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.