Open source is winning where it counts, so where to next?

When Microsoft stated last year that they loved open source, the first thought that crossed my mind was that Free and Open Source Software had won the war, and that the rest would simply be a race to determine who would be left to carry the torch into the proprietary software sunset. The success of open source in the Internet environment cannot be understated:

  • Netcraft reports that by October 2011 64.67% of all top web servers across all domains are using Apache, as opposed to just over 15% of Microsoft server products.
  • Firefox and Chrome continue to make inroads into earlier IE’s dominance (granted, Chrome is not fully FOSS, but Chromium is).
  • Android’s usage statistics continue to grow at an amazing pace.
  • Moodle has overtaken proprietary competitors Blackboard and WebCT in the LMS market.
  • WordPress is used by 53.6% of all websites that use a content management system.

All of the above is proof that FOSS delivers stable, secure, quality software at minimum costs, so it is no surprise that both developers and IT managers everywhere are choosing it over proprietary software. But these monumental change is not felt by the public at large, as they still are hooked on proprietary operating systems in their computers and tablets (guilty as charged here). Linux’s failure to make a dent in the end-user desktop market has been the subject of endless articles, and the reasons given are legion. Lacklustre usability, laziness, lack of choice from vendors, predatory practices from Microsoft, lack of knowledge, you name it. Personally, I gave up on Linux in 2006 when I spent an entire Saturday trying to get the nVidia drivers for my Toshiba laptop to work, a process that included recompiling the kernel. When you need to go that deep into the inner workings of your operating system, something is seriously wrong, so I inserted the XP CD and never looked back. I hear Ubuntu is much better now, but by then I had move onto the giddy world of MacBooks.

I am guessing that I am not unique in my experience, which may help explain why the mainstream has continued to ignore Linux. But we know that the FOSS model works well in many other instances. So what’s next for open source? The answer is easy, just ignore the desktop and continue to concentrate on the enterprise server and web application environments. However, something else is happening that might still make FOSS a viable end-user experience.

Take a look at the OS statistics for September 2011:

OS Share %
Windows 86.59%
Mac 6.04%
iOS 3.27%
Java ME 1.11%
Linux 1.04%
Android 0.97%
Symbian 0.37%
BlackBerry 0.20%
Windows Mobile 0.02%
Playstation 0.02%
Samsung 0.01%
Bada 0.01%
BREW 0.01%
LG 0.01%

Despite all the talk of Microsoft’s demise, it is still the dominating OS by far, with Mac gaining some important market share. The interesting story here is not Linux’s depressing 1%, but the fact that mobile OS is clearly on the rise. In fact, not counting Java ME, Android is soon to become the largest open source operating system in the world, as it should easily overtake Linux within a year.

If FOSS is about to make the mainstream, it will probably take place in the mobile environment. The challenge will therefore be for the next generation of Android tablets to deliver. My guess is that if the Kindle Fire is as successful as many of us think it will be, the future is Android.

Comments 4

  1. Desktop Linux failed, in part, for exactly the same reason that mobile Android is succeeding: to a first approximation, nobody installs a wholly new OS on their equipment. Linux never really captured any real share of the OEM market (apart from the half-hearted efforts of early netbook manufacturers), and that was that. But when people buy a phone with Android already installed on it, that's fine.

    I've been, and remain, very happy using various forms of desktop Linux, but I'm always wary of advocating it for other people. While I doubt you'd still suffer the kernel woes you describe, desktop Linux is still not there for people who want it to Just Work – though it is perfectly usable if someone else has already done the tweaking and configuration first (which is what happens with preinstalled OEM copies of Windows).

    I'm not convinced, though, that the success of Android really represents a triumph for FOSS at a user level. Most of the benefits of Android's "freedom" seem to accrue to the manufacturers and networks – see the woeful situation regarding availability of OS updates. But hey, I'm probably just saying that to rationalise my getting an iPhone (don't tell RMS!)… 😉

  2. Ubuntu is totally unrecognisable these days from how it was in '06 – I'd recommend giving it another try. If it wasn't for games I would probably use it permanently – it makes web development a lot easier when you're working directly between two *nix machines (i wouldn't include OSX in that cos its terminal is rubbish), and pretty much everything else is just as good as any other OS.

    /obligatory pro-linux, give-it-another-go comment

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