2014 is the year of the Linux desktop

Linux has unexpectedly made it to the desktop through mobile and cloud, but the unintended consequences are troubling

Wait, isn't the Linux desktop dead? As I observed last year, it all depends on how you define it.

Many of us had expected a revolutionary overthrow of Windows by something that was, for all intents and purposes, just Windows with Linux under the hood. Instead, we have Chrome OS and Android, which are both essentially Linux, along with services delivered through the browser by cloud providers that run Linux on their servers.

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Part of my conviction that 2014 is the year of the Linux desktop flows from my personal experience at my own business, which now now runs entirely on Chrome OS (apart from the one legacy Mac device, which lives permanently in Chrome). As I've spoken to clients and collaborators around the world, I've realized we're not alone.

I've found that many of the startups and nonprofits I communicate with use Google Apps for email and collaboration. It's not instantly obvious, since most of us operate our own domain names. But the benefit of getting all your productivity tools delivered at minimal cost and without needing an IT department is massive. When you're doing that, you're using a Linux desktop already, even if you're accessing it through Mac OS or Windows. All the code Google uses to deliver those productivity tools is running on Linux.

But once you're a Google Apps customer, it's a simple step to move to Chrome OS and use Chromebooks or Chromeboxes. Using Chrome OS eliminates the last reason for needing an IT department to deliver company or school infrastructure. There's no antivirus issue, no management of updates, hardly any need even to manage the devices.

As a consequence, the new Asus Chromebox seemed to be a runaway success the instant it was available on Amazon, and the fact that almost all serious hardware manufacturers now make a Chromebook of some sort supports the hypothesis that there is high demand. Chrome OS is Linux -- a minimal variety for sure, but it's the real thing. Adoption of Google Apps and the high demand for Chrome OS both point to the Linux desktop crossing the chasm.

The ascendance of Android maybe the most obvious sign of all. For a huge and rapidly increasing number of people, the computer they use for most activities is an Android-based smartphone or a tablet. Android is another special-purpose Linux, this time tuned to run a flexible set of Java classes on the Dalvik virtual machine. Besides snowballing global adoption in association with Google, Android is also behind a number of other devices, including Amazon's Kindle Fire and Nokia's new hybrid phone.

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