Every year for as long as I remember Linux aficionados claimed that “next year will be the year of the Linux Desktop.” This continued until sometime a couple of years ago. When much of the community realized that with the proliferation of servers, containers, and mobile devices (I’m claiming Android and ChromeOS to a degree) running Linux meant that the community had won the OS war anyway, just not on the desktop.
With Apple increasingly looking like it’s losing interest in macOS, and issuing mixed messages on the future of the platform, from promising to update its pro line, while simultaneously alluding to merge macOS and iOS hardware and software further. Read this Bloomberg article and you’ll realize that Apple’s homemade chips are actually pretty powerful and impressive, but they are proprietary, and only used by Apple.
It’s not the first time that Apple has undergone a CPU-architecture change, but using Intel-based processors opened up macOS to a world of tools that were easier to bring to the platform than before. Will tools like Docker, Homebrew, and even Steam continue to function on Apple’s proprietary chips, and will they give developers the access they need to recompile these tools to work? While I’m sure it will still be possible, it won’t be as easy as with the current crop of Intel chips. I have been a Mac user long enough to remember the 68xxx and PowerPC processors, and how much the switch to Intel positively affected this situation, especially for developer tools.
The current generation of custom Apple chips are (mostly) ARM-based, which opens up things a little, as some developer tools can run on ARM architecture, but it’s not as common and tends to focus more on tools aimed at lower-end, lower-powered devices.
Even Microsoft, with its vast Windows user base, seems to be losing interest in its own traditional cash cow, deprioritizing development teams and shifting more and more to cloud services. For many of Windows traditional users, this has often been the way that Windows worked anyway, with soft clients, terminal services, etc.
All the while Android, ChromeOS, and (to a lesser extent) iOS continue to surge forwards proving that most users don’t actually care about using a “proper” desktop operating system and that those of us who do are a distinct minority. As a distinct and self-identifying power user, I can understand why most people don’t care about the ability to control how their OS works, or work offline, or worry about upgrades and patches. But for the foreseeable future, I feel there will still be a reasonable group of people who do want a “proper” desktop OS. Whether this is for high-quality audio and video editing, programming, or for something you have control over, as Apple and Microsoft lose interest, what will we use?
Could it be that this is a gap for Linux to fill as it will increasingly become the only option left? Or will Apple and Microsoft take the bold steps of following suit and open source their legacy operating systems for the community to continue development of? As Linux vendors also push more into evolving for server and container systems, do their communities also share the same lack of interest in developing desktop operating systems?
Ladies and gentlemen, will 2021 finally be the year of the Linux desktop, but no one will care enough to celebrate the victory?