I started writing a reply to this article based on this simple premise:
In order to determine when ‘the year of the Linux desktop’ arrives, we should look back in history and determine when ‘the year of the Windows desktop’ arrived and under what circumstances.
I started out with a small timeline of Windows releases; the short answer to my question was that it was almost certainly 1995 (When Windows 95 was released), but the more I researched, the more intriguing the situation really is; there was a three-way battle between the Mac OS (classic), Microsoft Windows (DOS-based) and OS/2. The last was exterminated and the first became an endangered species.
After Microsoft won the desktop wars, there was a period of calm, with Microsoft dominating, but a new generation of desktop OSs replacing the older ones: Mac OS X, MS Windows (NT-based) and Linux.
I am now convinced that we are in a second Desktop War (much like the second Browser War we are also in) which started in 2004 when Windows “Longhorn” miscarried and Microsoft had to start from scratch to build the OS that became Vista. 2004 also marked the first Ubuntu release.
By comparison to ‘the year of the Windows desktop’, 2007 is not ‘the year of the Linux desktop’ and I suspect 2008 won’t be either, BUT here’s what to watch for as tell-tale signs:
- rapidly incresing Linux grassroots and corporate popularity (like Firefox; expect Europe to lead here… in fact, I would probably check this one off already)
- Linux establishing itself in the public consciousness as a good desktop OS; expect traditional and viral marketing (2008)
- OEM preloads of Linux, especially Ubuntu, rapidly increasing (all major OEMs currently offering Windows 2008-9)
- major commerical apps designed to run on Linux (e.g. Adobe Photoshop or even Microsoft Word; one might laugh at the thought now, but when Gates and Ballmer both are gone, this is just a matter of time; 2010?)
The Linux year-of-the-desktop version equivalent to Microsoft’s Windows 95 will probably be Ubuntu 10.04 (a LTS release). I predict (and yes, I’m going out on a limb :) that it will surpass the next version of Windows (currently just called “Windows 7″) in terms of adoption (and OEM preloads) and so 2010 will be the year of the Linux Desktop if things continue on the course they seem to be on now. After that, Microsoft will be in serious financial trouble and may well implode or at least engage in serious blood-letting to fix things. Apple will be in very good shape and Linux’ major competitor, though Apple will tend to restrict itself to the mid-to-high-end market while Linux dominates the low-end market and does very well in the mid-range market.
Research notes follow below the fold…
In order to determine when ‘the year of the Linux desktop’ arrives, we should look back in history and determine when ‘the year of the Windows desktop’ arrived and under what circumstances (if I make a mistake in my history please feel to correct me :) AFAIK, the major players then were Apple’s Mac OS (classic), Microsoft’s Windows (DOS-based) and IBM’s OS/2 and this struggle for dominance was known as the “Desktop wars”. A timeline:
1984: Mac OS 1 “it does not use a command line interface; it was one of the first operating systems to use an entirely graphical user interface”
1985: Mac OS 2; Windows 1 “achieved little popularity” it was “not a complete operating system, but rather extends MS-DOS” and “the programs that shipped with this early version are considered “toy” applications with little or limited appeal to business users. Furthermore, legal challenges by Apple limited its functionality.”
1986: Mac OS 3
1987: Mac OS 4; Windows 2 “slightly more popular than its predecessor” “Microsoft Windows received a major boost around this time when Aldus PageMaker appeared in a Windows version, having previously run only on Macintosh. Some computer historians date this, the first appearance of a significant and non-Microsoft application for Windows, as the beginning of the success of Windows.”; OS/2 1 (no GUI) developed via an agreement between Microsoft and IBM.
[note: “[Mac OS] 5 was available for a very short time and only in some countries”]
1988: Mac OS 6 “a consolidation release of the Mac OS, producing a complete, stable, and long-lasting operating system”; OS/2 1.1 “GUI […] was introduced”
1989: The vast majority of Apple’s lawsuit against Microsoft for appropriating their ‘look and feel’ is tossed from court.
