If you have watched the Linux community long enough, you know that every year is inevitably proclaimed to be the year where the Linux desktop will finally break through. Sadly, though, that has never happened. Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu developer Canonical, however, thinks that a major sea change is currently happening in the corporate world that could give Linux another chance. Ironically, what’s giving Linux on the desktop a new opportunity is the fact that the desktop itself is slowly becoming less relevant thanks to virtualization and the move towards productivity computing in the cloud.

As Shuttleworth notes, “Windows is optional, or at least it can be managed and delivered as a service to any other platform, so it no longer has to BE the platform on the client.” Microsoft’s “stranglehold of Windows on the platform itself seems to be coming unstuck.” He estimates that 10-20% of desktops will be able to migrate to Linux smoothly over a year or two.

Rightly, though, Shuttleworth also notes that the Linux world shouldn’t really think of Windows as a target anymore. “Being an effective replacement for Windows,” he writes, “is no guarantee of relevance in the future.” That, indeed, is very true, now that a majority of what we do with our computers involves the browser more than anything else. With ChromeOS, Google is effectively making a push for Linux in the corporate world, though it barely ever mentions the Linux underpinnings of its project. Then, of course, we’ve heard this story a few times too often before, so before you get too excited, remember that every one of the last 10 years was declared to be the “year of the Linux desktop” by at least one pundit.