Opinion It has become a running joke. “20xx will be the year of the Linux desktop.” The punchline is, of course, it will never happen. But the real jape is that there will soon be a year of the Linux desktop. It’s just not going to happen the way Linux fanboi have believed it will.
The Linux desktop dream has been that companies and people will realize that the Linux desktop is simply better than Windows. Part of the hope is true. The Linux desktop is better than Windows.
Really. For starters, the Linux desktop is far more secure than Windows. I mean, sure, Linux has security problems. What doesn’t? But Microsoft has a monthly security mea culpa day: Patch Tuesday.
Linux is also easy to use. Even now, people claim that Linux is hard to use. That just shows they haven’t used Linux in decades. Once upon a time, you had to master shell programs to install programs and get work done. That hasn’t been true this century. Just like everything else, today you get Linux software with a click and install front-end. Anyone using Windows and Office programs can master Linux interfaces such as KDE, GNOME, and Cinnamon, and programs like LibreOffice. It’s not hard at all.
The real problem remains that Microsoft retained its first-mover desktop operating system advantage by forcing PC companies to only offer Windows to its customers in the 1990s. Combine that with the simple fact that people don’t like to change, and you have the real reason why neither Linux nor macOS has advanced beyond niche desktop roles.
But, this will be changing. It won’t be because people wake up tomorrow and realize how much better Linux is technically than Windows. Nope. That’s not happening.
Instead, it will happen because Microsoft is abandoning the traditional PC-centric operating system for a cloud-based one. Why? Because that’s where the money is.
Thanks to the near-ubiquity of high-speed internet, Microsoft has figured out that it can make more money by renting you a subscription to an online service than by selling you a product. Don’t believe it? Look at the record.
Back in 2019, just after Microsoft released Office 2019, Microsoft celebrated this major announcement by… encouraging people not to buy it. Jared Spataro, then Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Office and Windows group, proclaimed that Office 2019’s applications are “frozen in time. They don’t ever get updated with new features,” while “Office 365 includes fully installed Office applications … and these apps keep getting better over time, with new capabilities delivered every month.”
Office 365’s name has changed. It’s now Microsoft 365, but the plan remains the same.
Microsoft has the exact same plan for Windows. Rather than “sell” you Windows 12, what they really want people to do is rent a cloud-based Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS). Specifically, they want you to use Windows 365 Cloud PC, Windows 365 Enterprise Cloud PC, or the Azure Virtual Desktop. What’s that? You’ve never heard of those? You will.
In spring 2022, Microsoft’s “Windows Powers the Future of Hybrid Work” virtual get-together laid out its vision for tomorrow’s Windows desktop. There, Microsoft’s Windows and Surface chief, Panos Panay, explained that these were “just the beginning of our Windows and Microsoft cloud integration.”
With new programs such as Windows 365 Boot, you can boot right into Windows 365 Cloud PC. With this Windows-as-a-Service (WaaS) offering, you can run “Windows” from your PC, Mac, Chromebook, or, pay attention, a Linux PC. Heck, you can even run it from an Android device or iPhone.
These are all business Windows takes. Windows 365 Boot, in particular, is meant for businesses that let you bring your own device (BYOD) to your work or for shared laptops. It’s also useful for working from home from a business security standpoint since it keeps your work separate from your kid’s Minecraft account.
But, this was on its way to home PCs as well. In the February 2022 Windows 11 update. Under the Windows 11 Settings menu > Accounts, you’ll find a new section, “Your Microsoft account.” There, you’ll find your Microsoft 365 subscription status, how full your OneDrive cloud storage is, and other details. More recently, the Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 22567 now incorporates your credit card information into Windows.
It’s almost like, gosh, they’re getting ready to roll out Windows 365 Home Cloud PC. I expect to see that appear early next year.
Come that day, as Microsoft abandons the traditional PC desktop, which is where it started, Linux and macOS will win by default. They’ll be the last of the PC-centric desktops. Everything else will have been replaced by cloud-based operating systems.
There, thanks to Google, Linux will also have a role to play. Both ChromeOS, which pioneered the mass-market, cloud-based DaaS, and ChromeOS Flex, which lets you switch older Windows PCs and Macs to Chrome OS, use Linux as their heart.
But, for anyone who doesn’t want their desktop based on someone else’s servers, the old-school Linux desktop is the future. So, yes, in the end, the Linux desktop wins. Unfortunately, cloud-based DaaS is what most people will be using.
If it makes you feel any better, though, thanks to Android, the most popular end-user operating system of all will still be Linux. Again, it just won’t be the Linux “desktop” you’ve been hoping for. ®
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