1990: Windows 3 “a significant success”, “Much [of which] was due to the fact that Windows 3.0 (along with MS-DOS) was bundled with most new computers.” “The OS/2 collaboration between IBM and Microsoft unravelled”
1991: Mac OS 7 “the second major upgrade to the Mac OS”
1992: Windows 3.1 “a joke from a stability and multitasking point of view”; OS/2 2 “a better Windows than Windows”
1994: OS/2 3 (“Warp”) “generally to freshen the product image”
1995: Windows 95 “PR blitz such as never before seen, which included “convincing” hardware OEMs not to preload “that other OS” [OS/2]”
1996: OS/2 4 “the last widely distributed version of OS/2, and IBM soon announced the end of marketing the operating system to individual users”
1997: Mac OS 8 “mainly released to keep the Mac OS moving forward during a difficult time for Apple. Initially planned as Mac OS 7.7, it was renumbered “8” to exploit a legal loophole to accomplish Jobs’ goal of terminating third-party manufacturers’ licenses to System 7 and shutting down the Macintosh clone market.”
1998: Windows 98
1999: Mac OS 9 “generally a steady evolution from Mac OS 8″; Windows 98 SE
2000: Windows ME
As we know, Microsoft won the Desktop Wars; some lessons to be learned:
- One advantage they had over Apple and IBM was that they were selling software and could see OEMs as partners while Apple and IBM were primarily selling hardware, so OEMs were competitors.
- They succeeded in creating a knock-off of the innovative Mac OS that survived a court challenge.
- They got important 3rd parties to write software for their platform; very important!
- They had a huge ad campaign that hyped their product over a very similar yet technically superior competitor.
- Then of course there were all sorts of dirty tricks involving getting OEMs to do what Microsoft wanted.
- But “IBM’s own marketing problems and lack of support for developers contributed at least as much to the failure.”
*** look up DOS preloading -> OEM strongarming for Windows
*** ME as miserable edition
If we consider the current situation to be “Desktop Wars II” (analogous to the current Browser Wars II) then here are the players:
Apple’s Mac OS X, Microsoft’s Windows (NT-based) and Linux (both KDE and Gnome as both are still important Linux Desktop Environments, though Ubuntu is Gnome and currently leader of the pack)
1993: Windows NT 3.1 (“Microsoft marketing desired to make Windows NT appear to be a continuation of Windows 3.1″)
1994: Linux Kernel 1.0
1995: Linux Kernel 1.2
1996: Windows NT 4; Linux Kernel 2.0; Debian 1.1, 1.2 (“Due to an incident involving a CD vendor who made an unofficial and broken release labeled 1.0, an official 1.0 release was never made.”)
1997: Debian 1.3
1998: KDE 1; Debian 2.0
1999: GNOME 1; Linux Kernel 2.2; Debian 2.1
2000: Windows 2000 and 2000 SP1; KDE 2; Debian 2.2
2001: Mac OS X 10.0 and 10.1; Windows 2000 SP2, Windows XP; Linux Kernel 2.4
2002: Mac OS X 10.2; KDE 3; GNOME 2; Debian 3.0; Windows 2000 SP3, Windows XP SP1
2003: Mac OS X 10.3; Windows 2000 SP4, Windows Server 2003; Linux Kernel 2.6; Fedora Core 1
2004: “The original “Longhorn”, based on the Windows XP source code, was scrapped, and Vista development started anew, building on the Windows Server 2003 codebase, and re-incorporating only the features that would be intended for an actual operating system release.”; Windows XP SP2; Ubuntu 4.10 (Warty); Fedora Core 2, 3
2005: Mac OS X 10.4; Ubuntu 5.04 (Hoary) and 5.10 (Breezy); Debian 3.1; Fedora Core 4
2006: Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper; a Long Term Support (LTS) release) and 6.10 (Edgy); Fedora Core 5, 6
2007 so far: Windows Vista; Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty); Debian 4.0; Fedora Core 7
2007 future: Mac OS X 10.5 and Ubutnu 7.10 (Gutsy) expected; KDE 4 expected; Windows Vista SP1 this year or next; Fedora Core 8 expected
2008: Ubuntu 8.04 (LTS) and 8.10 expected; Debian 4.1 possibly this year or next; Windows XP SP3 expected
2009: possibly Mac OS X 10.6?; Ubuntu 9.04, 9.10 expected
2010 Ubuntu 10.04 (LTS) and 10.10 expected; next version of Windows at the earliest
KDE and Gnome moving towards each other
vista as ME II
Original Longhorn miscarried
vista: all eggs in 1 basket until ~vista+1
64-bit (Eric Raymond)
The new challenger, Linux, has its own unresolved internal desktop war between distros (Ubuntu appears to be leading the pack currently) and between Gnome and KDE (fortunately they seem to be playing more nicely together than in the past; its fairly trivial to run KDE apps in Gnome and vice versa).
