Can Apple clear the way for the Linux desktop?

That's the question that occurs to me as I read this piece in Roughly Drafted. It's about how Apple is kicking Microsoft's butt at the high end of the desktop market, and how Microsoft seems to be bumbling its way out of desktop hegemony anyway. Linux is mentioned only twice in this long piece, but the harbingery of the references are significant. Here's the enclosing quote:

Combined with the dominance of the iPod over devices using Microsoft's PlaysForSure, the imminent goring of Windows Mobile by the iPhone, and the shift of support across the industry from Windows to Linux in servers, the days of Microsoft's monopolistic grip on the desktop are winding down.

Apple doesn't have to take a majority share of the desktop market to win, it only needs to take the most valuable segments of the market.

Once that happens, Microsoft will be forced to choose whether it wants to battle Mac OS X for control of the slick consumer desktop, or repurpose Windows as a cheaper, mass market alternative to Linux in corporate sales.

And, at some point, consumer sales as well. Because Apple will never make a cheap desktop. And Microsoft OEMs will at some point break clear of their exclusive partnerships with Redmond. The market will demand nothing less — as Glyn Moody has been pointing out here lately.

Thanks to the work of free and independent developers of all sorts, the sum of all device drivers and applications for Linux desktops will inevitably reach a tipping point. Dell or HP or Lenovo or some other company will start making cheap Linux-branded desktops and laptops that are easy to use and well-supported. nVidia and ATI will follow Intel and AMD in the march toward the marketplace.

Phones will follow. Because Apple will also never make a cheap and open phone. But they will help open the market for one. Just like they're opening the market for cheap and open desktops by breaking Microsoft's hold on the high end.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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I liked Microsoft Windows

Blogger Widgets's picture

As my experience, I liked Microsoft Windows years ago because I could develop several applications based on Visual Basic and C++. Apple could not compete with Microsoft in that area software reviews. Now is the internet age, everybody learns how to write internet scripts. Visual basic or C++ for Microsoft Windows are almost forgotten games collection. Majority of people who loved Microsoft before left a big hole in Microsoft Windows. The workforce of Apple is still intact and easily expands.


çet's picture

thank you The main lock-ins right now are 1) Exchange; and 2) vertical Windows-based apps.

I use both Linux and Windows

yaşam insan's picture

I use both Linux and Windows and I do agree that Linux is not just for programmers. For me I'm stuck with windows because a lot of the software I buy simply isn't compatible with Linux.


madam's picture

Publications like the NYT are quick to heap criticism on "open source", and they often obfuscate whether they're referring to a software package or the "open source community." However, they are equally quick to write articles on how we all should "Get Ready for Vista", telling us repeatedly that "Vista's coming! Vista's coming!"

My guess is that Apple doesn't give them quite the advertising dollar$ that Microsoft does, hence that "iHandcuffs" one-off. But where are all their articles about "WinCuffs Vista" and how that's not a problem with Linux?

I agree

NewSitesBlog's picture

Very well put, I agree. The radio model is more cost effective.


J.L. Graham's picture

I could not agree more. Apple is my preference and it always has been. It's almost unfair that Apple opens the door for others to come in with cheaper less reliable products. Shame really.


shayari's picture

apple can't compete with microsoft for next 10 years atleast..

Linux Good For Hosting

Yellow's picture

My opnion is towards linux being a good hosting platform.

Linux is best for hosting..

Anthony's picture

i don't like apple window is best for desktop but linux is better than that for hosting. I love hosting sites on linux..what about you.. people..?


apswartz's picture

I have 2 laptops - a MacBook Pro and a Dell Inspiron 1420n that came with Ubuntu Linux. I now run Kubuntu Gutsy on it. I use the MacBook Pro for video work. I use the Dell with Kubuntu for everything else, including word processing, podcasting (audio) and listening to music and watching movies.

Oh, and Windows? I do have Windows XP install on both laptops: Using Parallels on the MacBook Pro and VirtualBox on the Dell for those few applications that are still Windows only. The sooner I can leave them the better!

