A Shift to Web Apps and 'Windows as a Runtime' Opens New OS Doors

However, a powerful pair of trends--driven almost as aggressively by Microsoft as by the rest of the industry--are working to expand the viability not only of Linux but of Mac OS X, Solaris and other platforms yet unknown or uninvented: a shift to Web-based applications and "WaaR," or Windows as a Runtime.

My review of OpenSUSE 11.2 rounds off another semiannual check-in with what I regard as the most important trio of desktop-oriented Linux operating systems: the aforementioned OpenSUSE, Ubuntu and Fedora.

If you're given to a philosophical mindset, you may have paused while flipping through these pages to ask yourself: "If an OS is released (in a forest or otherwise) and nobody is going to deploy it, who cares?"

Based on numbers culled mostly from Web server logs, these (in my words) prominent Linux distributions, combined with everything else out there that identifies itself as Linux, scarcely boast 1 percent market share.

Linux-based operating systems fare somewhat better at eWEEK.com than on the open Internet, but, even here, the platform's market share is low-about 4 percent, where it's hovered for the past handful of years.

Limited market share is no reason to ignore a platform altogether, particularly when the platform in question offers us an early look at technologies that will, in time, reach the mainstream.

For example, SUSE Linux was the first AMD64 OS available for testing, and, before hardware-accelerated interfaces appeared in Apple and Microsoft's OSes, I could download and run Sun's Looking Glass project on my Linux desktop.

What's more, the constellation of different Linux distributions out there forms a laboratory in which separate teams pursue their own solutions to common problems, and then rebase their efforts on the code that rises to the top.

For example, Red Hat's NetworkManager component grew from one solution among many to a common element that most Linux systems now share and that easily bests comparable Windows and OS X utilities in simplicity and capability.

I grant you, if an OS can't run your applications, then it doesn't matter how fantastical or cutting-edge that platform may be. As a result, you've been able to choose any OS you want, as long as it's been Microsoft's Windows.

However, a powerful pair of trends-driven almost as aggressively by Microsoft as by the rest of the industry-are working to expand the viability not only of Linux but of Mac OS X, Solaris and other platforms yet unknown or uninvented.

As you might guess, the first of these trends is a shift toward Web applications. Office 2010 is the first Office version that's stood a chance of scooping me up as a user since I adopted Linux as my primary desktop OS.

Certainly, the Web version of Office 2010 can handle a sliver of what the full client version can offer, but it's the right sliver for my modest word processing needs. In fact, since the Web is the way I prefer to consume my applications, the Web version of Word actually delivers more of what I need than the desktop version does.

The other trend is the rise of what I'm going to start calling WaaR: Windows as a Runtime. I've done the bulk of my Office 2010 testing so far in a Windows 7 VM running under VirtualBox on my Ubuntu notebook, and the experience has been a very good one.

And it's not just me. We're seeing a whole category of products, several of which eWEEK Labs' Cameron Sturdevant has reviewed recently, aimed directly at putting a Windows runtime on your shiny new Macintosh. And Microsoft's Windows 7 comes with its own WaaR solution: Windows XP Mode.

For businesses, WaaR and Web strategies can help ease the growing tension between IT departments striving for tighter lockdown and individual users calling out for more flexibility to get their work done on a combination of company- and self-owned machines.

Will this decoupling of apps from particular OSes trigger the dawn of the Year of the Linux Desktop? Who knows? The point is that now, more than ever, that choice is yours to make.

Executive Editor Jason Brooks can be reached at jbrooks@eweek.com.