November 19, 2002

Linux 'Desktop War' Claims First Corporate Victim

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -
Okay, I'm playing with your head today, but I expect to write that headline for real sometime in 2003. We're seeing an explosion in the number of Linux distributions meant specifically for desktop users, and not all of them are going to survive.

Last year Linux biggies like Red Hat and SuSE talked about how they were concentrating on enterprise-level servers instead of user-level desktops, and smaller/newer desktop entrants like Redmond Linux (now Lycoris) and a whole bunch of others didn't have products that were really ready for the market. Mandrake was the only mature desktop stalwart, and even Mandrake's people have been saying "server" a whole lot for the last year or so.

Now Red Hat and SuSE are gung-ho on desktop Linux again, Lycoris has a usable distribution out and selling, ELX (from Hyderabad, India) is coming along nicely, OEOne isn't exactly a distro but is selling a desktop and related services for Linux, Xandros is shipping its 1.0 version (and getting fine reviews), Mandrake's latest looks slick as all get out, and Lindows is being hyped louder than ever.

Suddenly there's even a Debian group thinking specifically about desktop users, not to mention Debian-based Libranet, which doesn't get a lot of publicity but keeps cranking along, improving as it goes.

Check for lots more distributions. They go from A (ALT Linux) to Y (Yellow Dog Linux). I don't even try to keep track of them all. There are too many of them for my overworked brain to handle. And anyone who says they've tried all existing Linux distributions is almost certainly lying; there is always another one they haven't heard of that is only available in Urdu or Basque or some other language that is only spoken in one country, or part of one country, that no one who doesn't speak that language knows about, not to mention all the niche distros designed for one special purpose or another.

But today, we're talking about "major" desktop distributions.

Can they all survive? Do we need all of them? Will one rise to the top and dominate the market? Will the Linux Standards Base make it possible for developers to write software that runs on all of them without a lot of fiddling?

I can't answer these questions. I mean, I could play Mr. Media Pundit here and tell you what is going to happen in the future in a fine microphone voice reeking with authority if I thought that would turn you on, but the reality is that I am not much better at predicting the future than anyone else. And, anyway, this is a Web site, not a talking-head TV show.

But I will make one flat prediction: At least one of the companies now struggling to capture a significant share of the desktop Linux market will either go out of business or stop emphasizing its user-level desktop offering by the end of 2003.

We have already seen one "major" desktop Linux casualty: Progeny. The company is alive and healthy, but has stopped selling "packaged" Linux in a crowded marketplace and has moved into other areas.

Any bets on which one will be next to leave -- or at least downplay -- the desktop Linux business? Today's poll asks that question. Please answer it. And if you have a few seconds to spare, please add the reason for your belief as a comment to that poll.

I'm sure a lot of people from the companies that produce commercial Linux desktop distributions will be interested in what you have to say -- and even if *they* aren't, I know *I* am!


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