Is The Linux Desktop In Trouble?

“I believe that, as Microsoft keeps moving Windows to a Desktop-as-a-Service model, Linux will be the last traditional PC desktop operating system standing,” writes ZDNet contributing editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.

“But that doesn’t mean I’m blind to its problems.”

First, even Linus Torvalds is tired of the fragmentation in the Linux desktop. In a recent [December 2018] TFiR interview with Swapnil Bhartiya, Torvalds said, “Chromebooks and Android are the path toward the desktop.” Why? Because we don’t have a standardized Linux desktop. For example, better Linux desktops, such as Linux Mint, provide an easy way to install applications, but under the surface, there are half-a-dozen different ways to install programs. That makes life harder for developers. Torvalds wishes “we were better at having a standardized desktop that goes across the distributions.”

Torvalds thinks there’s been some progress. For software installation, he likes Flatpak. This software program, like its rival Snap, lets you install and maintain programs across different Linux distros. At the same time, this rivalry between Red Hat (which supports Flatpak) and Canonical (which backs Snap) bugs Torvalds. He’s annoyed at how the “fragmentation of the different vendors have held the desktop back.” None of the major Linux distributors — Canonical, Red Hat, SUSE — are really all that interested in supporting the Linux desktop. They all have them, but they’re focused on servers, containers, the cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT). That’s, after all, is where the money is.
Linux desktop distros “tend to last for five or six years and then real life gets in the way of what’s almost always a volunteer effort…” the article argues. “It is not easy building and supporting a Linux desktop. It comes with a lot of wear and tear on its developers with far too little reward.”

His solution? Having a foundation create a common desktop for all Linux distros, so the Linux world could finally reap the benefits of standardization. “This would mean that many more Linux desktop developers could make a living from their work. That would improve the Linux desktop overall quality.

“It’s a virtuous cycle, which would help everyone.”

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