For executives in charge of desktop deployments in a large company, Linux OS was once hailed as a savior for corporate end users. With incredibly low pricing — free, with fee-based support plans, for example — distributions such as Ubuntu Desktop and SUSE Linux Enterprise offered a "good enough" user interface, along with plenty of powerful apps and a rich browser.
A few years ago, both Dell and HP jumped on the bandwagon; today, they still offer "developer" and "workstation" models that come pre-loaded with a Linux install. Plus, anyone who follows the Linux market knows that Google has reimagined Linux as a user-friendly tablet interface (the wildly popular Android OS) and a browser-only desktop variant (Chrome OS). Linux also shows up on countless connected home gadgets, fitness trackers, watches and other low-cost devices, mostly because OS costs are so low.
The desktop computing OS for end users has failed to capture any attention lately, though. Al Gillen, the program vice president for servers and system software at IDC, says the Linux OS as a computing platform for end users is at least comatose — and probably dead. Yes, it has reemerged on Android and other devices, but it has gone almost completely silent as a competitor to Windows for mass deployment. As they say, you can hear the crickets chirping.
Linux Never Had the Apps
Even a few years ago, many small developers touted a more useable, stripped-down version of Linux OS. Consumer-oriented version with names such as Peppermint and Puppy Linux promised more immediate results, easier application installs, fewer menus and a word processing app available at your fingertips.
These distros never really showed up in large companies. "Linux as a client OS for PCs never really got a decent foothold in commercial markets," Gillen says. "It's used in outlier companies, and has seen adoption in emerging markets where there was no existing installed base of Windows. Applications that are available for Windows platforms, starting with Office, but including a lot of other commercial and business applications, are simply not available for Linux. The opportunity has come and gone on the traditional PC."
Charles King, an IT analyst who follows enterprise trends, says the big change is in IT. At one time, executives in charge of computing services were mostly concerned with operating systems and applications for massive throng of traditional business users. Those users have now flocked to mobile computing devices, but they still have a Windows PC sitting on their desk.
"Open source in general and Linux in particular were radically different in scope than Microsoft and Apple's commercial alternatives and offered hope for a radical sort of change. Today, Microsoft's lock (on the desktop, anyway) remains secure, even in the face of Apple's surge," King says. "Ironically enough, though, the open source model remains alive and well but mostly in the development of new standards and development platforms."
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