How Linux will benefit from the death of the PC

October 5, 2011

The death of the desktop PC, and soon the laptop, has been widely reported in the media recently. Tablets, phones and a myriad of other embedded devices will make the power of fixed computers unnecessary for all except the video editors and 3D renderers amongst us.

Alongside this, the phrase ‘Year of Linux on the Desktop’ has (thankfully) become enough of a cliché to be greeted with rolled eyes and groans. Clearly we won’t feel the need to chase it any more.

It may not therefore surprise you that the death of the desktop will be to Linux’s (and, by extension, computer users’) benefit. But it might not be in exactly the way you imagine.

On the Platform

Linux allowed Asus to create the first modern netbook, the eeePC in 2008. This not only provided a more efficient software platform than Windows in the form of Xandros Linux, it was inherently customisable by Asus themselves, so they could tweak the interface, prune excess software and settings, and create exactly the right drivers, and ship it like a mini internet appliance. As a nice side effect, the hackers of the world flocked to it to try out their own modifications, to see what it could do.

Android is an even more mobile platform, curated by Google and the Open Handset Alliance to give phone manufacturers ultimate freedom in customising it to their hardware. Of course there have been problems with this open architecture, surrounding the creation of apps which needed to adapt to different screen resolutions and processor speeds, and also the speeds of updates delivered by the phone companies. But these are problems to be ironed out, not barriers to adoption (as sales figures prove).

Android has found itself on tablets too, but as the eeePC and all the Linux netbooks after it showed, there’s no reason why Android should be the only mobile incarnation of Linux. Once manufacturers like Dell, who are starting to worry about the end of the PC business, begin to manufacture a wider variety of handsets, tablets, TVs, set-top boxes, consoles and other computing devices, then the flexibility of the core Linux software will be invaluable. Essential, even.


Once it becomes common practice that each device has its own version of Linux, then inter-system compatibility will become the next inevitability. A hifi controller which cannot talk to the hifi YOU choose to put in your living room is not a controller worth having.

We won’t accept a different proprietary network for music to that for video to that for photo sharing to that for… and so on. Your Linux devices will talk to each other, because open standards will finally be the only way to guarantee your gadgets talking to one another. You won’t be able to rely on a closed Apple-like ecosystem any more (or if you do, it’s Apple all the way, whether they deliver the quality or not). Interactions through the cloud, and APIs, will all help this.

Distribution Explosion

And for those more Linuxy geeks out there, this will create an explosion of distributions. In fact, this will continue until ‘distribution’ has become an irrelevant word. There will be as many distributions as devices, and unless you’re a hard-core keen hacker you may never need to download another ISO – the one that came in your device will be everything you need, and no more.

I know that last sentence can chill a hacker – but you hackers will need more, and will find a way to get it. That’s fine.

What we’ll see is more specialist distros like Splashtop OS, FreeNAS, DD-WRT firmware and, in a way, Android itself.

For everything else… irrelevance

In this world without walls, Windows will be unnecessary, and irrelevant. The OS that drives your mobile device needs to be light. Microsoft needs Windows to have more features, more functions, more $hine. Most of us have not needed this for a while. No one will need it in the future. Indeed, it will be a liability.

Get out of my way, OS, and let me at the apps.

Updates may happen over the air if necessary, or new features added by communities. The classic gadget consumers will have the mobile devices they need, doing the tasks they want. No more 4-yearly upgrade cycles; splashing out