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You'll get sick of that iPad. And guess who'll be waiting? Big daddy Linux...

It's a post-post-post PC world

After such a banner year of Linux releases it might seem overly pessimistic to pause and ask this question: is there a future beyond this?

The answer is, of course, "yes" – or rather it's yes, but... The qualifying "but" can take many forms, depending on who you talk to and what their stake is in the game.

Even if you take the most optimistic outlook for the future of the Linux desktop, to what end do all these distros continue turning out all these great releases year after year? Are we waiting for the day when there are no more laptops or desktops left?

In this sense, the question of what the future looks like for the desktop Linux distro is closely tied to the look of the future of general-purpose computing. In your correspondent's opinion, that future looks increasingly like one that will exist primarily on mobile devices.

The future is mobile

The much-hyped mobile future may not feel that promising or real to those who grew up with TRS-80s in the den and will always think of computers as something you can hack on, something you control, but for the other 99.99 per cent of computer users, mobile devices are in fact exactly what they want for the very same reason: they never wanted to tinker with that massive, ugly contraption like that TRS-80 sitting in the den in the first place.

The tightly controlled, rarely compromised world of app stores and mobile contracts is not limiting if that's all you wanted in the first place. It may not be the best way to debug your company's failing mail server, but mobile devices are great for getting you search results, Facebook updates and simple ways to share photos with friends.

Couple that with the reality that the next two billion people who will be connecting to the internet will be in areas where factors like price, battery life and portability make the mobile device a clear winner. The exact form of that device will change over time, but right now the phone form factor seems to be winning.

Ubiquitous Ubuntu

Given Linux's long history of outstanding support for underpowered hardware, mobile devices could end up being the best place for Linux yet. Unfortunately, so far the gap between: "Yes! Mobile Linux will be awesome!" and an actual mobile version of Linux that runs on devices that actually sell in stores is, well, insurmountable.

The most visible face of Linux in mobile and, let's face it, the most likely to succeed beyond the small circle of the Linux faithful, is undoubtedly Canonical.

The company has been hard at work on Ubuntu for phones for some time. In fact, there has been, for the latter half of 2014 anyway, little to Ubuntu other than mobile.

As Canonical's vice president of professional and engineering services Jon Melamut tells The Register: "Ubuntu for phones has been a major focus for Canonical, and we’re now in a position to bring devices to market."

Indeed it looks like we'll see the first official Ubuntu phones in the very near future.

Exciting as that is for those who've been waiting for the power of Linux to make its way to your hand, it's really only a halfway step to Canonical's vision of "true device convergence".

It's still a ways off, but Melamut reckons Ubuntu for phones and Ubuntu desktop will "ultimately… converge into a single, full operating system that will work across different form factors from mobile to tablet and PC."

Interestingly, while many of the other big players initially scoffed at the idea of one OS to rule all your devices, that now seems to be exactly what Microsoft and Apple are now moving toward as well, albeit in very different ways.

Ubuntu may be pushing hard to get a slice of the mobile pie, but that doesn't mean every distro is likewise inclined. In fact, chasing mobile might be missing perhaps the biggest opportunity desktop Linux has ever had for widespread adoption. The masses may be swapping their ageing Windows XP desktops for tablets, but the so-called "power users" are unlikely to do that now and won't be likely to do it in the future either.


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