I have been watching and studying operating systems since 1981. They have always intrigued me. People that are close to me know not to ask me what is the "best" of anything, unless they have time for a long conversation.
In the early 2000s, Linux was largely a travesty, MacOS was a toy, and the only real mainstream operating system for the masses was Microsoft Windows. People cursed about Windows ME, but then came XP, which brought about a whole slew of new curses, but I would have to recognize XP as the first tour-de-force operating system for general use. MacOS, then at version 9.x, was a bear to get anything done with, and Linux was around Red Hat v. 5.2 (or such). It took a good deal of effort to get it installed, and the learning curve for desktop use was steep. The average computer user was not ready for the difficulty involved in using a free and open source operating system.
MacOS released OS X (borrowing a base of code from BSD), and this attracted a niche of people to the now viable operating system.
In the applications arena, Star Office was growing, but a considerable pain to use. Microsoft Office went from 97 to 2000 to XP and 2003 versions. These successive versions produced key applications that did not have equivalents on Mac or Linux variants. Access, a strong user oriented database system, and Publisher, a desktop-publishing system, were part of the Office Suite and made it difficult for those with a SOHO (small-office, home-office) to use anything other than Microsoft products. In the enterprise world, you throw in an Exchange Server, and paired with Outlook, you could do no wrong.
In the FOSS (free and open source software), Ximian was producing an email client which eventually became Evolution. The email client claimed to be inter-operable with Microsoft Exchange Server. In my experience, it did work, nicely. However, Linux was still plagued with installation and configuration issues. If you didn't do your research correctly, you would not even know that Ximian Evolution was an option to Microsoft Outlook.
Fast forward to 2007 - 2010. Microsoft Windows XP is now firmly entrenched as the operating system for the masses, paired with an Office Suite, you could do no wrong. However... things in the FOSS world were changing...rapidly.
OpenOffice.Org was now becoming a force. There were things (3D-Objects) that you could do in OpenOffice.Org that were just not available to Microsoft Office users. However, popularity was just not there. People did not know about OpenOffice, thus, the user-base was small, even though the documents and databases created with OpenOffice were interchangeable (with some formatting issues) with Microsoft Office products.
The differences in usability, capability and availability of Microsoft, Apple and Linux products has diminished to the point that I can only name one application that is not available on Linux. That is Microsoft Publisher, which few people use. However, Microsoft has the lion's share of the market due to familiarity. However, I feel this is waning.
Why I think Linux could be the operating system for the masses in the near future:
Many people are upset with Microsoft Windows 10 for a number of reasons. At the enterprise level, the size of the updates utilizes an incredible amount of resources to maintain the OS. At the human-being level....It's different and an update can cost you hours of downtime, especially if you follow to normal protocol of turning on your computer only when you need it. Windows 10 is an OS that should be rebooted, but never turned off.
MacOS only runs on Apple's proprietary hardware, rendering it an operating system for the elites, not the masses. It is a beautiful OS, but again, the entry-level cost is prohibitive for many people with a SOHO. Additionally, at the enterprise level, it is unmanageable.
In steps Linux. Enterprise-level manageability is available. The system is no cost. Significant office products are available, and consumer awareness is growing, not as much as I would like, but it is.
I firmly believe that Linux and it's varying distributions are poised for massive growth in the upcoming years. I would say that the environment is one of change and that in 5 years, you will see growth in the Linux Realm that has yet to be seen. Microsoft is hitting their plateau and needs to do some innovation to stay alive. Apple products remain and will continue to be cost-prohibitive to a large portion of people. Linux is a refined product. Package managers allow for a beautiful ease of installing software packages. The vast majority of software is free. Availability is at a click of a button. The Internet is giving rise to information bases that people tap into and learn about the operating system with ease. I can't imagine that Linux will not take a chunk out of the market share experienced by Microsoft, and to a lesser extent, Apple.
I owe a good deal of my knowledge base to my dealings with Linux. With it being a FOSS operating system, it allowed me to develop programming skills, networking skills, and many other low-level computing skills that I could not do with Microsoft or Apple because I was quite broke and could not afford development versions of their products. Linux has been my playground since 1995. I hope, it soon becomes yours.
Thanks for reading,
Jay C. Theriot