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Chromebooks rising, SteamOS stalling, Linux's civil war: The World Beyond Windows' 10 biggest stories of the year

Chris Hoffman | Dec. 23, 2014
This wasn't the pined-for year of the Linux desktop, but 2014 was still huge for the anything-but-Windows PC universe.

Chrome OS becomes more capable

Chrome OS made some huge strides in software support in 2014. Chief among them was gaining an official version of Photoshop provided by Adobe. This is currently offered only to education customers, though.

Microsoft added its Office Online apps to the Chrome Web Store back in April. Sure, they're just fancy shortcuts to the Office Online website, but this is a meaningful gesture from the company that recently argued Chromebooks weren't real computers because they didn't have Office. Could an offline version of Office Online be far behind?

In other Microsoft news, it's bringing Skype to the web with WebRTC, which makes voice and video chat native to your web browser — no plugins required. Once that happens, Skype should work just fine with Chromebooks.

Windows 10's aping of Linux

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Microsoft has nothing but good things to say about Linux. Windows 10 is abandoning many of the more jarring changes of Windows 8 — while simultaneously copying features from Linux.

Windows 10 includes virtual desktops, a centralized notification center, and a vision of apps that can run in windows when you're using a proper PC, or full-screen when you're using a mobile device. It's a smattering of ideas from 15-year-old Linux desktops, GNOME Shell, and Ubuntu's vision of convergence.

In fact, a vast number of Linux features I thought Windows should copy have already appeared in Windows 10. Windows 10's app store will include desktop apps, and there's already a Linux-style package manager named OneGet. The new Windows Snap Assist feature introduces something akin to Linux's tiling window management, too.

Microsoft's love affair with Linux

"Microsoft heart Linux." That's what it said on a slide behind Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella as he talked up Microsoft's love for Linux back in October. Microsoft wants to host all the Linux servers it can on its Azure cloud service. The company also wants Linux server applications to be written in .NET — hence the open-sourcing of the server bits of .NET late in the year.

Microsoft sure has come a long way from the "Linux is a cancer" and "open-source software is un-American" days under Steve Ballmer.

But Microsoft's love for Linux isn't unconditional. It loves Linux on the server, but don't expect Office or any other Microsoft software for Linux any time soon. Nor will it open-source the parts of .NET necessary for porting graphical applications to the Linux desktop. And Microsoft's still shaking down Android, Chrome OS, and other Linux-based device makers as they argue Linux is violating its patents.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.


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