Many linux enthusiasts love the fact that they have so many options to choose from when it comes to distributions.
Sadly, they might have a false sense of confidence in thinking they will always have a robust ecosystem. In reality, the writing could be on the wall. It could be said that the pool of high quality, mature, deeply supported linux distributions will only get smaller and more shallow in the years to come.
Let’s look at a brief scan of the landscape.
Ubuntu is more focused on the cloud more than ever. Ever since it has dropped Unity and Ubuntu Touch (https://www.eweek.com/enterprise-apps/canonical-ends-ubuntu-unity-linux-desktop-in-favor-of-gnome/), it has focused cloud enterprise. Since then, not much of innovation has happened forthe average desktop user (and no, normalizing Gnome doesn’t count for innovation).
Fedora will always be this half-rolling test bed for Red Hat. Despite the great strides made in revamping installers or easily enabling third party non-free repos, a huge sub-segment of linux users can’t get with the 6 month release schedule let alone its proclivity in pushing things before they are officially ready.
This leaves us w/ Open/Suse, perhaps our greatest hope for traditional desktop experience on linux.
Yet, the ground beneath Suse is forever changing. Isn’t about time it goes up for sale and bought out again? Oh, but that shouldn’t impact OpenSuse since it is an independent community, right?
Yes, but just as Ubuntu is spending less and less time on Desktop, we can very well see OpenSuse thin out in terms of its focus on its desktop experience polish as well with the introduction of ALP (Adaptive Linux Platform). This is set to replace Suse Linux Enterprise. We are told it will serve as a kind of “host OS, and the and the layer providing and supporting applications, which will be container (and VM) based" (SUSE Software Solutions - News Detail).
This smells like they are entering the Immutable file system space (like Silverblue) which, in many respects, doesn’t give traditional linux users the kind of control they are use to in working with their systems…at least, not with some technical wrangling with layering.
Are we really to think the direction of Suse’s new “true north” will have zero impact on OpenSuse? Does the OpenSuse leadership have the organizational talent, time, and tenacity to lead in this uncertain future (esp. with Richard Brown no longer President)?
Time will tell. But what about the indy/community based distros?
We don’t have to look far to see how many come and go. To be honest, it is a wonder how recent founders still do not learn from previous examples to keep history from repeating itself. Some of the rising stars have imploded as fast as it rose to greatness. The biggest example? Elementary OS.
A once shining gem is barely shining with rumors of recent financial woes and a leadership split. MX Linux will rock along. They have an incredible model and might be the anchor that holds it down for many who feel they have nowhere else to go. It is probably the reason why they are so successful (aside from the distrowatch bot! Waka waka!). No, but seriously. Its only draw back isn’t really a draw back. Its faithfulness to its base (who don’t mind dated looks and curated default apps that have very dated ux design ) will turn a lot of people off who can’t look past not having a modern feel.
Linux Mint may or may not be around - unless Cleb has a solid succession plan which, if what we hear of his “leadership style” is half correct, is probably unlikely.
You might think, well, Caleb is going to be around for a long time, what are you talking about?”
Ask the Peppermint OS community how fast things can change.
If all this plays out - we will be looking at a very anemic linux distro landscape in the next 5 to 7 years…meanwhile, close source proprietary companies big and small will leap frog us (yet again) in the areas where most NEW users are getting a NEW introduction to “personal computing” which is the tablet and VR/AR space. More on this at another time…
What will this all mean?
Nothing much, actually.
You will always have the major players, but maybe just a shell of its creative energy and technical chutzpah. But that is kinda my point. It doesn’t have to be a “sudden end” to Desktop Linux to make it tragic. Maybe the narrative is the once forward thinking and radical community who had to courage to see where things are going and say “We can do it better” is dozing off at the wheel because it loved “how it is and one was”.
Of course, Desktop Linux will never go away…but maybe it finds its demise by thousands of paper-cuts over a long period of time? So while we will always have a linux desktop landscape for years to come - it might be a slow and silent crumbling that no one hears. And to me, that would be just as tragic.