As Long as microsoft looses power

Doug's picture

Im sick of windows already , I love using linux but unfortunatly alot of programs don't even work in Wine so i have no choice but to use windows


apswartz's picture

There are only a couple of programs I need Windows for and I run them within a VM on both my MacBook Pro (using Parallels) and on my Dell Inspiron running Kubuntu (using VirtualBox). I refuse to use Windows as my primary OS.

I have to agree with you. I

Anonymous's picture

I have to agree with you. I have the same issue. I so much want to use it, but it has limitations plus the issue of user friendliness. So I guess, many of us are stuck with Windows.


apswartz's picture

Exactly what do you mean by limitations?

How is it any less user-friendly?

Having install both Windows and Linux from scratch (not upgrades) it is definitely easier to install Linux.

good question

stone's picture

If you really want the Linux desktop to succeed, you have to question why lots of people are switching to Mac instead of just 'bashing' anything that is not as complex and elegant as apt-get. Call it dumb, call it simple. I call it a solution that works, and considering Macs are seeing a 40% growth this year, so do a couple other people as well.

Isnt the mac operating

Anonymous's picture

Isnt the mac operating system based somewhat on linux? So in a sense there is allready a linux desktop.

Not Really

apswartz's picture

Is is built on top of BSD, but the interface is strictly an Apple interface. The OS is open source, but the aqua interface is NOT.

Linux desktops, a joke?

Free Software Downloads's picture

I don't want to upset anyone here, but even though I am a big fan of Linux I think it will never be competitive on this market. And I have to admit, maybe Windows can be hated sometimes by power users, but for the majority it is very good.


apswartz's picture

Actually it is quite competitive - it is free.

The problem is that when you buy a computer it comes with a Windows OS. There isn't much incentive for the average user to switch from something the get with the computer they buy.


Greece Travel's picture

Yes it is hated by some users - I know several myself. But I think it would be a great thing for users to have a choice of the operating system instead of always defaulting to Windows and MS for everything.

Clearing up the notions about Apple

Progon's picture

First off, the Mac has not sold more with the new version of the Mac it has sold less than it did with the last century version. They can't even hold on to their user base since there are now less Mac users per quarter than there were in equivalent quarters last century. Second off, their move to dumping Apple Computers and replacing it with just Apple, Inc. says that they have to move into the gizmo and gadget world because there is no money in Macs. Third off, their gizmos may sell more than Macs but that will change over time here as more and more new gizmos come online and the ipod users discover that they can get much better tools and services elsewhere in a growing gizmo market.

Micorosoft is not now and never will be a gizmo manufacturer or computer maker dependent on market forces for selling hardware. It is a software and OS maker. They do not depend on the manufacture of hardware for their core markets. Apple does. This dependency on fads and on markets that are fickle at best says that Apple is in deep, deep crap.

The modern Mac had its best year ever last year but the over all trend for the Mac this century has been fewer sales, not more. The newer architecture is a buggy mess caused by Apple's C code that is damn near impossible to clean up. The only reason it works at all is because of the work done by the open source community and so far, that has been a one way street. Open source groups don't get anything from their relationship with Apple, including exposure.

Groups like Novell return value to the open source community but Apple does not. It is all take for them but their own quarterly sales numbers show that the modern Mac is a total loser and not gaining on any other OS at all. It can't even compete with its older models in sales. That should be expected. Jobs was responsible for the Next which has the distinction of having the lowest sales numbers of any computer and platform ever. That same code base is what is in the modern Mac. It is written in Objective C which is C with pseudo object macros. A large software base can be written in C but most people don't recommend it because it is responsible for most of the bugs in the Modern Mac.

Linux has the same problem. Most of its code is also written in C and some in C++ but this means memory leaks and the only reason Linux is not as buggy as the Mac is because of all the volunteers who do coding and bug hunts for free. This means that Linux boxes are superior to the Mac on most fronts when it comes to finding and fixing buggy software.

