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The Bright and Dark Future of Linux

Posted 10-22-2011 at 11:47 PM by wagscat123
Updated 10-23-2011 at 12:08 AM by wagscat123


Fairly recently I've really been learning about the Linux community and the "human part" if you will of the GNU\Linux world, from the businesses like Canonical, SUSE, and Red Hat to the Debian social contract and LSF. Also, I've read up on the future of Desktops and Handhelds and examined Linux Desktop distros from the deep past (remember DemoLinux?)
Twenty years ago Linux Tarvalds started the Linux kernel. At first, it was "nothing big" and was simply a 386 compatible UNIX kernel.
At about the same time (OK, a few years before) Richard Stallman founded GNU as a result of the increasingly less open climate for software. They had created just about everything needed to run an excellent full fledged operating system - except one thing - a kernel.
So then came the marriage of GNU and Linux - though as in many real marriages, we often inaccurately call the couple "Linux" (I'm extremely guilty, look at the title of this post on to combat proprietary software (notably against Wingdows, a great toaster maker!)
For the first couple of years, Linux wasn't really adopted on the desktop. It was mainly for developers who liked the Free Software philosophy, enthusiasts (like me), and developers who just wanted to get the hang of programming. Yes, you had and FVWM, but you did not have stuff like GNOME, KDE, or OpenOffice.
Over time, businesses began to see the potential of Linux. Companies like Red Hat in the U.S. and S.u.S.E. started popping up. Linux adoption for the server was beginning to catch on.
Still, though, not much for the desktop user. In 1996 the KDE project was started to help make Linux more desktop-friendly. This was great, except the only problem was that KDE depended on the proprietary QT toolkit. In response to this dilemma, the GNOME project based on a GTK toolkit was born. Now we have the major KDE and GNOME desktops of today.
Early versions of KDE and GNOME somewhat imitated Windows 9x. This was a step in the right direction, however Linux continued to lack a pretty installation and a smooth installation.
Over time, distro by distro friendly graphical installations were added. By looking at the archives, at least SUSE and Red Hat had graphical installs. GNOME and KDE definitely kept up under the hood, but lagged a little in having the eye-candy of Windows. Although, KDE 3.1 did really kick behind against Windows XP. Ubuntu rapidly took over as the plurality leader of the distribution market.
Now we have a GNU application for just about anything, often equaling or surpassing their proprietary counterparts. KDE and GNOME have extremely modern interfaces (especially GNOME 3, take a gander at Windows 8 and you will see GNOME is ahead of Windows by about a year).
Right now we are almost in a second technological revolution. Handhelds are really becoming popular, as well as tablets. Laptops are now surpassing Desktops in sales. PCs are now 64-bit or ARM. The Desktop is now in decline.
GNOME and KDE have taken steps such as the GNOME Shell and Plasma Active to not only survive but thrive in this revolution. This would be all fine and dandy except one very wrong monopolist practice: part of the agreement to use smartphones and tablets is that you use only their operating system. This means that it is illegal to "root" your phone and put something like openSUSE or Ubuntu on it.
This could spell an end or at least a big decline of Linux GUIs and distros as we know them. This certainly is bad looking, but there are still a two lights I see that will save us.
The first is servers. Linux distros have uptimes measured in years and due to its rather free nature, it cheaper by licensing costs. Linux powers our servers, and the boom of portable technology will mean we need more servers to power our world. Linux will power them.
Next. Android. Suppose Google Android wins a monopoly on smartphones and tablets as Microsoft Windows has on the Desktop. Android deep down is running on a Linux-based kernel, so if Android wins every one will have Linux in their pocket.
So now the future doesn't look so bleak. Linux will be nothing like as we know it now in 15 years. However, even if these drastic changes don't happen, gradual changes over a course of 50 years would render Linux unrecognizable for any of us if we jumped in a time machine and jumped forward to then. KDE 10 (assuming KDE is around then) will be nothing like the KDE 4 we have today, or even like the KDE 5 coming up in a few years with Qt 5.
Today, in 2011, we are in the era of the Desktop still. GNOME and KDE will be flourishing for some time. The founders are still relatively young and still busy improving the F/OSS world. Hundreds of distributions are out there giving anyone the choice of how their software is built (if they choose not to build it themselves).
I predict the peak of Desktop Linux will be roughly next year. Just simply put, when the Desktop is used less it will receive less focus. Who'd focus on adding a technology to change the font on a type writer when they've been widely antiquated for two decades or so? In fifteen or twenty years our desktops will remain around pretty much for the few people who refuse to move on and a niche market. I believe the gradual transition to the scenario I stated above has already started about five years ago and will only accelerate.
I am curious to see how this plays out, if even at at all. Maybe (since a lot of money is at stake with the flourishing mobile market) a major lawsuit will attach a fee to using Linux and Linux won't be free. Maybe we will find out radio waves cause a severe brain cancer and will stop using handhelds and mobile devices altogether and run back to the PC. Hey, maybe a 13-mile-wide asteroid will hit, and people will be more focused on surviving the new conditions on Earth rather than sitting at computers. The future is always uncertain, but I have above laid out my thoughts for the deep future of Linux, right or not.
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