Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Desktop Predictions for 2007-2008

This has been stewing in my mind for awhile, and now the picture has crystallised. Here's what I predict will happen in the desktop market over the next two years:

1. Apple will license Mac OS X to OEMs this year (2007) while Vista sales are still sluggish.
2. Mac OS X sales will surge wildly and end up accounting for up to 25% of all new PC shipments by the end of 2007.
3. Emboldened by Apple's success, Sun will push GNU/OpenSolaris to corporations in 2008. The system will probably be called "The Liberty Desktop".
4. Linux will be seen as "ready for the desktop" once desktop diversity becomes the norm. Linux will dominate the low-cost desktop segment thereafter.

I don't believe Apple's management is living under a rock. I'm sure Steve Jobs is planning his next big smug announcement already. It'll be the news event of the year, but you read it here first. After years of tight control of its OS, Apple will finally realise the Zen paradox of gaining by letting go.

After all, if pre-installed Linux is top of the wish list for Dell's customers, what do you think the demand for pre-installed Mac OS X will be, once customers realise that's a real possibility? Midnight queues for Mac OS X will beat those seen for Windows 95, mark my words.

This is Apple's big chance. Windows as a desktop platform has plateaued in features, and Vista relies more on momentum and lack of alternatives than any compelling reasons to upgrade. There is a vacuum here, a hunger, a latent demand for something different and good. The OEMs know it too, and have been pushing Apple for this for years. Well, this year, they may actually get it. (If Apple is smart, the OEM price won't exceed $50. You need to seed the market, guys).

Once Mac OS X for PCs hits the shelves, the resulting media noise will drown out all other events for the year, including significant ones like the GPL releases of Java and OpenSolaris, the release of the next generation of Linux distributions (with Ubuntu-Linspire's upgrade advances) and further decreases in the price of hardware. But make no mistake about it, these events will impact the desktop market in 2008.

Sun is not sitting idly by. CEO Jonathan Schwartz has exceeded my personal expectations and is proving to be far more savvy than his predecessor, Scott "dinosaur" McNealy. I'm sure he sees the potential for Sun's resurgence, and Apple will open some doors for Sun.

You see, although Apple will take the consumer desktop market by storm in 2007 with freely licensed Mac OS X, the corporate market is deeply suspicious of Apple. Apple does not have a great reputation for reliability as a corporate supplier, having proved too fickle in the past and left enterprise customers in the lurch. The Apple desktop revolution will stop at the gates of the enterprise.

That's when I predict Sun will make its move. It will also coincide with the technical maturing of GNU/OpenSolaris as a desktop OS. Watch for Sun to exploit its links with Java, thin clients, SmartCard technology and the Liberty identity management system to push a compelling, low unit cost desktop solution to enterprises. GNU/OpenSolaris will ironically be running on virtualised servers, but visible to users through low-cost thin clients. SmartCards will provide roaming capability (among other things) and Liberty will provide a federated identity system. In my professional opinion, such a system would be architecturally elegant and also easy to justify from an infrastructure investment point of view. Compared to the hardware upgrades required to roll out Vista, this would be a far cheaper option.

For Sun, this solution would really be the Java Desktop System 2.0, but something tells me that "The Liberty Desktop" would go down better. I think the whiz kids in Marketing will finally call it that.

What does all this mean for our own dear Linux? (It's our own because we all own it, silly, even if you don't believe it. Think inclusive ownership.) Will the long-awaited Year of the Linux Desktop pass it by for a bunch of Johnny-come-latelies?

I believe Linux as a desktop OS has been asymptotically approaching readiness for years now, and its capability gaps have all but vanished. At this level of granularity, there are already market segments for which desktop Linux is a perfectly serious option. The major factor holding back mainstream Linux adoption is psychological. Nobody uses Linux on their desktop because nobody else does (Geeks don't count).

But when your PC salesman begins to ask you which OS you'd like with your new PC (Windows or Mac OS X), and you see the price of the OS as a separate line item on your bill, and compare that to the cost of the various hardware components, that's when you would start to ask about cheaper alternatives. The friendlier salesmen would point you in Linux's direction, even if their employers don't offer support for it.

And that's where I believe Linux will find its sweet spot -- the price-sensitive low end of the desktop market. That is also the volume market, so after 2008, the desktop market will have four major players:

  1. Windows (still dominant in terms of installed base, but perceptibly losing share)
  2. Mac OS X (the media darling with 25% market share of new shipments and the "coolest" OS to own)
  3. GNU/OpenSolaris (whatever it's actually called, making strong inroads into corporates)
  4. Linux (at the low end, steadily growing, and as always, with adoption impossible to estimate because it's all under the radar)
Diversity, I salute you.


