iTnews rehashes the old refrain of ‘Why Linux won’t suc­ceed on the desktop’ art­icles.

These sorts of art­icles come out all the time, and they are always writ­ten by people who have not used Linux much and there­fore don’t under­stand how it works and how it is developed. The art­icle is not without mer­it, but it does dis­play many mis­un­der­stand­ings. Most telling are the omis­sions — the fact that the real strengths of Linux are ignored and the defi­cien­cies of Win­dows over­looked. It gives undue weight to pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware devel­op­ment and totally for­gets about the free altern­at­ives that are avail­able for Linux. And by ‘free’, I mean the prop­er ‘free as in free­dom’ defin­i­tion, not the tired-old ‘free­ware’ mis­con­cep­tion that the author makes. As for the antique ‘too many dis­tros’ argu­ment, people only need to use one, and some quick read­ing would eas­ily nar­row the choices down to a small hand­ful, if not one. I per­son­ally find the dif­fer­ent ‘dis­tros’ of Win­dows (includ­ing WINCE and so on) to be more confusing.

Most Linux people are very well versed in Win­dows, so they gen­er­ally know of which they speak. My exper­i­ence is that many Win­dows people expect everything to work exactly like Win­dows, and they com­plain whenev­er some­thing is even slightly dif­fer­ent, even if it is bet­ter. For some reas­on, they accept crash­ing, vir­uses and poor secur­ity as a fact of life, and so aren’t attrac­ted to Linux. In fact, it goes fur­ther than that: to most people, