Let's face it; Linux's chance of winning the desktop war is now slimmer than ever. Mobile devices like tablet computers and smartphones have started to pull a lot of people away from using traditional PCs. But I think we shouldn't blame the fate of the Linux desktop solely on these devices because personal computers are far from being irrelevant and is still preferred by many, including myself, for getting things done. So why do I think Linux is still not winning in the desktop space?
Before I'll answer that question, I would like to explain that winning doesn't necessarily mean beating Windows and Mac in terms of market share. We all know that those two tech titans have all the money in the world to get what they want. For me, the Linux desktop is already winning if it could reasonably increase its usage share. I know it is quite hard to measure the desktop market share accurately, but the way I see it, Linux is moving at a very slow pace.
The main reason why the Linux desktop is still not winning is the lack of "focus". Looking at the Linux desktop right now is like watching a person with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). To know what I mean, let's take a look at Ubuntu.
Considered by many as the most popular Linux distribution, Ubuntu is a favorite among new-to-Linux users and for those of us who want a hassle-free desktop distro. In a span of a few years, it has successfully improved the whole Linux desktop experience by keeping things simple, fast, stable and usable, and by providing a good online technical support, forums, and documentation.
I still love Ubuntu but the project's lack of focus is frustrating. Instead of moving forward, I think they are moving the opposite way. The last two releases and the upcoming version of Ubuntu gives too much attention on tweaking/modifying and beautifying the desktop user interface instead of simplifying and improving performance and stability. Also, it seems like it is always starting from scratch with every releases by constantly changing the default UI, IM client, photo viewers, etc.
Before, I have criticized Ubuntu for trying to become like a cheap imitation of Mac OS X. Now, seeing the Natty Narwhal (Ubuntu 11.04) with its Unity shell interface made me think that I was indeed right.
I think it is not wrong to copy Apple if you only copy the way they do things and not the actual things or products that they do. The Ubuntu team could imitate how Apple slowly enhanced or polished the Mac desktop environment to perfection while focusing on performance and intuitiveness without sacrificing simplicity and without rushing to drastically change things. A lot of users love the GNOME desktop environment for its speed and simplicity so why not try to make it even more simple and faster instead of adding bulk like the Unity shell just to make it feel and look more like Mac OS X.
One of the best advantages of Ubuntu and other Linux distributions over Mac and Windows is that it can integrate or preinstall useful desktop applications like office suites, graphics editors, multimedia applications, and many others without cost. So why not focus on helping develop and improve those applications so that users won't have to look elsewhere.
I could go on and on with my semi-rambling but I hope you get my point by now. Forgive me if I put too much emphasis on Ubuntu. We can't deny the fact that it is the face of the Linux desktop at the moment hence it is only significant to show it as an example.
Why do you think the Linux desktop is still not winning? You may share with us your thoughts via comment.