Fedora, Debian, Ubuntu, SUSE
Fedora, Debian, Mandrake/Mandriva, SUSE
GNOME vs KDE: no clear winner
semi-proprietary linux circa 2000?
dell 2k linux?
IE market share vs windows also, firefox
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date Aug 3, 2007 5:17 AM
subject Regarding your article “Microsoft: End of an Era”
I read your article “Microsoft: End of an Era” [http://www.pcmag.com/print_article2/0,1217,a=212618,00.asp] and I thought I’d send an e-mail.
“it is possible—in some perverse dimension—that some people at
Microsoft actually think they are doing things right.”
I direct you to this scary view of the inner workings of Microsoft,
where becoming a “partner” means being a serf and sychophant and where
you drink the Kool-aid without question:
“[Microsoft people] just believe that their products are far superior
to everything else in the market. That culture has permeated every
employee in the company”
You also wrote: “Will any of this change with Bill gone? You tell me.”
Not until Ballmer goes and even then maybe not, due to the deep roots
of their influence.
Paul Thurott described this as “the bad, old Microsoft”
the Windows Division retains, as employees of the software giant have
told me, the last vestiges of the bad, old Microsoft. This is the
Microsoft that ran roughshod over competitors in order to gain market
share at any cost. The Microsoft that forgot about customers in its
blind zeal to harm competitors. The Microsoft, that frankly, all the
Linux and Apple fanatics always imagined was out there, plotting and
planning their termination. The Microsoft that threatens Windows fans
with needless legal threats rather than reaching out and creating
constructive relationships with the very people who prop up the
company the most.
This Bad Microsoft is not all of Microsoft, and it’s not even all of
the Windows Division. But it’s there. And while it was allowed to
continue during the software Glasnost of the past few years because of
the immeasurable benefits of Windows to Microsoft’s bottom line, it
seems that the company is finally, if belatedly, fixing things.
Thurott is wrong about it being the “old” Microsoft going away any
time soon though, as Ballmer is still firmly in charge. The recent
FOSS patent FUD proves that easily, but here are two examples of
blacklisting, then and now:
“RWM: [What is your] Least favorite [memory of covering Microsoft the
last 11 years]?
MJF: I’d have to say being blacklisted by Microsoft for writing a
story based on an internal memo penned by Mark Lucovsky (now with
Google, ironically) that acknowledged 63,000 bugs were still left in
Windows 2000 when the product shipped. I was barred from executive
interviews at the Windows 2000 launch as a result of my story. My
“punishment” lasted for a few years. Certain Windows execs refused to
speak to me or meet with me for ages because of that story. I
believed, and still believe, that I was just doing my job as a
“I’m on Microsoft ‘influencer’ lists, email lists where Microsoft
people try to get me to tow the company line and say great things
about them and their products because it’s perceived that I have an
audience. The times that I’ve deviated from that line though I’ve
found myself well and truly out in the cold. One particular
‘evangelist’ even went completely silent on me after I pulled out of a
speaking engagement due to appendicitis. Nothing was said, but the
sentiment was obvious.”
