Linux On The Desktop: Who Cares!

Every so often, you read on Slashdot, Digg, or some other techie news site that Linux is finally ready for the desktop. It's finally to the point that any end user could sit down at a computer and happily compute away. The applications are sufficiently sanitized and Windows-like that even Grandma can use them. I think it's fair to say that most of our previous conceptions of "ready for the desktop" are moot points.

I think the only folks that are still up in arms over whether or not Linux will ever be ready are the same folks that have been talking about it for years. New users really don't care. I don't say that arbitrarily, I say that because I work in a school, and I see the "current generation" of computer users. They don't care if they use a Mac, a PC, or a Linux machine. Most don't even notice the difference. In an unofficial, random sampling of college and high school students, here's what they need from a computer:

  • Firefox (Really, by name. Cool, eh?)
  • A way to play music (iTunes often mentioned, not insisted upon)
  • Microsoft Office

And that's it. The last point bummed me out a bit, so I asked more probing questions. It turns out, "Microsoft Office" has become the common name for an office suite, much like "Kleenex" is the name for facial tissue. For almost everyone I asked, OpenOffice or even Google Docs (in a pinch) is the same thing. In fact, some weren't really sure why I'd ask such a thing, because "aren't they all the same?"

There are those folks that want a specific type of computer for tasks like video production or gaming -- but they aren't the overwhelming majority anymore. Everyone wants or needs a computer now, and the general population doesn't seem to care much about what operating system they're running.

My suspicion is that Web 2.0 and mobile (smartphone) technology is doing more to help Linux than anything else has. It's not because Linux is better at such things, but rather because the world is moving to the web. The vehicle to get there is getting less and less important.

The really good news is that now Linux can finally take over the world, and most people won't even notice!

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

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