It has been said many times before, but now here it is again – an article about Linux on desktops becoming mainstream.
Is this the beginning of the end for Microsoft's virtual monopoly on the desktop? Certainly not right away, says Al Gillen, an analyst at IDC, a technology consultancy. Today, almost 94% of all PCs in the world run on Windows, while slightly more than 3%—mostly in creative industries and universities—use Apple's Macintosh system. Fewer than 3% use Linux. By the end of the decade, Linux's share could grow to 7-10%, reckons Mr Gillen, displacing Macs as the main alternative. That would still fall far short of Linux's growing popularity in the market for powerful server computers. Linux aficionados, however, say its chances on the desktop should be much better.
They cite several reasons why. First, the quality of Linux—which like other open-source software is developed by a community of volunteers who share their work freely—has been rising steadily. Linux PCs are no longer just for geeks. Second, Microsoft itself looks temporarily chastened, if not weak. A series of worms and viruses has wrought havoc on Windows PCs. Microsoft faced further embarrassment this week when it warned about more security flaws in its software. Meanwhile Linux, which hackers tend not to target, looks safe in comparison. And distrust of Microsoft as a bullying monopolist remains high. Last month, the European Commission fined the company �497m ($612m) and ordered it to behave better.
More specifically, two windows, so to speak, of opportunity appear to be opening. One is that the next version of Windows, called Longhorn, has been delayed to 2006 at the earliest, in part by Microsoft's realisation that it has to tighten up security a lot more. So, for the next two years, companies and home users thinking about updating their operating system might be reluctant to buy the current version, Windows XP, knowing it will soon be overtaken. Hence they may consider alternatives more seriously. If Linux can establish a good reputation during this period, it might look even more attractive once Longhorn, which will be expensive and is likely to require new hardware, is released. Linux, after all, can be very cheap: $100 per user if bought as part of Sun's package, for instance. It can even be downloaded for nothing from the internet.
I'm one of those who hopes this scenario finally comes true. The PC industry needs this kind of change and competition.