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March 12, 2024

The Rising Popularity of Linux on Desktop Computers


Linux on the desktop is experiencing a resurgence in popularity as the enduring conflict between the underappreciated open-source operating system and the dominant market player, Microsoft Windows, heightens again.

Thus, is this going to be the year when Linux, in all its diverse versions, emerges as the mainstream desktop operating system? That seems unlikely. However, the reasons behind the growing desktop market share of Linux are still intriguing.

If we consider an extended definition – encompassing all computing forms, including smartphones and the computer servers present in large data centers – Linux is the world’s most extensively employed operating system and has been so for years.

Most of the world’s “computers” are smartphones that run on Google’s Android operating system. Android, which is based on Linux and other open-source software, had a 43.74% share of the world’s total operating system market as of February 2024, according to Statcounter. This was followed by Windows with a 27.39% market share and iOS with 17.82%.

Within the world of desktop computing, the landscape exhibits quite a different outlook. The Windows operating system still dominates with an impressive market share of 72.13% (as of February 2024), contrasting sharply with Linux’s 4.03% market share. Despite these meagre figures, Linux continues to demonstrate robust growth from a compact base, realizing an annual increase of 1.09 percentage points. While it may not appear substantial, it denotes an annual growth rate of 37.1%.

Based on these figures, it is evident that the much-anticipated “year of the Linux desktop” is still a distant prospect. Linus Torvalds, the architect of the Linux operating system, suggests that it may never reign supreme in the desktop sphere due to its inherent complex nature. Unlike Windows, which stands as a uniform operating system with few iterations, Linux comprises numerous systems or distros, each with multiple versions. This fragmentation heightens complexity and intimidates users who face the daunting task of mastering the user interface of each Linux distro they encounter.

A visit to the Linux informational portal, DistroWatch, reveals an astonishing 200 plus Linux distributions, each with 21 unique desktop interfaces.

“I wish Linux distributions demonstrated greater proficiency in adapting a standardised desktop that spans all distributions. Though this is not a kernel issue, it heightens my personal irritation with the fragmentation seen across vendors. This fragmentation could potentially hinder desktop progress,” expressed Torvalds during a TFiR interview in 2018.

Indeed, the popularity of Linux continues to surge. One plausible reason for this might be that Microsoft has pivoted its main attention away from Windows and focused on its enterprise cloud business.

Julian Gericke, the CTO at LSD Open, a company that excels in commercial open-source software applications, hypothesizes that “Microsoft may eventually start to offer Windows for free.”

He further elaborates, “They’ve expertly transitioned their principal revenue source, which was dependent on their proprietary operating system and productivity suite (Office), into a consumption business model with Microsoft 365 and Azure, including their AI services. Comparatively, Windows holds significantly lesser relevance today than it did during its prime in 1995.”

A shift in user perspectives on the complexities associated with Linux installation and utilization has also contributed to its rising popularity. More user-friendly distributions, such as Linux Mint and Ubuntu, have made Linux more accessible for non-tech savvy users. Ubuntu is a South African creation, developed under the stewardship of Mark Shuttleworth.

“To be fair, Linux on the desktop is largely a niche space. There has been growth over the years, with more and more user-centric distributions becoming available, such as Mint and more recently Pop!_OS,” said Gericke.

Installing applications on Linux has also become much simpler than in the past. Containerised application programs such as Flatpak, Snap and AppImage have made it much easier to install Linux apps without having to worry about finicky distribution-specific issues.

Installing the Linux kernel itself can be as simple as mounting a virtual disk and following a simple click-by-click tutorial, although a more technically demanding install, like Gentoo’s, is available for the open-source purists, or anyone looking for a challenge.

Gericke said the slight gains Linux is making in the end-user space will continue to be overshadowed by its dominance in core infrastructure. The internet runs on Linux, he said.

Linux is the popular choice for server workloads, the peripherals in internet-of-things networks, and the resources that infuse artificial intelligence into web services.

“Certainly, AI modelling operates on GPUs (graphics processing units) or TPUs (tensor processing units), the OS supporting AI orchestrators is invariably Linux too. Currently, there are no other operating systems that provide the same open standards and collaboration options to replace it,” remarked Gericke.  – © 2024 NewsCentral Media

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