When you read blogs like http://minimsft.blogspot.com/ you get a sense
of how bloated Microsoft is, thick with layer upon layer of
management, how money is wasted by the billions.
One reads of how the company lacks internal coherency:
“from what I heard during my visit and what other Microsoft employees
and customers have told me at other times, [Microsoft] has degenerated
into a series of disconnected fiefdoms that aren’t all moving in the
And AFAIK, there are only two things Microsoft does that actually
brings in any net $ and that’s the sale of Windows and Office.
So when one reads about how many dozen people it took (and how it took
them over a year) to create the Vista shutdown menu…
it shouldn’t be a surprise and at the same time should be a warning
that Microsoft’s days are numbered. When some sort of tipping point
or combination of tipping points is reached, when MS can’t coast along
on OEM preload money or ODF actually catches on or Firefox’s market
share approaches majority (as its doing right now in some European
or a bunch of the major OEMs start preloading Ubuntu (Dell isn’t sad
right now BTW ;) and eating up the market from the low-end and Macs
eating up the market from the high-end, Windows and Office will cost
more than they make and Microsoft will begin to implode. It will
probably be pretty rapid due to MS’ huge expenditures and the internal
bloodletting to hastily try to fix their financial issues won’t be
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August 8, 2008 update regarding the above letter. First:
An illustration from the excellent RoughlyDrafted Magazine:
Second: John C. Dvorak was himself blacklisted by Microsoft!
“In the 1980s, the company was notorious for keeping Nixonian lists regarding journalists on a whiteboard showing which were “Okay,” “Sketchy,” or “Needs work.” Some believed that those in the last category would be the target of the company in an effort to get them fired. I myself was on a Microsoft blacklist for some totally unknown reason and was not allowed any information about an early version of Windows, apparently because I was considered uncooperative. I only found out about this because of documents unearthed during the discovery process of the Comes v. Microsoft lawsuit in Iowa. […] threats from the company did manage to get me removed as a licensed columnist in PC Magazine Italy.”
- — — === — — -
date Jul 31, 2007 5:14 AM
subject World Domination 201
Hi there! ^_^
I was skimming over “World Domination 201″
and I note your table “how much memory was sold preinstalled in new
desktop personal computers over the past 30 years”
I strongly suspect that your 2008 prediction is premature. First,
note for example on dell.com that their most expensive system, the XPS
720 H2C ($6900!) only has 4 GB RAM
Their lowest-end model, the Inspiron 530 ($350) only has 512 MB RAM
You can of course upgrade all the way to 4GB, but that adds $420 to
the system 8-)
Switching tracks for a minute, even their high-end Ubuntu system, the
XPS 410 N ($870) only comes with 1GB by default and a max of 4 GB and
I’m fairly certain its 32-bit Ubuntu (in my experience, using 32-bit
Ubuntu with 1 GB RAM, I only exceptionally rarely ever use my swap
partition and then usually only when some program goes haywire :).
Also, I suppose one could also add in the RAM that you get with your
video card, since its a non-trivial amount:
XPS 720 H2C: 768 MB
XPS 410 N: 256 MB
Inspiron 531s: choice of shared or 256 MB
But that’s something of a lateral move that wouldn’t really affect the
32-bit limit, would it?
Also, I note that Windows generally won’t even support 4 GB properly:
(it will only use just over 3 GB max).
Additionally, do you see a transition from desktops to notebooks
underway? Given that the latter often have less RAM, that could be
another slowing factor.
