My colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols recently wrote a piece on his fine Practical Technology blog called Dear Microsoft, Thanks for the help, Linux in which he argues that Microsoft’s ill-timed decision to cut off easy access to XP tomorrow (June 30th) combined with its announcement it would be releasing the next version of Windows in January, 2010 effectively lends a death blow to Vista and creates a huge opportunity for desktop Linux. With all due respect to my esteemed colleague, this is not the first time I’ve heard such a prediction.

I am certainly not as immersed in Linux coverage as Vaughan-Nichols, but I’ve covered it enough (and been around the block a few times too) to have heard this line of thinking a couple of times before. In fact, back in May, 2004 I wrote an article for Linux Planet called Is Linux Desktop at the Crossroads?

The opening at that time was the 12-24 month window created by delays of the Longhorn OS. Longhorn, you may recall was the code name for the Microsoft OS that would become Vista. Red Monk Analyst Stephen O’Grady argued at the time that Linux desktop had an opening to capture some market share during the delay in shipping Vista. Vaughan-Nichols, by the way, points out that experience dictates that Windows 7 actual ship date will in all likelihood slip beyond the announced January, 2010 ship date, leaving a similar window as last time.

More recently, John Dvorak postulated in his 1/29/07 column in PC Magazine that more frugal companies unwilling to comply with Vista’s increased hardware requirements might try Linux instead to prolong the life of their existing hardware. To my knowledge, they simply stuck with XP instead and once again Linux has gained little market share.

A couple of other factors are coming together here though that could bode well for Linux. First of all, mini notebooks (or UMPCs) are gaining in popularity thanks to machines like the Asus Eee. It’s interesting to note that many of these diminutive machines come with a Linux option. In addition, as I’ve written in this space before in What Does the Future Hold for the OS? that in my view, it’s likely as we move forward and conduct more of our computing in the cloud, the actual OS is going to matter less anyway and in that scenario, the free Linux OS makes even more sense.

So here we are again, just 6 months after Dvorak wrote his column with a confluence of circumstances—the unpopularity of Vista, Microsoft cutting off XP and a release date of the next generation Microsoft OS projected far into the future—and once again we have a prediction from an extremely reputable source that this could be the chance for companies to take a serious look at desktop Linux.

Who knows if Desktop Linux will be any more successful this time—many companies using XP will see little reason to change, but perhaps with increasing popularity of small consumer devices running Linux, it will make inroads through the backdoor and as consumers learn to like Linux, more requests from users will percolate to corporate IT departments. It could happen, then again, we could be looking back in 18 months at another lost opportunity.

About the Author

I am a Freelance Technology Journalist, blogger, FierceContentManagement editor and Contributing Editor at EContent Magazine. I have been writing about technology since 1988 and publishing credits include InsideCRM,, Streaming Media Magazine, eWeek, BusinessWeek SmallBiz and Network World. I have also written White Papers, documentation and training for a variety of corporate clients, big and small. I co-founded [url][/url] in 2009 and contributes regularly to its content. You can learn more by visiting my blog, by Ron Miller at [URL][/url].

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Sorry, screwed up the Dvorak paragraph. Fixed it so it now reads he only postulated. He didn't argue and postulate. Darn. Sorry, heat is getting to me.

I think there is actually one thing which is also worthwhile to be looked at and taken into account at this juncture, the "WalMart Factor".

Yes, it has finally happened Wlamart is now selling low end boxes with Linux installed and setup on them, these $200-300 US system aren't anything fabulous but there will be enough people who buy them that it given another vector for in-roads

Great point. Thanks for the links and the comment.

Interesting follow-up to this piece. I found this discussion started by Stan Beer on iTWire in which he proposes that the Asus Eee is the Linux Trojan Horse, which mirrors the idea I presented in my conclusion to this entry. Very interesting discussion going on here. I encourage you to check it out:

The real question is why don't people like windows Vista? Microsoft has already declared that Windows 7 will be Vista II. Windows 7 will be built on Vista, uses the same drivers. It will and I quote you "Allow you to leverage the investment you have already made in Vista."

At this point, we need something that will leverage XP. Vista is supposed to have all sort of great admin tools. I can't recommend my company spend $20,000 to upgrade to Vista desktops and Server 2008 to get great admin tools. Because then we can't run the software that we need to run. It won't run on Vista, but it runs on XP.

So Vista is here, Windows 7 will be here and more of the same. Customers might have been able to wait out Microsoft for 3 years. But now, we are talking 6 years. 2013 is the next chance they have for a new Microsoft OS that is not Vista. It may very well not be possible to run XP that long. That leaves them two choices.

1. Go non-XP compatible by moving to Vista/7.
2. Go non-XP compatible by moving to Mac or Linux.

So the "Year of the Linux" desktop is either going to remain an non-starter, or there will come a point where companies fleeing from Vista will be migrating in droves.

I don't have confidence that Microsoft will get it right with 7. But that is what they will have to do to fight of the defection to Linux.

Thanks for the comments. I agree with what you say. I'm not sure what Microsoft will do, but I know if it were me, I wouldn't invest in Vista regardless of what Microsoft says Windows 7 will or won't be. I don't see people switching from XP until they have to, but when they do, if they are evaluating the options, Linux absolutely, in my view, has to be on the table as an option. At that point, it's a matter of if a flavor of Linux can meet the needs of the individual organization.