What's "Linux on the Desktop" Mean, When We Don't Know What a Desktop Is, Anymore?


It's typical, sensible, and useful for a conference wrap-up keynote address to look at the big picture, with session descriptions like, "Where Linux has been and where it's headed." At last week's Open Source Convention, the role of identifying the major Linux trends and challenges was given to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation.

[ See also: Convincing the Boss to Accept FOSS ]

First, there's much to cheer about in the Linux and open source communities, Zemlin said, in every venue from mobile to high-performance computing. "Today, in the modern world, everyone uses Linux muliple times a day, even if they don't know it," he said. The economy is benefiting open source because of cost reasons; it's expanding and accelerating existing trends. Even Microsoft is actively participating in Linux, and attending OSCON.

Once every discussion about the future of Linux came down to desktop questions like, "When will it run on my Mom's computer?" But that Linux-desktop issue changes when you contemplate convergence, or as Zemlin said, "Phones are starting to look a lot more like PCs, and PCs are looking a lot more like phones." Is the smartphone the next big desktop? Are MIDs, netbooks, and nettops the new desktop? "Do any of these matter?" he asked. "Is the browser the new desktop? Is it the TV? Is that the next desktop war?"

"We don't know what the next desktop will be," Zemlin said. "It's likely to be all of these things. ... All of them have clearly one main thing in common and that's Linux."

This isn't just about operating systems or an open source philosophy, he maintained. "Because 'convergent' changes the way PC industry makes money. How an industry makes money drives where innovation happens and where venture capital money is applied. As PC prices (or at least netbook prices) drop under the cost of your tricked-out iPhone, he said, it will change the economics in the way the PC industry behaves and the way the mobile industry behaves. "What do we mean by a desktop in that world?"

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