The year of the enterprise Linux desktop

...will never happen more than once at a company.

I say this knowing that chunks of Germany's civil infrastructure managed to standardize on SuSE desktops, and some may still be using SuSE. Some might view this as proof it can be done, I say that Linux desktops not spreading beyond this example is proof of why it didn't happen. The biggest reason we have the German example is because the decision was top down. Government decision making is different than corporate decision making, which is why we're not going to see the same thing happen, a Linux desktop (actually laptop) mandate from on high, more than few times; especially in the tech industry.

it all comes down to management and why Linux laptop users are using Linux in the first place.

You see, corporate laptops (hereafter referred to as "endpoints" to match management lingo) have certain constraints placed upon them when small companies become big companies:

  • You need some form of anti-virus and anti-malware scanning, by policy
  • You need something like either a VPN or other Zero Trust ability to do "device attestation", proving the device (endpoint) is authentic and not a hacker using stolen credentials from a person
  • You need to comply with the vulnerability management process, which means some ability to scan software versions on and endpoint and report up to a dashboard.
  • The previous three points strongly imply an ability to push software to endpoints

Windows has been able to do all four points since the 1990s. Apple came somewhat later, but this is what JAMF is for.

Then there is Linux. It is technically possible to do all of the above. Some tools, like osquery, were built for Linux first because the intended use was on servers. However, there is a big problem with Linux users. Get 10 Linux users in a room, and you're quite likely to get 10 different combination of display manager (xorg or wayland), window manager (gnome, kde, i3, others), and OS package manager. You need to either support heterogeneity or commit to building the Enterprise Linux that has one from each category and forbid others. Enterprise Linux is what the German example did.

Which is when the Linux users revolt, because banning their tiling window manager in favor of Xorg/Gnome ruins their flow -- and similar complaints. The Windows and Apple users forced onto Linux will grumble about their flow changing and why all their favorite apps can't be used, but at least it'll be uniform. If you support all three, you'll get the same 5% Linux users but the self-selected cranky ones who can't use the Linux they actually want. Most of that 5% will "settle" for another Linux before using Windows or Apple, but it's not the same.

And 5% Linux users puts supportability of the platform below the concentration needed to support that platform well. Companies like Alphabet are big enough the 5%  is big enough to make a supportable population. For smaller companies like Atlassian, perhaps not. Which puts Enterprise Linux in that twilight state between outright banned and just barely supported so long as you can tolerate all the jank.