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What happened to Linux?

Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical, the publisher of Ubuntu, has given up on the idea that Linux (which Ubuntu is based on) will ever supplant Windows, saying that if any OS will be the next big thing it's Apple's iOS or Google's Android (opens in new tab).

While there remains talks of an Ubuntu Phone OS (opens in new tab), it may be too little too late.

So what happened?

Lots happened and none of it good. Linux never got past serious server room usage because it was never marketed to be more than a gimmick – an alternative for cheapskates.

I still keep a machine loaded with the latest Ubuntu and have always believed that it was a smart idea to outfit a large corporation with Linux-based PCs and free software. It would save a lot of money, perhaps millions of dollars, and would protect the employees and the company from all the malware written to attack Windows while being just as efficient.

I don't believe that anyone in the Linux community has ever spent a dime selling that idea, or any other idea for that matter. This was probably the worst example of the ridiculous concept that "if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door." That's never worked except in a market where there is no competition and people desperately need a mousetrap.

Plus, it was always going to be difficult for Linux to supplant an OS like Windows that generally added only about $40 (£25) to the cost of a PC anyway.

It all boils down to the marketing. The Open Source community, as a whole, doesn't believe in the idea that sales and marketing is actually important. All that ever passed for marketing with that bunch was the gimmicky but cute "Tux" the Linux penguin.

Most important, Linux could never shed the early image of being an old DOS-like operating system with a command line structure. A variety of cool GUI interfaces were long available for the last decade or more, exemplified by Ubuntu. I hardly ever used any command line routines on my Linux box.

So what comes next? We can look ahead to the decidedly inferior iOS and Android operating systems that are better suited for the phone and tablet taking a step to the desktop screen. Or there's Google's Chrome OS, which is worse because of its dependence on the cloud for everything it does.

I've always urged Google to go after the Windows monopoly by putting some serious resources into a genuine disk-based OS, but Google is all-in when it comes to the cloud. And why not? It probably controls most computers in the cloud already.

I have never been all-in with the cloud. I want my processing power to be local, preferably right in front of me. People were trying to get away from central control for decades when the first personal computers appeared in 1975. These were wimp machines by today's standards and off-board storage was a cassette deck. Now we have incredible processing power and you can get a new 4 Terabyte hard disk for £130. Yet people are returning to the big mamma in the sky, accepting a client-server relationship that was a consistent flop decades ago. That is, until the Internet began to dumb down the majority of users.

With Linux never catching on and the rise of the cloud-centric operating systems alongside the weak phone/tablet OS taking over, everyone is back where they started: Pre-1975. Centralised control wins out. I guess that is what the public wanted all along and the "personal" computer movement was actually a fad. Who would’ve guessed…