I often quote Marc Andreessen‘s 1995 comment that Netscape would reduce Windows to a “poorly debugged set of device drivers” when talking about Linux on the desktop—namely, that with applications increasingly moving to the web, it matters less whether Windows is on your desktop, because all you need to run your apps is a browser. The assumption here is if you no longer need Windows to run your apps, you’d run Linux, either because of the freedom of choice it gives you, or simply because it doesn’t cost $200 (take your pick there).
Of course, there’s a flip side to this: if the operating system is just a set of device drivers, wouldn’t you want the most extensive set? As far as Linux on the desktop has come in the past few years, it still lags Windows significantly in plug-and-play value. For example, during my recent trip to Moscow, my Windows-running colleagues hopped onto wireless networks with impunity, both at the hotel and even sitting in taxis in the infamous Moscow traffic. While they were clicking on nice little balloons saying “wireless network detected”, I was learning more than I ever wanted to know about iwconfig, cursing all the while. And it’s not just wifi. My laptop only successfully suspends about the half the time. For whatever reason, the 3D acceleration on my laptop doesn’t work with the latest eye candy. And so on..
Me, I actually prefer the Linux desktop over Windows. But now, with all the improvements in virtualization over the past few years, I can still use the Linux desktop as my primary UI and have access to the most extensive set of device drivers. For the cheapskates among us, cost really isn’t an issue either—VMware Player and VMware Server are now available for free, and who doesn’t have at least five Windows licenses sitting around that they aren’t using? Besides, who wouldn’t pay a measly $200 to get Linux perfectly working with their laptop hardware?
Food for thought. Let the flames begin..