Jeff said...

I like!

Wawrzyniec NiewodniczaƄski said...

Apple on Dell - nice joke. Apple don't need to make MacOSX. Read this artice: Apple can win without OEM.

Anonymous said...

Nice (and sound) analysis. Also plausible, I agree.

But... these scenarios have been played by the big ones for some time. I'd guess M$ Office is the key to avoiding all this.

Apple is viable as long as it has M$ Office; if Mac OS X starts to "annoy", M$ can simply pull the plug and Apple would have to rely on (which, btw, is excellent, I use it everyday).

Apple has a solution of their own (I'm in the dark here, is it called Pager?); I hope people believe in Mac OS X' desktop enough so that not having Office is bearable.

Branislav said...

Nonsense my dear fellow, Apple will never release OSX on PC. Sad but true. Who is going to buy their overpriced computers then? They would have to quit being a hardware company and become a software company and that is highly unlikely since they are doing so well selling hardware.

DCPerspective said...

Nope- I disagree.

The biggest wildcard out there is Novell. Novell is farther along in the OEM game than anybody else out there. When HP, Dell, and the other OEMs face up to the fact that they can no longer place all their sales in Microsofts hands they will turn to someone that has the ability and capability to support a desktop for the coporate world. Sled does this, and note that the support that comes from Novell on Sled does not tie itself to hardware. IE OEMs can sell pc's with SLED and simply hand support directly to Novell.

Iknow- the "community" does not like Novell at this point. In the long run it does not matter- what does matter is who the OEMs are comfortable with on the corporate side of the coin.

Uno said...

I agree Apple will probably increase their market share, but I really can't see why they would OEM MacOS-X. Apple make their money selling boxes, and their "it just works" reputation is dependent on their control of the hardware platform.

OpenSolaris is nowhere near being ready for the desktop, and Solaris 11, if released, probably wont make it either. Sun has a long tradition of making wonderful inventions that nobody uses because of awkward or not working user interfaces. That is a showstopper for desktop adoptation.

Linux would benfit from Apple increasing their market share, but I doubt Apple will be strong enough to get more than at best 10% and that will not be enough to make people believe that they actually have a choice when it comes to OS.
Besides Linux lacks too many commersial apps that people are used to, and people will not be inclined to relearn their current skills as they would have to do if they switched to Linux equivalents. To make that happen the Linux equivalents must be significantly better than what people already know, and currently they are not.

If Linux succeeds on the desktop or not is all about applications, and companies like Adobe will not port their Apps to Linux until some Linux distro have at least 5% of the market and comes preloaded when you buy your PC. The problem is that nobody in their right mind will preload Linux on their boxes if there are no commercial apps.

Other than that, I agree Linux is ready for the desktop. It works well, it is usable, and it even have eye candy that is better than that of Vista and MacOS-X, but I doubt that will help.

Ravishankar Haranath said...


Vi said...

Well all you say about linux and its desktop readiness is true. Except the dates. Instead of "now" it should be in 2-3 years and instead of 2007-2008 it should be 2010-2011. By then linux might be ready for the desktop. I don't see any "Psychological" reasons for not switching to linux. Linux is not physically ready yet. It is getting there though - it should be ready by 2010.

GregF said...

Diversity provides gains in other areas as well. I often think the reason there are no viable Linux viruses is the proliferation of distributions, each with its own set of vulnerabilities. Think what would happen if there were all the Linux distributions accompanied by all the UNIX variants and then, of course, by the different versions of Windows. A very different security landscape from today -- and to everyone's benefit! Everyone, even Windows users, benefits from diversity.

Ganesh Prasad said...

To DCPerspective: It doesn't matter how mature Novell is from an OEM relations perspective. If consumer demand is for Mac OS X, then that's what the OEMs will fall over each other to offer.

To Wawrzyniec, Branislav and Uno: Apple will "never" OEM Mac OS X? Hmmm, never say never. Who knows, Apple's recent change of hardware architecture from PowerPC to Intel may have been highly strategic, clearing the decks for this move. We'll wait and see. I think Apple has grown out of being just a hardware company. And speaking of hardware revenues, they're not dependent on just Macs anymore. There's iPod, for example, and whatever else comes down the pipeline. Plus Microsoft (and Oracle?) has shown that one can be a software company and still make huge profits. If opening up Mac OS X to the PC OEM market can take them from 2% market share to 25%, I think they'd leap at the opportunity.

To vi: I can't argue dates with you. It's a matter of perception. As I said, the market is granular enough to have segments for whom Linux is already ready. Of course, there are others for whom it still isn't. It may take up to 2011 to be ready for all these segments, but Linux adoption doesn't have to be a big bang event. The market can be won segment by segment.