Setting aside how often we hear the phrase "year of the Linux desktop" in reference to the coming year, you might find yourself actually wondering what could be different in 2017. In this article, I'll explain why this is less of an issue than you might think and where I think it's headed as we travel into the upcoming year.
The entire idea of one year or another being the year of the Linux desktop has become an insider joke among many within the FoSS community. The reason: the entire concept is deeply personal. What was a good year for the Linux desktop for one person might not have been for someone else.
For example, I'd suggest that the year that Knoppix Linux became popular was clearly the Year of the Linux desktop. For the first time, anyone who wanted to try Linux on their PC without installing it, could do so very easily. A lot of people believe the first live distros were Ubuntu in nature when it fact, Debian inspired Knoppix and later Simply Mepis were among the first.
In recent years, we've seen changes to the Linux desktop that have surprisingly outperformed my expectations.
Before anyone says that it's not, consider this – you can do just about anything on the Linux desktop these days. And I've seen evidence that people are jumping ship from OS X and Windows in a big way.
Now, this doesn't mean we're going to start seeing desktop Linux becoming a household concept. However, there have been a lot of people testing the waters on different distributions because they're tired of Apple's lack of "substantial" hardware updates and Windows advertising nonsense from what used to be the start menu. People want their legacy user experiences back. Whether or not today's Linux distros can offer this depends heavily on the user and their needs.
The statement above is what I believe really makes 2016 a compelling year for the Linux desktop. Not the fact that software development is exploding for Linux users or that new technologies are making things easier. No, what’s encouraging is that we're seeing floods of people trying out Linux for the first time.
Case in point – when Apple did their latest product release in 2016, one Linux PC vendor had their servers brought to their knees with Mac users looking for alternatives. This doesn't even account for those folks who are done with Windows 10 or having their Windows 7/8 PCs installing Windows 10during important activities without any user intervention.
Obviously not everyone trying Linux is going to immediately switch or even make it past the Live install phase for that matter. But I believe out of every group of people trying Linux, we're seeing a higher retention rate than in years past. My inbox exploding with new converts seems to agree with this position.
I think the biggest news is going to be package management and new distributions. In 2016, we began to experience a Linux sphere where one could run the latest software package on long term release type distros. In the past, this wasn't practical due to various dependencies. Today, Snap packages and Flatpaks are providing users with the ability to keep their software bleeding edge without running a rolling release distro.
Speaking of rolling release distributions, I think Solus is the distribution to watch. It's managed to strike a firm balance between being up to date with the latest offerings while also making sure updates aren't just being flung at their users. Point being, it's one of the most stable rolling release distros I've ever used. I love that their users get updates in a tidy, orderly fashion. It's also sporting a really great desktop environment while keeping a strong focus on speed.
This, my friends, is the future of Linux distributions. It's without question, the distribution to watch in 2017. I see a lot of refinements and polish coming with Solus in the new year.
And finally, this might leave you wondering about the state of software as we hit the new year? Is the state of software polish and availability better than in years past? The answer to this question is a bit of a mixed bag.
During the last bits of 2016, I began to really see an acceleration in desktop Linux applications receiving a fresh coat of paint. LibreOffice is going to be offering its users a new menu interface called Muffin. Kdenlive is on fire, adding new features and bug fixes at a feverish pace. OpenShot has a new "point" release available.
Last but not least, we see Steam games for Linux releasing some impressive titles that actually sucked me back into gaming. Among these titles were Deus Ex, Mad Max, XCOM 2, Dying Light, Rocket League, Ark Survival, and Tomb Raider. I'm sure there are others, but these are the titles that drew me in. Gaming in Linux has come a long way thanks in part to companies like Valve and Feral Interactive. It's awesome to see efforts from Loki Entertainment, LGP (Linux Game Publishing), and RuneSoft too.
I believe that like any year we'll see new features, software and distributions, but that 2017 will also be another "year of the Linux desktop." See, each year sees one specific trend for improvement. Sometimes this means brand new stuff and other times, it's just a year for adding polish to an otherwise great user experience.
Because Linux is a kernel, which is included with various desktop environments and software to form Linux distributions, it's pretty difficult to pronounce one year a defining year over another. I will say, however, that the last five years have been significant for Linux as a concept.
In my eyes, the definitive year that will truly be "year of the Linux desktop" will be when the lines become so blurred as to which OS we use that it no longer matters. ChromeOS, using the Linux kernel has made inroads in this area. They're still a long way off, but I think that the inclusion of web apps will absolutely be part of what defines Linux popularity in the future for desktop users.