For years past Unix-like operating systems (GNU/Linux, the BSDs, etc.) were successfully used as workstations and servers. At some point, however, a community of keen observers noticed the potential for growth in new directions. Although GNU (in a general sense) + Linux (kernel) = chaos, it also means that GNU + Linux is an ever-shifting landscape and that it can be anything. Ranging from a tightly-secured supercomputer mainframe to a lean and mean hacker’s haven or even a desktop operating system for the masses. In modern times access to computers big and small, fast and moderately speedy is so prevalent that the niche for an additional operating system is definitely there! Especially, considering Microsoft’s mishaps in recent years. Therefore, I decided to look at how the GNU/Linux ecosystem has changed and perhaps make some predictions for the future.
Ubuntu was, is and probably will be on top of the GNU/Linux tide for years to come. Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) knows how to make use of their product and the growing prevalence of GNU/Linux on personal computers. Important to highlight, when people think Linux, they mean Ubuntu. For the majority of everyday computer users Ubuntu defines GNU/Linux. Fortunately, the overall image of GNU/Linux has improved over the past years. I remember how in high school people would consider GNU/Linux to be some sort of niche hackers’ operating system with a pretentiously bizarre name. Nowadays, there is more respect and consideration – partially thanks to Ubuntu.
Apart from Ubuntu, people recognize the names Red Hat and SUSE. They are not as overly popular as Ubuntu, but they have earned quite some esteem in the enterprise sector. SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) were offered as alternative operating systems for the HP Compaq series of office desktop computers. Both distributions gave birth to successful community projects – Fedora (Core) and openSUSE.
With the global changes on the electronics market and the increasing openness of hardware vendors, I believe Unix-like operating systems are the future of computing. Financial backing from Red Hat, Canonical, SUSE and many other companies provides jobs for skilled developers and creates a significant presence on the computing market. In addition, Unix makes for a very flexible, stable and secure all-purpose platform. However, what in my opinion matters the most is community. Much more can be achieved when customers are willing to improve their favorite operating system by providing feedback, filing bug reports, helping each other, etc.
Finally, I recently took a look at the hardware components of various laptops and notebooks offered at a local retailer and most of them have a low-powered Intel or AMD processor coupled with an integrated Intel or Radeon iGPU. Seems the majority of complaints regarding hardware compatibility of GNU/Linux is no longer valid and as long as one ascertains that the piece of hardware does not bear any known quirks, any laptop will do.