But Not the Desktop You're Thinking Of

Posted on Jan 24, 2014

I originally posted this article 01/15/2011 at my old blog, but owing to Matt Asay’s post I am compelled to post it again here

Linux taking over “the desktop”

In the past 10 years I must have seen a hundred articles titled along the lines of “Will/Has/Could/Can Linux take over the desktop?”. This evening I saw another one somewhere, and it occurred to me what a weird question it is, because as far as I can tell, Linux had utterly demolished everything else in its segment at least 8 or 9 years ago.

There used to be these things called “Workstations” that cost a fucking fortune, were not advertised in any of the pop-computer magazines like Computer Shopper or PC World, and were used by everybody who was anybody in the computer business. PCs were toys; if you wanted to do any serious work your company shelled out serious coin to buy you a Sparc Station. Or perhaps you were a DEC shop, and your desk included a rip roaring DECstation running Ultrix. A really lucky bastard might have his own SGI Iris, while the poor sod at an IBM shop had to settle for an RS/6000.

The workstation business was gigantic, but you never saw ads for these things because nobody could possibly afford them; they were all sold at golf courses or in hotel rooms at trade shows. It was also an incredibly exotic business; comparison shopping amongst PC brands was like trying to decide between a toyota corolla and a honda accord. The workstations were as different from one another as a Porsche and a Ferrari. They chose you.

Anyhow here it is, 2011, and someone is still seriously writing a shitty blog post about whether Linux will some day conquer the desktop.

Are you high? Seriously, look up “Chapter 11” on wikipedia, without a doubt there’ll be a link to a page with a list of the myriad manufacturers of Unix workstations circa 1990, all of whom are as dead as doornails. SGI, DEC, Sun, Apollo, NeXT, Cray, TMC, they are g-g-g-g-gooooone. buried. And these dudes did not switch to Windows NT. Well some of them maybe.

Back then, you spent huge sums of dollars for incredible hardware that you could run some shitty Unix on. Now, you spend virtually nothing for some generic POS intel motherboard that runs a really kickass Unix that works with everything.

And you’re still lucky if the sound works and you can print.