evaluate it at two or three years ago.  But now, in 2004, what do we see?  An increasing loss of market shares for Sun, the herald of UNIX if there is any still alive these days, casting a grim shadow on the entire UNIX industry.  Red Hat's recent withdrawals and reversal of fortunes are not helping, nor is the inability of the Linux community to agree on one user interface (I remember making this exact remark to coworkers in 1995 about Linux, and in1990 about UNIX in general).

It's quite ironic that the only major user-oriented advance in the UNIX world has been made by Apple, who single-handedly made UNIX credible for Joe-type users.  But with their faltering 2% market share of personal desktops, I can't see how it really helps the cause that much.

On the flipside, Windows has never been so present.  First of all, the existing offers (Windows 2000 and XP) are going stronger than ever to a point where even die-hard Linux fans find it quite acceptable to work on these two operating systems.

The "next generation" operating systems are still far away (Windows 2003 is kind of here already and who can tell when Longhorn will actually be ready), but they promise innovative features that get the developer community drooling (WinFS and Indigo come to mind).

But if you look past the desktop, Microsoft appears as a more credible player every day, especially in the mobile space.  Windows cell phones are making shy but firm entries in our lives and Windows-based PDA's are increasingly becoming a force to reckon with.

I have read some articles saying that 2004 will make or break Linux.  I am predicting that nothing such will happen.  Linux will keep the niche place it has had for years now and 99% of computer users will simply and quietly keep not caring about it.


Posted by cedric at January 22, 2004 10:04 AM

Interesting perspective. I see linux gaining ground every day almost. Microsoft is as well. Sun and HP, as the die-hard UNIX vendors are the ones mostly losing (as IBM has embraced linux -- they are probably still losing some revenue from AIX maintenance fees).

MS is getting better -- I wholly agree. They are bragging about month long uptimes on Win2k3 Server even. Now when they finish redesigning the operating system to be secure (maybe with Longhorn in 2006/7/8/9) we'll see.

People who trust critical applications to Windows Servers still amaze me. If there is no exposure for the server to potentially malicious input, and no requirement to always be available (again, without their "we tell you what options you can enable" datacenter HA version) it probably works well.

Most people don't care, and they shouldn't. IT infrastructre should be, to steal a phrase from a BSD description, a utility you only notice in its absence -- like running water. The people that need to keep that utility going are the ones who care.


Posted by: Brian McCallister at January 22, 2004 11:28 AM

> "faltering 2% market share"

do you have a reference for this?

Posted by: Dave at January 22, 2004 12:28 PM

A quick google turns up the following articles:



Posted by: Cedric at January 22, 2004 12:39 PM

I wouldn't say imbecile =) His customers like paying a lot for software and, more importantly, happily pay for a feeling of security. MS provides opportunities for both. IT/Development is a broad filed with many facets.

Posted by: Brian McCallister at January 23, 2004 06:31 AM

"Apple, who single-handedly made UNIX credible for Joe-type users"

You can't possibly be serious - What about Xandros 2.0 (http://www.xandros.com/dsk_dlx_screenshots.html), Libranet (http://www.libranet.com/), Lindows (http://www.lindows.com/), and to a certain extent XPDE (http://www.xpde.com/).

Linux is fully ready for the office desktop today.

Posted by: Stephan Tual at January 23, 2004 07:41 AM

Linux is not "ready" for the desktop. Just because someone releases a Windows XP look-alike doesn't prepare it. Basically Linux will never be ready for the desktop because a desktop operating system requires consistency. When you can walk up to any Linux box and know what the desktop is going to look like and how it is going to work and how all the applications will work, then you have a desktop. Perhaps "Xandros" is ready for the desktop, but that isn't Linux; its an application that runs on Linux with no standards, no UI guidelines, and different from every other application claiming to be a desktop on Linux. If someone would get their act together and enforce one look and feel, one "desktop" application, a set of UI guidelines, one set of UI APIs, then maybe this thing, that wouldn't be Linux per se, would have a prayer. Basically, the level at which Linux is defined, is much too low level. Notice there is Darwin (the Linux equivalent) and then there is Mac OS X which includes everything the user interacts with. Maybe one day the OSS people will understand that a kernel and some random apps doesn't make a desktop.

Posted by: Sam Pullara at January 23, 2004 09:38 AM

2004 will probably fail to be 'The Year of Linux'. Linux's gains in the embedded systems market, though far from dominant, put the attempts of giants such as Novell and Microsoft to shame in a market with no historical leader. It is these types of small gains that makes the idea of 'the year of Linux' a smokescreen and deterrent of the FUD to which you ascribe. Linux's virtue is that it shall be around. Apple's accomplishment as the 'only major user-oriented advance in the UNIX world' was accomplished by using an adaptation of BSD kernel and the OpenSource paradigm.

Each gain that linux makes is exponential as each bit of exposure creates a geometric increase in its potential for more. The spread of Windows is arithmetic at best, as you are bound by both uncompetetive pricing and, more importantly, proprietary code ethics. (And let's not even mention what would happen if Linux sought a code review on Microsoft, Sun and other rivals!)

'Linux' will inevitably arrive on the desktop as it is an evolving culture and coding practices rather than a rigid set of standards (such as trying to please users or corporations). 'Linux' grows organically and is fundamentally modular ensuring that it can sustain portability. Linus is young, Germany adopted Linux as its official OS, adopted Linux to support their mainframes, AOL transitionted to Linux to support their network.

The GPL is an ever-spreading virus, day by day, piece by piece, programmer by programmer, civillian by civillian. This year nor any other shall be the year of Linux, but one day it will hopefully be as ubiquitous as democracy.

Posted by: Alton at January 23, 2004 09:37 PM

Speaking of consistency in the UI, why don't some of the OSS/Linux guys put more oomph behind GNUstep (or some alternate implementation of the NeXTstep) and try to woo the folks who are writing Cocoa apps into cross-compiling for Linux? Then, you might get some consistency and some decent looking apps.

Concerning Apple's market share, I like Steve Job's quote in a recent interview with MacWorld in response to the question about Apple's market share:

"Apple's market share is bigger than BMW's or Mercedes's or Porsche's in the automotive market. What's wrong with being BMW or Mercedes? "

Frankly, I've discovered, along with many others, that as a developer (but not a kernel-hacking one), there's no better platform to work in than a Mac running OS X. I get superior hardware configurations for personal use, can hack on all the open source software packages I like, and get a decent UI to do day-to-day work. And if you're really a speed-freak, the dual G5's are competitive with high-end Intel boxes.

Posted by: Jolly Chen at January 24, 2004 10:58 PM

Linux needs artists and writers and musicians - not just coders. When the population of coders are convinced it is good for them, this "exponential growth" will end unless there is something there to make it worthwhile to non coders. Musicians currently have nothing special on Linux (OK one or two interesting betas though I do expect this to change more rapidly in the next few years).

And games. Most people I speak to who say Linux is not ready for them are not businesses, they are individuals who want to also be able to play games. Not just the small selection that work on Linux, but the latest and greatest. I'm not much of a gamer, so this doesn't affect me.

I do think Linux is growing and will continue to. It's because this doesn't rely on the financial success of a handful of companies.

In some ways, Linux is like the Internet. I wish I had a dollar for every time people assured me that people would never use the net in their homes, it was too slow, difficult, expensive and textual. Ha.

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