First of all, I want to be clear in stating that this isn’t going to be another “Year of the Linux Desktop” type article. Instead, this piece is going to take a look into the successes and failures found within the Linux space for 2017.
To start things off, I’ll first jump into the successes I’ve observed with Linux this past year. After that, we’ll examine some of the failures or at least, areas in need of improvement.
Linux Gaming: Despite what you may hear from those gamers who are game title loyal to Windows-specific video games, 2017 has been a decent year for gaming on the Linux desktop. Some of the most notable games have come from video game publisher, Feral Interactive. Notable title examples provided by this publisher include XCOM 2, Tomb Raider, Mad Max, and Total War: WARHAMMER (among other great game titles).
Discovery and installation of great Linux games is possible because of Steam (Valve), GoG.com, and the Humble Bundle. It’s also worth noting that crowd sourcing efforts on Kick Starter (among others) has also given Linux gaming a fair bit of traction. I think overall, Valve’s Steam client provides the best example of Linux game discovery and even curation thanks to the ample reviews and user generated lists to help gamers decide on their next purchase.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are actually entire distros dedicated to Linux gaming. The first one, based on Debian is called Steam OS as it’s provided by Valve. Steam OS makes sense if you plan on running it as a dedicated gaming box or pre-installed on a “Steam Machine.”
Another great gaming distro that I personally think is vastly more interesting than Steam OS is Sparky Linux. While it lacks the big company backing found with Valve’s offering, it does come with WINE support pre-installed. This is useful for those of you who also enjoy playing WINE supported Windows games on your Linux box. I also love how it utilizes a lightweight desktop environment which means more resources are dedicated to your Linux gaming.
Linux Docker and Kubernetes: Rather than deep diving into the incredibly complex differences between VMs and containers, I’m simply going to point out that container technology for 2017 has been red hot. What started with Linux containers evolved into what we see with Docker today – dedicated single application LXC containers (and much more these days). Historically Docker’s claim to fame is that it allows you to run single process application environments. And perhaps this is part of the reason why Docker has been so popular. Docker has taken away the hassle of distributing applications into environments that might otherwise not play nicely with the provided application in the Docker container. In layman’s terms, Docker is basically a flexible container platform. And it’s not just popular in 2017, it’s going to grow even more popular in 2018.
Then we have the container storage platform known as Kubernetes. This Google sponsored storage platform is often said to be flexible, yet more complicated than other container platforms. The best comparison with Docker would be to compare Kubernetes with Docker Swarms. In all honesty while Kubernetes has seen a great deal of press in 2017, Docker continues to be the buzz word to watch as we enter the new year.
Linux VARs (Dell, System76, etc): Overall, 2017 has been a great year for Linux VARs (value added reseller). Dell has stepped up their Linux offerings just as System76 also has taken recent steps to create their own distro based on Ubuntu. With Dell, locating their Linux laptops isn’t as straight forward as other Linux computer sellers. The easiest way is to browse their offerings then sort by operating system.
Be mindful however, you will need to browse Dell laptops for work. If you try this for home offerings, your only option is Windows 10. Personally, Dell will never get my money because they tend to run hot and cold with Linux on the desktop. But despite my own personal misgivings, they are ramping up their XPS notebook offerings. I have seen a lot of adoption for their XPS line in 2017 and believe we’ll see more of it in 2018.
System76 by contrast, is a Linux ONLY computer seller. Bundle this with a much cleaner website design, locating a new computer that supports Linux first is a far easier endeavor than those computer providers that try to support “everything” in the OS space.
No matter which VAR you choose to buy from, the one thing they all have in common is growth. Despite the reported marketshare not being what we might hope, the fact is people are clearly buying new Linux PCs with Linux pre-installed. And that’s a very positive thing that has been great for 2017. Some people might question why someone would want to buy a computer at a premium with Linux installed vs buying a Windows PCs and installing Linux manually.
The easiest answer is long term support. If I buy with Linux pre-installed, any VAR worth buying from will offer me help should I run into hardware compatibility issues down the road. Buying with Windows pre-installed and then installing Linux myself means I’m on my own. While I’m comfortable with this, some people simply prefer to have things “just work” without any extra guesswork. For example: Google AMD video card or Broadcom wifi and the word Linux. This and hybrid graphics are why people are willing to pay a little extra for something that doesn’t require additional work.
Super Computers: As of 2017, Linux is “the” operating system running the world’s supercomputers. Yes, there are supercomputers that run Microsoft Azure. However there is absolutely no question that supercomputing belongs exclusively to Linux. The most notable aspect to Linux supercomputers in 2017 is that China has taken the lead in this area over the US. My prediction is that as we move beyond 2017 into the new year, the US will be playing catch up and that means even more Linux being used in supercomputing.
Marketing and presence within online marketplaces: Some might be quick to point out that perhaps the biggest failure for Linux on the desktop is the lack of marketshare. Considering the decline of the desktop computer as a whole and the fact that Android (powered by Linux) is the number one OS out there, I think the entire debate on marketshare is a matter of perspective.
Setting that aside, I see the real failure for Linux being the lack of a brick and mortar presence. And while I completely understand the tremendous hurdle it is to get shelf space at various big box stores, I remain disgusted at the Linux VAR offerings on Amazon, NewEgg and TigerDirect. There is zero excuse for this and I will go to my grave maintaining this isn’t as hard as we’re lead to believe.
First of all, anyone can sell on Amazon. I’ve sold on Amazon for goodness sake! So while it could be argued as cost prohibitive to be a “feature” in the computer section of Amazon or other online seller sites, it’s pure foolishness not to find a way to make your offerings available on these sites “officially.”
Now to be clear, System76 does indeed have an Amazon presence which is awesome. Unfortunately, I believe it’s limited and would be better suited if they teamed up with Dell or other to co-op a “Welcome to Linux” presence page on Amazon. For example, have a featured space on Amazon when I browse to Computers and Tablets. When I browse to that page, I’m limited to Microsoft, Google and Apple only offerings. This is because those companies likely pay a premium to be the de facto offerings in this section. Imagine if “Linux” was also offered; listing various Linux VARs? I actually presented this idea to a couple Linux VARs and was met with a lukewarm reception to the idea.
Currently the marketing for Linux VARs is limited in my opinion and will continue to advertise to an existing audience of people who already know who they are and what they do (press releases, “reviews” and other related activities that don’t introduce Linux to frustrated Windows users or PC gamers who don’t realize how far Linux gaming has evolved). Adword campaigns only go so far, folks. Moving on.
Overcoming legacy software hurdles: This has continued to be a tough one. Trying to get a Photoshop user or someone who has extensive work with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to utilize open source alternatives on Linux simply isn’t going to happen. I know, I’ve migrated countless Windows users over the years. The success of these migrations usually hinged upon how deep into legacy programs the user was attached to that were Windows only.
While there are some success stories on this front, there are just as many stories of people who switched back due to various frustration with having to change their work-flows to meet the needs of their new desktop operating system. I completely understand this. As a GIMP and LibreOffice user, I feel completely lost and frustrated using Photoshop and MS Office products. I simply don’t enjoy changing my work-flow and those coming from Windows often feel the same way, just in reverse.
How about you? Have you felt that 2017 has been a good year or a backpedaling year for the Linux desktop? Hit the Comments and let’s talk about it.