It is no accident that the software voted best last year in the Linux world were written in Mono. The old Unix world failed because of fragmentation and buggy code that was too expensive to maintain. The modern Linux world is on the same path. C is ancient why are we still using it in Linux? Why not move to more modern approaches like dot net? And reserve C or C++ for building the OS itself, like these languages were designed for. Running code in a managed environment is much better for us all why not do a whole lot more of that?

But the problems that plague the Linux world are gradually being addressed but not the problems that plague the Mac. The Mac is the worst selling and least used OS out there. Why make the same mistakes and certainly why believe that Apple has the open source world at heart?

Apple has roughly 28 million users since day one. Linux already has 30 million so who, exactly, do you thing is on the right track? The failed Apple track or the modern Linux track? At least Linux is growing its user base over time here. Linux has to be made to work on all hardware platforms to even begin to catch up to Microsoft. Today I don't have Linux on my HP box because it does not work with PCI Express cards. It will work with normal PCI graphics cards but will not work with PCI Express bus cards and has not worked on them since I went to a box with this card interface. Why is that? This interface has been around quite some time now but it stops the spreading of Linux when it can't even run on a box with such a graphics card and since most modern boxes use this interface it means that most modern box owners are locked out of the Linux world.

Vista, on the other hand, had zero problems with my dual core 64 bit box or my beater 32 bit box with one gig of ram and one of the intel cheap laptop style microprocessors. Vista does not require the download of software drivers since it auto detects all the hardware and loads in the proper drivers. That was the case for both the 32 bit box and the 64 bit box. The 64 bit Vista runs rings around the 64 bit Linuxes too but the 64 bit architecture, over the next five years or so will be the norm and Microsoft is helping the move by including both 32 bit and 64 bit versions in its upgrade to Vista.

I can add or remove any brand graphics card in Vista, too. Why not Linux? There is no OS war, the OS wars were won by Windows a long time ago and what made them win is still kicking Apple's and Linux's butt. In order to compete with Windows XP or vista the first thing that has to be done is to come up with a centralized hardware management system that covers all the hardware out there and not just 80% of it. Apple sells hardware so they code in dependencies to the hardware but this approach does not lead to a faster box. I think all the Linuxes out there take advantage of modern thinking that says that these dependencies are flaws. This dependency on hard ware hooks leads to overly complex software. You should never have to compile a kernal to support new hardware. That is why Windows kicked Sun's butt in the low to high end server game. These hardware dependencies are the reason that supporting a Linux box has so much work to it.

Microsoft does not have any hardware dependencies and is much simpler to code. The Windows interface is from a graphics engine that is not tied to the hardware like X-windows is. The reason it is so hard to move to the 3d world in Linux is because of these dependencies. The Mac does use hard ware dependencies to get its alleged speed increases over Windows but the modern hardware out there is faster and can be used without a speed penalty and if you sit side by side with a Mac and a Windows user the add on dependencies don't make the Mac faster or even as fast as a modern Windows box is from taking advantage of hardware speed increases from Moore's law.

The need for speed and for hardware dependencies is long gone. Why is Apple still floating this whopper as a feature?


apswartz's picture

This post is filled with too many misconceptions and errors to enumerate. Verbosity does not equal knowledge -- at least in this case.

Creating the Future

linuxiac's picture

Using GNU/Linux since 1997, my goal is to convert at least one person per week to the TRUTH of ownership of their computer, and private data. I am the change that I desire to see in the world (M. Ghandi).

I have communicated to more than 5,000 people a simple fact: You are entitled to the FREEdom to 'own' your data. Here, have the key LiveCDrom at and know that 310 Live CDrom Distros (targeted to specific uses, on almost any current hardware), reside at for FREE download!

GNU/Linux is many hundreds of distributions, with tens of thousands of applications, games, programs, suites, around the globe. This FREE grassroots movement will not be squashed by the
multiple-convicted-felon-monopolist-pirate-thief-Microsoft Corporation.

Gee, I wish I could better convey how much I detest criminals such as the convicted Felon Microsoft Corporation, who stomp on other's Rights!

