How Linux makes the post-desktop world possible

The success of tablets and smartphone has Linux to thank

Okay, let's talk about Windows 8.

Much has been said about the look and feel of Microsoft's new Metro interface and how the operating system that sits on 90-plus percent of the world's desktops is now getting an upgrade that would be better suited for tablets and touch screens.

That interface, and the direction that personal computing seems to be heading, represents a big opportunity for Linux… but perhaps not the one you're thinking of.

My former boss Jim Zemlin at the Linux Foundation puts forth the case that Windows 8 represents a too-little-too-late move to the "post-desktop world," a world where Android and Chromebooks are already happily sitting.

"In short, Linux is everywhere. Amazon's Kindle Fire has sold reportedly over 5 million units. Great Android-based tablets like the Nexus 7 or Samsung's Galaxy Tab have also achieved widespread success. Even more importantly, I can purchase a great Linux desktop on Amazon or in many retailers via a $250 Chromebook. (Well, I could purchase one if they weren't already sold out.)," Zemlin quipped.

Zemlin makes good points, and correctly identifies a trend with which Microsoft is trying to catch: that between open source software and services-driven hardware (i.e., anything Google touches), Microsoft is getting its ass kicked unless it pivots.

Windows 8 is the pivot.

Zemlin holds that if you take all devices in the consumer world into account, not just desktops and notebooks, then Microsoft's 95-percent hold on the desktop market becomes less important and Linux becomes a big potential contender in that field, under the guise of Android and ChromeOS.

Sean Michael Kerner sees this as a direct opportunity to shake up Microsoft's long dominance in this sector, giving the perennial argument that comes up whenever a new Windows is released: Windows SuX0r, Linux has a shot!

"Market disruption is always an opportunity for change and Window 8 is disruptive. The various Linux desktop out there provide a real option for this new era. The app centric view of the world is not how desktop users work. It's a reality that Microsoft should understand but they don't," Kerner writes.

Actually, for now, apps are a big part of how most desktop users work. They have a set task, and they need software in which to perform that task. Because of the prevalence of Office, most think that they have to have Office for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. However, it is clear that this is in transition, as more people get comfortable with the idea of using online services like Google Docs to perform these same tasks.

If that trend continues, then it's not beyond the realm of possibility to envision an Ubuntu netbook rolling in to seriously compete with the likes of Chromebooks.

But even this is not the opportunity to which I refer. Where Linux is really going to explode is not in the glitzy consumer market, but rather in the cloud.

All of this moving to mobile devices means one thing: more than ever, a lot of computing power is going to be shifted back to the servers. The music-recognition and tagging app Shazam is a classic example: it's not the phone that processed that clip from "Muskrat Love" your kids hear in the store and want to know what the heck that is - it's the rack of servers in the datacenter that's doing the hard work and sending the answer back.

When anyone talks about the cloud, no one is seriously talking about Windows running up there: it's almost always Linux.

It's not glamorous or exciting, but a post-PC world can only happen with Linux in the datacenter and the cloud… and it will only get better.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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