Opinion: How is Linux doing?


Our friend Ed Dunnigan wrote saying:

It is my impression the Linux users and Distros are sitting on our hands. We seem to have arrived.

I wonder how many new Linux users are out there now? I pull down three Linux Users Groups and it has been a long long time since I saw a new user asking questions. I have been using Linux since about '95 or so, and with my aging problem (memory loss) I always learned a lot at users group meetings. Now it seems to me the recent presentations I have noted are very specialised. Not the general subject about Linux.

Have we, The Linux Community, given up trying for new users?

I'll give my response and I encourage everyone to reply with theirs too.


Thanks for your comment. As the defacto head of the BozemanLUG (because I can't trick anyone else into it), I have to tell you that I take whatever presentations I can get... specialized or newbie. It just so happens that the ones I've gotten lately have been more on the technical side.

Last month was done by Jordan and he is a new member to the group... so yes we are getting new members. We have a few other new folks who have attended on and off over the last 6 months. I'm going to try and do meeting reports each month to keep a running count that we can all refer back to... as to how the meetings are being attended... and whether we have some new folks or not.

So far as how Linux is doing overall and then specifically on the desktop... here are my thoughts on that:

Linux the kernel - A new Linux kernel has been coming out every three months on schedule and without any major issues. All of the reports I've seen on it indicate that it remains healthy and vibrant with a constantly shrinking and growing and back again community of developers

Distributions - Linux distros seem to be as healthy as ever. The major ones are all hitting their release schedules more or less and are making actual usability progress

Linux on servers - Linux in the server space seems to be doing quite well. I haven't seen any actual numbers but I think that is because someone doesn't want those numbers out there showing that they are doing worse and we are doing better. I know Linux has definitely eaten away at the proprietary UNIX base and almost completely taken it over except in a few highly specialized areas. Linux has also improved in the percentage of the top 500 fastest computers. The previous figure I saw was 87% but the newest figures show Linux is on 95% of them now. I guess Linux could get even better in that space but there is only a few more points left, right? :)

Linux on Embedded - Linux in the embedded space is also doing fantastically. A lot of the embedded systems out there now are running some sort of ARM-based processor and the Linux mainline has finally drilled into their heads... "you must submit your code to mainline for inclusion". That has worked so well over the past couple of years there is now a considerable problem in the ARM tree of the Linux kernel. There are too many variations and way, way, way too much code duplication. There has been so much ARM code contributed to the kernel from various sources just to support this and that pieces of hardware... and unfortunately all of the different stakeholders are not collaborating together and sharing code well enough. They are looking for someone to oversee the code and merge things together but so far no one has filled in that position because it is a lot of work and hard to find someone with enough expertise that is available. Just as a reference point there are 70 different sub-architectures and 500 different SoCs (Systems-on-chip) in the ARM tree.

Linux on Desktops - Linux on desktops is another matter. Apple, even with its gangbuster last couple of years... iPhone, iPad, and laptop sales... has only (to the best of my knowledge) eaten into Microsoft's desktop share by 1%. Apple was even valued more than Microsoft on th stock market. It makes you wonder how well Linux is doing? I don't think it really matters. Anyone who wants to use Linux can and there are several high quality, user friendly desktops and tons of apps. We are still missing a few things (like CAD apps, high quality video editors, etc) but it is getting better... and I don't think we can realistically ask for more. Canonical has Unity coming out in a week or so... Fedora will be the first distro to release GNOME 3 Shell... and I think that is going to be even more user friendly to new users... although some existing users might not like them.

As always, thanks for asking... and everyone else, feel free to chime in with your assessments.

Have a look at the 20 Years of Linux video from the Linux Foundation. It gives a good overview of the success Linux has had over the years and continues to have. I have it currently on the front page... but it will eventually roll off as new stuff is posted.