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The Open Source Desktop Myth

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Will 2007 be the year of the Free Software desktop? David Chisnall's answer is "probably not, but who cares?" Microsoft won the desktop war; can Free Software win the next one?

According to an old saying, the military always fights the last war. In World War I, both sides were relying on tactics that were obsoleted by the invention of the machine gun. In World War II, the French didn’t factor in the development of the bomber. In Vietnam, the American military tried to apply blitzkrieg-like tactics to a guerilla war.

The Free Software community has a similar problem. Recent years have all begun with people asking, "Is this the year of the open source desktop?" (Or sometimes the Linux desktop if the journalist in question doesn’t actually know what Linux is.) The correct answer to this question is "who cares?"

Microsoft Won. Get Over It.

The war for the desktop PC is over. It was over in the ’90s. Microsoft won. Apple made a better desktop OS, and Microsoft gained the bigger market share. Currently, you can build a Free Software desktop PC that is better than Microsoft’s offering and has a smaller market share than Apple.

Producing a desktop PC that’s better than Apple’s is a difficult task for the Free Software community, but far from an impossible one. Producing one with a greater market share than Microsoft is much harder and probably not worth the effort.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter.

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