2008 is the year of the free and open source desktop

At the Linux Foundation Summit, in the middle of an interview, I decided that 2008 is the year of the Linux desktop. (Incidentally, the Collaboration Summit is where Dave Neary planted a bug in my ear about the GNOME Foundation executive director job.)

While my answer was a bit off the cuff (there’s nothing like being
asked for big predictions while being interviewed on video), I do think
that 2008 is a turning point for the free and open source desktop. What has surprised me since then is the number of people that express doubt – I’ve decided that they aren’t seeing it because it’s creeping up on them. I don’t notice too much when my 22 month old learns a couple of new words but when I’m gone a week and he learns 20 new words or so? Wow!

So here are some reasons the free and open source desktop has reached a turning point in 2008:

  • This CIO survey might not accurately reflect the enterprise, but it’s in the ball park. They report that "half of the survey respondents, 45 percent, are using desktop applications such as OpenOffice.org." I’m betting just last year that would have been less than 10%.
  • The number of Linux laptops has increased exponentially with the subnotebook market. Asustek shipped 350,000 Eee PC’s running Xandros Linux in one quarter alone last year! They are expecting to ship 2 million units running Linux this year.
  • Some very high profile projects like One Laptop Per Child are using Linux and other free software like Sugar to reach kids in developing countries.
  • More hardware vendors started shipping Linux preinstalled. Dell started shipping Linux on laptops last year.
  • And while it may not technically be a "desktop" there’s a lot of free and open source software on mobile devices.
  • People like Matt Asay aren’t arguing whether there’s a viable open source desktop but only if it’s necessary that every part be open source. (Granted Matt’s a big open source fan, but my point is, the argument isn’t about "if" but about "how".)
  • … and so on.

So while the Linux desktop may not have a huge presence yet, its market share is growing exponentially. And I’ll take consistent exponential growth over existing market share any day. (It’s a bit like using Chris Blizzards’ market share accounting method. :)