Rarely does a single factor cause a paradigm shift. For one example, look at the election of Ronald Reagan. Sure, Reagan had a great message, expert delivery, and that presidential look. But without Carter's bungling incompetence, excesses by liberals in Congress, a runaway Supreme Court, Soviet expansion, stagflation, the Iranian hostage crisis, and seventeen thousand other annoying problems, Reagan would not have upset an incumbent president in 1980.
Revenge of the Nerds
Since 1999, my IT friends have been predicting the rise of the Linux desktop. Since 1999, they've been wrong. Being IT professionals and excellent programmers, they failed to realize that the average home user does not have the patience nor the inclination to learn sudo apt-get nonsense. They want single-click installation. (Actually, they want to merely imagine something and have their computer make it so.) Linux had no product managers to demand ease of use. The Linux community didn't understand that they were not their (potential) users.
A Linux Distribution People Can (almost) Use
Ubuntu might soon change that.
Last week I installed Ubuntu 8.10 on my wife's laptop. (It dual-boots Vista Home Basic for her Zune and a few other incompatible activities related to her job.) After getting both systems working smoothly, I went the extra step of setting up Ubuntu's Gnome desktop system to work and look like Mac's OS X. I friggin' love it.
The reason for installing Linux on this machine was economics--and that's one of the factors that could put Linux on a lot of desktops in the next 2 years. My wife's laptop is limited to 1.25 GB RAM. It has a barebones video card. I just replace the 60 GB hard drive with a 160 GB one because the 60 GB was 90 percent full even though all of our User files (docs, photos, music, videos, downloads, etc) are stored on an external HD. I used an out of the box install of Vista--not the OEM disk from Toshiba--so that I could install the minimum crap necessary to run the computer.
Running Out of RAM
When I fire up Vista, it immediately consumes 600 MB of the 1.1 GB of RAM available after the video card steals its share. Open a browser (we use Google Chrome, the best browser ever made) and RAM usage is up to 700 MB. Browse an image-happy site, and the damn thing starts swapping!
Boot into Ubuntu, though, and the OS uses only about 212 MB of RAM. Open a browser and 10 other programs, and you're up to about 500 MB.
Moreover, there's no anti-virus software inspecting every 0 and1 because Linux is pretty much immune to viruses. And it's free.
Six-Factor Tipping Point
But the tipping point toward Linux requires a few other factors that have also come to pass:
- Google Docs and Google Apps give most users all the word processing, spreadsheet, collaboration, scheduling, messaging, and email functionality they'll ever need--for free
- Ubuntu keeps your system up-to-date with just about any application you'll ever want--for free
- The economy makes the bells and whistles that drove Windows to the top of the market seeem pretentious and embarrassing
- Every year, the computer skills of the world's users increases rather dramatically so that more people can deal with unforgivable terminal commands like 'sudo apt-get epiphany-browser'
- Companies looking to cut their IT costs will begin moving more and more software out of their in-house data centers and into the clouds (Google Apps instead of Exchange server and Microsoft Office will be a major theme for enterprises in 2009)
- Companies will figure out that with Linux desktops, they can get more years from cheaper PCs for zero cost of desktop applications and operating systems
If I were Microsoft, I'd be worried. And I drank the Redmond Kool-Aid many years ago when Steve Balmer gave me a free copy of all of Microsoft's business-related software in order to help my fledgling book publishing company. In return, I helpd convert 2 companies into Microsoft shops. I still love Microsoft, but with an almost or actual depression staring the world in the eyes, I'm not sure I can afford their stuff any longer.