Will 2013 Be the Year of the Ubuntu Desktop?

Linux continues to attract new desktop users, but significant challenges remain.
Posted November 12, 2012

Matt Hartley

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As I came up with the title for this article, I did so fully realizing that many of you will likely groan at the thought of yet another "tis the year of the Linux desktop" article. However unlike other articles, I have actual concrete examples of why I think that it's fair to suggest that 2013 could be a huge year for Linux on the desktop.

But before we dive into what 2013 has in store for Linux, Ubuntu, and Linux desktop adoption, let's take a look back at previous instances where year of the Linux desktop was proclaimed.

Every year is the year of the Linux desktop

Dating back to roughly 2001 onward, it seems that every single year has been proclaimed as the year of the Linux desktop for one reason or another. New adoption numbers surface showing how compelling using Linux is, or maybe a new crop of OEM vendors offer made-for-Linux solutions. Whatever the reason may be, in nearly each case the catalyst for any given "year of the Linux desktop" has been pushed forth by some sort of a compelling development.

The fact is, the statement or idea of any particular year being more significant for the Linux desktop is mired in opinion and speculation. One person's revelation or desktop discovery is another person's disappointment.

To me, the only way one can make the claim with any level of accuracy that any given year is the year of the Linux desktop is by providing compelling examples where Linux on the desktop has overcome significant hurdles or garnered impressive user adoption. And as we already know, measuring the latter is extremely difficult as the numbers vary greatly depending on whom you ask.

2012 successes

Thus far, the year 2012 has seen some impressive successes. ARM support is gaining a ton of traction, Valve has introduced Steam to Ubuntu Linux users under their beta program, Lightworks is alpha testing their studio-quality video editor with Ubuntu, and there have been other related accomplishments.

On the adoption front, news that developing countries like India are seeing rapid growth in Linux users also shows a ton of promise. But I tend to be wary of any adoption numbers tied to hard vendors like Dell, considering how flaky their Ubuntu desktop support has been here in the States. Should Dell opt to repeat their last decision where they all but discontinued Ubuntu support to their U.S. userbase, any perceived growth could fall short in the long term. Still, my own skepticism aside, I hope that Ubuntu pre-installed options continue to see tremendous growth.

The obvious missing pieces continue to be battling legacy software needs, the familiarity of other platforms, plus the brick-and-mortar solutions sponsored by Microsoft/Apple. Clearly, as grand as 2012 has been, isn't really the year of the Linux desktop. There are still missing components that would need to be met in order to make this tired phrase into something more substantial. And with that realization, one must ask will Ubuntu be the distribution of choice for making the biggest waves?

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, desktop

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