What is Ubuntu’s future plan if the desktop OS is dead?

According to Canonical’s Matt Assay,
“…[T]his shift from local bits to web bits derives in part from the market leaders’ inability to get excited about their desktop products anymore.”
First question that comes to mind is really? The COO of Ubuntu‘s Canonical argues that the desktop OS is virtually dead, replaced by “a new breed of “desktop” platform.” He contends that the big players that have our attention like Google and Facebook are increasingly OS agnostic, thus making the base OS more and more irrelevant.
Being part of the company that sponsors the most popular Linux distro out there, I am tempted to wonder what strategic plans Ubuntu has in place for the future Matt is predicting when the OS is irrelevant. The time when “the petty squabbles over Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux no longer resonate like they once did.”
If more than 85% of computers out there today are running Windows, and we all claim one of the biggest weaknesses of Windows is security, will Linux make any headway then when local applications also become extinct? Where we do everything on the “desktop platform” as Matt refers to it. 
What plans are being put in place to ensure that Ubuntu does not become irrelevant when the time comes when we are all in the proverbial cloud since almost all of the strengths of Ubuntu (Linux for that matter) that we tout today will be obliterated?
Are there future plans for more cloud oriented features and functionality in Ubuntu releases? I know there is Ubuntu One and other cloud based services currently available in the Ubuntu desktop offering, but are they enough to survive in the future Matt Assay predicts? 
The future may be Google or Facebook or even Twitter, but that could also mean the end of the relevance of the OS and for that matter Linux on the desktop.

One Reply to “What is Ubuntu’s future plan if the desktop OS is dead?”

  1. Interesting topic.

    Fact is, the desktop PC is totally overkill for the average user. If your day mainly consists of reading and writing emails, typing and printing documents and doing some spreadsheet work, you are probably using less than 5% of the resources on a modern desktop. Take an entire company with >100 employees this is a whole lot of wasted resources! Enter the elastic loud. Computing on demand, where you use exactly the right amount of resources for your task. Brilliant!. A further advantage is that your favorite apps are available on your home PC, your phone, your table PC and so on, and the data is always in sync. Awesome!

    There are two immediate issues as far as I see.

    a)Data

    The data may be locked to the cloud service making it virtually impossible to get the data out or migrate to a different service. This all depends on the facilities put in place by the service provider for users to extract their data. In many cases the provider will use this for the purposes of lock-in. At least, with proprietary file formats the data was always there, although possibly in an obscure binary form (which in practice would eventually be reverse-engineered). With the cloud, the user is in many cases left with only a view of the data, and not the data itself, potentially making extraction of the data extremely hard or even impossible.

    b) Updates

    As the application is running entirely on server side, changes and updates also happens on that side. This means that if you don't want the latest update (e.g. because it removes a feature that is vital to you) you can not choose "not to upgrade" (remember how Facebook thrashed our privacy settings without even a warning). Together with the difficulty of moving data this can put users in difficult and vulnerable situations.

    I think the answer may lie in distributed systems. I'm refering to the way the email system is working at the moment and what Diaspora is trying to achieve for social networks. This way I can store my own data and run my own apps, if I so wish, or go through a trusted provider of hosted services. Such a system (like email) will necessarily require open protocols to work, hence I can always get my data "out". However, around the open standard service providers can provide additional features (e.g. Gmail) and potentially charge users for the services or make profit through other means such as advertisement. This will be good for business and good for competition. (Remember the protocols are open, the software does not necessarily need to be).

    This is in my opinion a fair and sustainable model. It encourages competition and innovation while protecting the interests of the users. Although the platform is open, it gives third-party developers and start-up companies (large and small) a fair chance to build their businesses on it.

    To answer the original question; yes I think the cloud OS is going to replace the Desktop for the basic user (I'm not talking about power users). However, now more than ever is the right time for open source advocates to raise their voices and just maybe we can make sure that the systems that are being built today will protect the interests of the users and the business alike in the future.

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