Lately I have been thinking about the future of Linux. I must admit I feel somewhat pessimistic. I can imagine that five or more years ago things must have looked much brighter for Linux. Yet today we see more focus on devices like smart phones and tablets. Desktop computers are passing away, yet laptop computers are both popular and necessary in many instances. How does Linux fit into this changing world?
I'm not a Linux expert, just an interested Linux enthusiast, someone who uses Linux on all my computers. But even I can see rough waters ahead and some evidence that Linux will have great challenges down the road.
Perhaps the greatest danger to Linux is UEFI Secure Boot. Though Ubuntu, Fedora, and others are working out solutions, it looks like this threat has no easy solution, and even the ideas offered so far call into question the ability to multi-boot an operating system, and whether or not smaller Linux distributions may be left out of the equation. It seems Secure Boot is another obstacle in the way of Linux users, something to slow down its momentum.
In the screenshot at the top of this article is the donation request that is part of the download sequence on the Ubuntu home page. This in itself would not concern me if Ubuntu had not recently foisted Amazon ads into the Unity search lens, in essence invading your desktop with ads when you might simply be looking for a file on your computer. I understand the complaints about this feature has caused Ubuntu to allow it to be removed, but that, and the request for funds during download of Ubuntu makes one wonder about their financial stability.
All this brings me to the point of wondering what happens when companies like Canonical who make Ubuntu realize there is little to no money to be made from Linux. Will those in it for the money stick around? I find that unlikely. Can Linux survive on the donated time and funds of Linux enthusiasts? Will developers continue to donate time and effort toward their hobby?
I worry about the easy to use and install Ubuntu and Mint distributions of the world. I think Fedora will survive as long as Linux remains at all, for Red Hat is making money and Fedora is likely to survive because of it. Debian is needed for servers as well, and through donations and volunteers it will likely live on until Linux gives its final gasp. And there will always be the individuals who want their Linux a certain way and will work to make it so, then share their creation with the wider world. I don't think Linux will completely disappear in the foreseeable future, at the very least servers are likely to need Linux for a long while. My bigger concern is with the desktop computer user, in 3-5 years will they still have updated applications, reasonably bug free, usable desktop interfaces? Will they be able to easily install Linux on their computers?
My gut feeling is that Linux needs to get into bed with hardware makers as fast as they can. Linux pre-installed on computer hardware is a match made in heaven. No searching for drivers, no scratching your head wondering how to get it onto the machine, no worry about Secure Boot blocking the way. If Linux on the desktop will both survive and thrive it needs hardware vendors.
Linux fans will pay for their beloved software, will support its developers, but the reality is that people put up with much from Linux because it is free. The old song you get when you complain about bugs that aren't fixed or software that breaks when you update it will not fly once money leaves the pocket, so if those like Ubuntu want money, they must up their game, the breakage from updates and endless bugs that aren't fixed need to start going away. Make your Linux better, fix it faster, offer real support, and by all means--ask for money.
I'm not a Linux prophet. I will not claim to have a crystal ball showing me the future of Linux. Yet like one crying in the wilderness I will admit to growing concerns. I don't worry about the near future, but I think there must be some changes for down the road. We need hardware fast. We need better, faster bug fixes. We need to throttle updates that hold the potential to break users systems. Let's just focus on security updates on production systems and for those skittish about Linux in the first place, that's what I've been doing with Ubuntu recently. I won't put Ubuntu on anyone's system with full updates enabled, only security updates. It's too much to ask that Linux enthusiasts become the new tech guy/gal for everyone they encourage to use Linux.
The glass half-full guy in me wants to be optimistic about Linux. I love Debian, though it's a pain to install sometimes, I know that once it is installed it's hard to break. I see promising new distros like Ikey Dougherty's SolusOS, like Fuduntu, the little Red Hat fork that could, like Snowlinux bringing Debian to a new audience. I see the Mepis community, very nice and helpful folks. I see guys over at Mint with a passion for Linux. I see KDE fans, and Xfce fans, and fans of little LXDE who get excited about their Linux desktops. Perhaps the thing that keeps Linux alive, and will keep it going into the distant future are those with the enthusiasm to see beyond the quirks, irritations, frustrations, and momentary setbacks that come with this unique operating system.
I think there is hope for the future of Linux despite my concerns and some worrying signs. I still have my glass half-full at this point regarding Linux. What about you? What do you think the future holds for Linux? Please sound off in the comment section below.