Desktop takes back seat at Linux conference

Community leaders talked more about other market opportunities like mobile rather than dwelling on desktops

Leaders in the Linux community seemed resigned to the fact that Linux still hasn't made headway in the desktop market, but they made it clear on Monday that their success in other markets, such as mobile, is at least as important.

At the Linuxcon event in Portland, Oregon, panelists on one session that included Linux's founder, Linus Torvalds, seemed ambivalent when asked whether next year is finally the year for Linux on desktops.

"I don't know that it's important that everyone or some large percentage of the user population is using Linux as a desktop," said Ted Ts'o, chief technology officer for the Linux Foundation.

Bob Sutor, vice president for open source and Linux in IBM's software group, outlined what he sees as possible scenarios for desktop Linux in the years to come. One is that it just dies. "Or, we stop using desktops, so who cares," he said.

Apple and Microsoft each could end up with about a third of the market, with Linux getting the rest, plus or minus 32.9 percent, he joked.

"If the Linux desktop gets into the double digits across a broad range of people, it's probably time to claim victory," he said.

Rather than dwelling on the lack of success for Linux in desktops, though, leaders focused on other successes.

"Linux has incredible market share on the client, just not on the desktop," said Dirk Hohndel, chief technology officer of Intel's Open Source Technology Center. Routers, wireless access points and TiVo boxes all use Linux, he said.

"Linux is used every day by every person in the modern world," said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation. That's because popular Web sites such as Google and Facebook employ Linux, as do commonly used devices such as cable TV set-top boxes.

The leaders were particularly excited about progress in the mobile-phone market. Google's Android and Palm's Pre operating systems are built on Linux, and the LiMo Foundation supports a set of Linux technologies for mobile phones. Nokia uses Maemo, a platform based on Linux, for its mobile Internet devices.

In addition, the Linux community has high hopes for regaining lost ground in the netbook segment. Zemlin hinted at an announcement planned for later this week about new netbooks based on Moblin, a Linux-based operating-system project spearheaded by Intel.

That potential may be behind the satisfaction that Torvalds seems to have with the current state of the Linux kernel. He couldn't point to anything specific that he hopes to see in the kernel. "I don't have features I'm looking forward to that would be impossible due to the model and the way the kernel is organized," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's already done what I want it to be able to do for a long time."

He's also happy with improvements to the Linux development model, which has made his job easier merging new code into the kernel. Now, working on Linux is "an absolute pleasure," he said.

That doesn't mean he had no criticism, however. "We are not the streamlined, small, hyper-efficient kernel I envisioned 15 years ago," he said. "Our kernel is huge and bloated. Whenever we add a new feature, it only gets worse."

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