Why Linux has come of age

Up until recently, the big-name PC brands have been decidedly reluctant to go with a Linux operating system on their mainstream desktops and notebooks. Dell with its option of Ubuntu on selected models is about as good as it got.

But with netbooks beginning to arrive in Australia and the US by the truckload, the brands have had to look at their costs and even Microsoft’s decision to keep Windows XP Home Edition around specifically for these devices hasn’t done the trick.

Enter various shades of Linux with Asus choosing Xandros, Acer getting cosy with Linpus and Dell sticking to its tried and trusted Ubuntu distro. The low cost, high stability and ease of use appears to have now reached the right levels for major brands to take a risk.

And that risk should pay off for both parties – Linux is gaining mainstream exposure in record numbers and the brands are getting netbooks onto the market with features and prices never before possible.

But for many consumers, this will be their first contact with the open-source operating system and with booming numbers, it opens up a new market for software vendors to deliver applications the operating system has lacked.

One reason why Linux has been relatively slow to gain traction is the lack of obvious big-name software. But it would only take someone like Adobe to launch Photoshop for Linux and you’d see the Linux market boom overnight.

But Linux allows software developers to go a step further and actually offer the user a complete software solution.

Over the last nine months, I’ve developed three Linux distros for Australian PC User magazine as part of the UserOS brand – UserOS ULTRA in the March 2008 issue, UserOS Extreme in the August issue and UserOS Home Server that has just gone on sale for this October 2008 edition.

Developing your own distro is no longer the “Mt. Everest” of software development and with Linux’s far more modular design, a software company can develop a specific Linux distro with relative ease. That means instead of simply offering a software package, developers could now offer complete computing software solutions from the ground-up.

Search giant Google has released its own browser in the form of Chrome but we know that Google also has its own internal operating system based on Linux it uses in-house. There has been much speculation as to why Google decided to release a web browser but it obviously gives Google better access to the user.

What are the odds that some time down the track Google will actually release its own Linux OS for general use? There’d be good reasons to do it. First, it would give Google ultimate control of a computer. Second, it would scare the pants off Microsoft. And third, it would enable millions more low-cost computers to enter the world off the back of a no-cost operating system and add to Google’s market share.

Now I’m not saying these are all good reasons but from Google’s point of view, there are good reasons to do it. Of course, there are the support issues to think about and that might be one reason why they baulk but given just how many software developers Google has on hand, it wouldn’t be an impossible task for them.

But regardless of which way you look at it, Linux as an operating system has arrived and as low-cost netbooks get sold in their millions, the message of Linux is being spread further and faster than ever before. And that can’t be a bad thing.

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