2017 is the year of Linux on the desktop. Yeah, I know. We’ve all heard that every year for the past 12 years and it hasn’t come to pass, but 2017 marks a watershed year where $200 notebooks are sopping up market share from Windows PC notebooks. What about the Mac?
If sales drop this year, and I predict they will– unless Apple launches some much needed upgrades to everything except the Mac Pro (Apple already said it won’t ship this year)– then cheap wins. Linux is free and powers Android devices, most of the world’s web servers, but hasn’t made much of a dent in the traditional desktop market (which, for this purpose, includes notebooks which most of us use on the desktop anyway).
Linux has three basic problems that none of the distributions have solved, so the operating system remains the domain of geeks on PCs, and mostly hidden from the billion or two Android users.
Distros – There must be 500 different versions of Linux, of which only a few are popular in any numbers; some for the server room, some for the desktop (my personal preference is Ubuntu, which I keep running on an old PC; runs fine), but there’s just not the commonality you find in Windows or macOS. There are too many Linux distributions available so that part of the market is highly fragmented.
Office & Photoshop – Linux has many basic applications that ship with each distro, but it simply doesn’t have the installed user base to attract developers with what I would call professional level apps– Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop are just the tip of an iceberg of applications that would never make the switch to a platform with such a small user base. Linux is free. Linux users expect apps to be free.
Complexity – Not one of the Linux distros I know of or use has an interface as simple and elegant as macOS Sierra, and not as familiar as Windows 10. In other words, Linux as an operating system is foreign to most traditional PC users, so making the switch is an exercise in futility. Everything about most Linux versions just feels wrong to Mac users, so I can only imagine how complex it feels to Windows users.
So, why is 2017 different?
In a word, Chromebooks. These are cheap notebook PCs which use Linux but cover up most of it in the Chrome wrapper– and they’re selling in ever greater numbers. Most of the new models also run Android applications which are familiar to the nearly 2-billion Android smartphone and tablet users. Even better, some of these Linux distros, cheap Chromebooks, and even notebooks that ship with a version of Linux, also have touchscreens, sadly missing from macOS as Apple has doubled down on its absence.