Given that, as per Wikipedia, “Moore’s Law is the empirical
observation made in 1965 that the number of transistors on an
integrated circuit for minimum component cost doubles every 24
months.” couldn’t that alternately mean that computers might drop in
price with the same RAM? That certainly would not be a bad thing for
Linux adoption, given that the Microsoft Tax as a percentage of
low-end systems is quite high now.
And M$ just revised up their XP sales estimates for FY 2008 by half,
from 15 to 22%, it looks like 32-bit computing will be around for a
while. I would say until ~2010… if M$ can manage to stay on its
‘Windows 7′ target (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_7) but even
then they’re planning a 32-bit version of that.
Is it perhaps time to begin writing a new ‘World Domination’ article?
(maybe 202? :)
- — — === — — -
Update November 24, 2007: I note that RoughlyDrafted has an article up that comments: “[Microsoft’s] flagship Windows Vista product is in flames while Apple eats into the profitable end of consumer desktops and Linux increasingly eats into its installed base in low cost desktop sales.” Sounds familiar :) You can see an example of a very low cost desktop system in the $199 gOS PC (w/o monitor) which Wal-Mart is also selling. Decent enough specs and perfect for the casual user.
Update December 8, 2007: Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has noticed the same trend in low-end computers in his article “Linux is about to take over the low end of PCs“
Sometimes, several unrelated changes come to a head at the same time, with a result no one could have predicted. The PC market is at such a tipping point right now and the result will be millions of Linux-powered PCs in users’ hands. […] Four trends: user-friendly Linux desktops, useful under-$500 laptops and desktops, near-universal broadband, and business-ready Internet office applications. Put them together and you have a revolution. […] by my calculations, all those trends have joined together to make a Linux-based small business using Google applications instead of Exchange and SharePoint cost less than half its Microsoft-based twin. Worse still, if you’re Microsoft, you can’t really defend yourself. Linux desktops run just dandy on low-end, under-$500 PCs. Vista Basic, which comes the closest to being able to run on these systems, is unacceptable since it doesn’t support business networking. Office 2007 also won’t run worth a darn on these systems. And somehow, I can’t see Microsoft optimizing its applications to work with Google Apps instead of Exchange and SharePoint. Put it all together, and here’s what I see happening. In the next few quarters, low-end Linux-based PCs are going to quickly take over the bottom rung of computing. Then, as businesses continue to get comfortable with SAAS (software as a service) and open-source software, the price benefits will start leading them toward switching to the new Linux/SAAS office model. You’ll see this really kick into gear once Vista Service Pack 1 appears and business customers start seriously looking at what it will cost to migrate to Vista. That Tiffany-level price tag will make all but the most Microsoft-centric businesses start considering the Linux/SAAS alternative. Microsoft will fight this trend tooth and nail. It will cut prices to the point where it’ll be bleeding ink on some of its product lines. And Windows XP is going to stick around much longer than Microsoft ever wanted it to. Still, it won’t be enough. By attacking from the bottom, where Microsoft can no longer successfully compete, Linux will finally cut itself a large slice of the desktop market pie.
I also liked this quote:
The first change was the continued maturation of desktop Linux. Today, no one can argue with a straight face that people can’t get their work done on Linux-powered PCs. […] People can argue that Vista or Mac OS X is better, but […] it can’t be said that Linux isn’t a real choice for anyone’s desktop.
Update Nov. 7, 2008:
Dell running ads specifically mentioning Ubuntu on a netbook.
Bloomberg News reports that netbooks are becoming “a real threat to Microsoft” Not only because “It gives users a chance to see and try something new, showing them there is an alternative” but also, “The engineers designing computers understand that if they want to cut costs, the only way to do so is to get rid of Microsoft”
Ubuntu continues to maintain its Desktop Linux distro dominance:
fedora debian ubuntu suse | opensuse
Update December 1, 2008: Here’s an excellent ars technica article describing “30 years of personal computer market share figures” which I found linked via this article which reports that Net Applications’ has found Windows’ market share to currently be at a pre-95 level (sub-90%).