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The Year of the Linux Desktop: Are People Finally Adopting Opensource Desktops?

written by: rdubas•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 6/22/2009

The Linux operating system, arguably one of the most ambitious open-source projects of all time, has never really had a large home-user market share. However, stats are showing that the OS with the pudgy penguin mascot has made headway against Microsoft Windows. Slow gains, but gains nonetheless.

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    A few years ago, probably the only people who used the Linux operating system were either computers geeks or researchers. I had only learned of it myself after reading a review of “Damn Small Linux” 3 and was intrigued by a modern operating system only 50MBs in size. Since then, user-friendly distros such as Ubuntu aim to entice even non-techie computer users to take Linux for a spin.

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    No, in sheer number of users, Linux market share is not about to overtake Microsoft Windows, not even Mac OS. Yet, according to Market Share by Net Applications, Linux use has crept up since 2004, the first year of their stats. (Note: these numbers include all types of operating systems, such as Nintendo Wii and iPhone.) In 2004, Linux's share was only .29%, while Mac OS was 3.25%. Windows dominated with 96.34%. Jump forward to 2007 where Windows fell slightly to 92.86% while Mac and Linux both rose, 6.40% and .46% respectively. The most recent stats from March 2009, showed promise for alternative OS's with Windows dropping below 90% to 88.14%. Mac gained ground at 9.77% and Linux at .90%.

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    So what was going on in 2004? That year, there were indeed big guns on the scene in the OS market. Microsoft released Service Pack 2 (SP2) that gave Windows XP the stability and durability to be widely used even in current times. Mac OS X was at version 10.3 "Panther" which added better comparability with Windows files and introduced the Safari web browser that replaced Internet Explorer on Macs. The big news in Linux was that Ubuntu emerged with their first Debian-derived release, 4.10 Warty Warthog in October 2004. From there, Ubuntu would quickly become one of the most widely-used distros. Fedora came out with version 3 and 4 which added additional support for the security protocols of SELinux. Novell had just bought SUSE Linux and started the planning for the community version, OpenSUSE, which would soon become very popular.

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    In 2007, the biggest news came from Microsoft, who's Vista was widely released at the end of January. Amid the contrasting love and loathe reviews for Vista, Ubuntu Linux greatly advanced with the acclaimed 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon release in October. This Ubuntu included more tools to help Windows converts such as the Migration Manager which copied settings and files from a previous Windows installation. Gutsy also had full read and write support for the NTFS file system which is the default for Windows XP and Vista. Fedora released version 7, "Moonshine," which included changes to the repositories, numerous security enhancements, and tools to create customized Fedora versions. OpenSUSE earned good reviews for its version 10.2 that featured power management improvements that increased support for suspend and hibernation and more support for SD memory cards.

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    2009 is still being written. The two OSs ahead of Linux in market share will both be releasing new systems soon. Windows 7 will be available either early 2010 or possibly late 2009. Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard, should also come out later this year. However, Linux won't be sitting around waiting. Ubuntu has two releases planned- 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope in April 09 and 9.10 Karmic Koala in October. Fedora has version 11 is planned to come out in May, while OpenSUSE 11.2 should be available late 2009.

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    Is Microsoft worried about losing a few percentage points in market share? With the SCO fiasco and the Novell patent deal, it's obvious that Microsoft is aware of Linux. I'm honestly not sure how important it is to focus on competing with Microsoft. Linux and open source have always been about more than just a bottom line of profits. Yet, the continued rise in the number of computers running Linux must be on the minds of developers. Eventually, we may finally have "The Year of the Linux Desktop," but it's probably still far off.