But, to be certain, I do not provide Felon Microsoft Corporation any financial incentives to steal our Rights and Freedoms! The upsurge in GNU/Linux users, and the flatline of Microsoft embedded desktop computers sales, since 2000, reflects this as a widespread truth!

GNU/Linux offers 20 desktops, with up to 200 windows open in each; concurrent multi-processing, multi-tasking that doesn't stop for any single process. No wonder it runs upto 50X faster, than the Microsoft product's best attempt on the same hardware! The fact that it speeds up and re-cycles older iron is an added plus!

Also, please visit for their reviews and free download links!

Macintosh is a Microsoft wannabe, and will kick butt, before it's users realize that they are too similar in their focus.

Linux Education is Critical

Anonymous's picture

Inexpensive & convenient Linux education will help to turn the tide towards Linux. It will be interesting to see what will occur when companies realize that in-house staff are qualified to manage Linux projects. The SUNY Linux Learning Collaborative (University at Buffalo)is a logical beginning.

For Linux to really win

Anonymous's picture

For Linux to really win market share I think it needs a killer product. Desktop Linux already has many killer applications. Take the virtual desktops for example, every one I've talked to who has used Linux on the desktop falls instantly in love with that feature.

I think Linux needs a hardware gadget pda, ultra-portable-laptop, etc something people can't live without. Then once they have this device and they want to interface it to their PC it would be far easier to do with Linux than OSX or Windows. And since you can run/try Linux for free people will then realize the outstanding productivity gains possible with Linux.

Wanted: the killer product

Doc Searls's picture

Exactly. We need an invention to mother the necessity.

Some hardware maker needs to step forward. I suspect it will not be one of the Usual Suspects.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Moko & Chumby

m2's picture

I think there are already 2 candidates for the spot:
Open Moko

We will see how successful it becomes. I for one am impatiently waiting for the first public release on both

Linux already reached their users

mmurray's picture

Linux, by their actions, has defined their user base to be programmers.
These users aren't necessarily the same as the users they're after.
Whether it's a good or bad thing who knows. I think the question needs to be re-framed. When it comes to programmers, they're doing a great job. If you want to fiddle with the system, play with the kernel, Linux is for you. Dell, in my opinion, should just drop any Linux system(or allow the open source family choose) into it's box, and allow the open source community to manage/fix/support it. Since they're the ones wanting it. Satisfy that market, and let them spread the fire. At that point, they can see where to go next. You can see from the "design/look and feel" of linux who it's aimed at. :-). Either way keep up the good work and I'll be watching to see what takes place.

Serving The Rest of Us

Doc Searls's picture

As Marc Andreessen told me long ago, technology trends start with technologists. Programmers are not only programmers. If that were so, many great inventions, and great companies (plus Microsoft) would never have happened. So, there is cause for hope.

As for Dell, I agree with those who say the company should create a new spin-off that's free to do whatever it wants, including disrupting the mother company. Dell itself is too wedded to Microsoft, and has been so for way too long.

I think Lenovo is a better hope, but ... we'll see.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Linux is not like Microsoft or Apple

tracyanne's picture

The second assumption you are making that is invalid, is that Linux is an entity like Microsoft is an entity - Linux is not a company, Linux does not sell computers or software. Linux has no market.

Linux Distributors sell software, (some give it away) Linux distributions are aimed at the market the distributor favours. For example Mandriva favours desktop users (mums and dads and Great Aunt Fanny, and your business desktop user). Mandriva's market is not programmers, it's generic desktop users.

not just for programmers

pb's picture

You are making a false assumption that Linux is intended only for programmers. I switched to Linux about a year ago. Initially it was because I was curious and Microsoft had failed to impress me. I have stuck with Linux, because I have found it to be easy to use, straightforward, secure, stable, and suitable to my needs as a desktop user. I have always been more comfortable using a GUI rather than command line, and I have had no problem doing most everything I need to through a GUI.
Linux has become a freeing option for my computing needs, and I don't currently have a need to switch back to Windows. And, by the way, I'm not a programmer.


ps 2 game cheats's picture

I use both Linux and Windows and I do agree that Linux is not just for programmers. For me I'm stuck with windows because a lot of the software I buy simply isn't compatible with Linux.

