Last week I finally dumped my Blackberry smartphone and got myself one of the Verizon Droid phones; specifically the Droid Eris. I was waiting for the Nexus One to come to Verizon Wireless for quite some time and when I read that it was to be offered through Google only (unlocked and without a contract deal) for $530, I said forget about it. I will go to the store instead and get one of the Droid phones (Motorola Droid & HTC Droid Eris).
Although it is the slightly outdated version 1.5 of the Android OS, I have been spending the past 2 weeks enjoying my new phone and looking forward to the 2.1 upgrade expected by the end of the month. I will admit that during this period, the coolest application I found on the Android Market was the Google Sky Map which I recommend to anyone and everyone.
Anyways, back to the main point of this post, the past weeks gave me much to think about with regards to the future of Linux. Every year we always hear that “this is the year of Linux Desktop” and yet are surprised that nothing has changed from the years prior. Sure Linux is growing on the end user base but it is a very small growth; almost unnoticeable. Looking at it from a positive angle, portions of this growth is a result of the efforts from such identities like Canonical, with their Ubuntu distribution to even the re-spins like Linux Mint, etc. making it more user friendly for Linux newbies. It is also worth noting that distributions like Fedora (Red Hat based) to even openSUSE have also done excellent work in increasing usability on top of performance and appearance. But my question is, where do they stand in the grand scheme of things? Sure these distributions have a future and a strong one at that. I won’t stop using Fedora, Debian or Ubuntu. But deep down, do I believe that they will get the huge market share that they rightfully deserve? No. At least not in the very near future.
What I do see is a trend started by companies like Google and Apple. The trend focus on mobility and portability. Less and less users are running out and buying desktop machines. This idea seemed to have died rendering the concept of a desktop to become obsolete years ago. The focus has been more on the low-cost laptop and netbook devices. On top of that Google does something that they are well known for and it is the idea of creating and promoting a name. For instance, Google is used everywhere to reference the company, their products and even in the form of a verb to search for information. I feel that the same thing may happen with the Android Operating System. The end user market knows what the Android is; not necessarily caring what exists under the hood (i.e the Linux kernel). Android usage has been growing at a rapid rate and provides the majority of functionality that a standard end-user needs with a huge listing of applications offered. Here is an interesting fact: Android enabled phones have jumped from 2% market share in February 2009 to 24% market share of February 2010 (of smartphones).
As of the past 6 months or so, Google has been hyping up their new Chrome OS to be used on low-powered mobile internet device (MID) such as netbooks and possibly lightweight tablet PCs. For those who do not know the details, it is basically a browser running on top of the Linux kernel. The browser desktop environment provides some interesting concepts but will it ever captivate the end user audience enough to dump the one over the other or will it be, at the most, a dual boot option for a quick boot to the Internet?
I for one see a lot more potential with the Android. Maybe customize the desktop to cater to a netbook or tablet PC. Port the Google Chrome web browser over to the OS. Add quick launch apps for Google Docs and then call it a day. I do see success of Linux at the end user market. I feel confident that they will leave Microsoft behind in a cloud of smoke; seeing how Microsoft still focuses on the obsolete desktop environment with some efforts moving slowly toward the cloud. Slowly the “year of the Linux desktop” idea will disappear as more and more individuals focus more on mobility and begin to use web enabled devices and eventually bring on the “year of the Linux MID”.
My question to everyone is: Do you still think Linux has a chance (moving away from the idea of the desktop and focus more on the MID)?