Linux is not intended for programmers, but the majority...

mmurray's picture

One's intent and what happens is two different things.
Linux may aim for certain audiences such as non programmers, but I don't believe they're hitting those markets. You can see it by which "itches get scratched".

Are there distros that are doing a better job? Definitely. Are they there yet? I don't think they're there yet.

Wishy Washy

Anonymous's picture

No, this won't happen the way you expect it to - the way it will is if Linux adoption increases in the universities - have you seen how aggressively MS markets to schools and universities? You should. Students who learn to earn their living on Windows computers will continue to want to use it. Linux cannot compete until there is a free open source version of MS Office, with all the snazzy features and backward compatibility with MS Office.


TheL0grus's picture

"Linux cannot compete until there is a free open source version of MS Office, with all the snazzy features and backward compatibility with MS Office."
People that say this, and there are a lot, scare me. It's like they have some knowledge of the Open Source community and the applications out there but turn a blind eye to the ones that are making a serious impact. Star / Open Office has been around and used by millions for over what 5+ years at least. But, thats a new comer to the field. “Abi Word

MS Office isn't even

Anonymous's picture

MS Office isn't even compatible w/ MS Office! How many times do they get to bend you over before you realize it?

Linux and the Desktop

smith115's picture

However well Linux works in the highend market, Windows will dominate the coporate landscape becuase less then 1 percent of users know much more about computing than typing. The IT help desk staff is deeply trained in the Windows system, the networking staff in Windows, and etc.
This comment in no way depreciates the value and quality of the Linux system however as gasoline powers most cars an alternative will take another century to dominate the next transportation system and then another will surface to compete against it and so on.
Appreciate the alternatives.

Linux vs. Support costs

Doc Searls's picture

IT help desks may be deeply trained on Windows; but they were deeply trained once on dumb terminals and later on Lotus and many other systems that have fallen into declining use.

Macs are gaining in enterprises for several reasons: 1) More top execs are insisting on using them; 2) They are easier to maintain (round-to-zero malware and viruses); and 3) They have a Unix (BSD) base and a command-line interface. Many IT teams use Macs as well for that third reason -- especially if much of the deeper server infrastructure is Linux. All of these factors serve as wedges for Linux. If typing is all corporate drones need to do, Linux is a much more supportable and far less expensive platform than Windows.

The main lock-ins right now are 1) Exchange; and 2) vertical Windows-based apps. Internet Explorer used to be a third one, but the utility and openness of FireFox is gradually undermining that Microsoft advantage as well.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Diagonal apps, too

Nicholas Petreley's picture

There are also some important diagonal apps (almost vertical) that are for Mac and Windows. Rosegarden is a great midi composition and studio app, but it doesn't hold a match to Cakewalk's best. So if anyone really wants to get serious about midi studio work, they still have to get a Windows box or a Mac.

dell and apple

Anonymous's picture

would be sensible for Dell to be folded into Apple, maskingh for a great product that has world wide apppeal

i doubt it

Mike's picture

I dont think a takeover like that would happen. However, it would enable apple to provide better PCs for home users, rather than just designers/engineers who use MACs for work.

New version of office

dealwhiz's picture

The new version of Office may be an improvement, but it does not seem to be backwards compatible with previous versions. This could be the fatal flaw that drives people to open office and linux.

For Linux

Konin's picture

J switched to Linux about a two year ago. Linux - I have found it to be easy to use.I don't currently have to switch back to Windows. Linux WIN !!!


Sportnahrung's picture

Very well written article. I enjoyed reading this and I think you raised some really good points


Thomas21's picture

thx for the great linux stuff, again. saved it


Zute strane's picture

Very nice article. I really liked it a lot and it gave me a few good pointers. Thanks!


komik resimler's picture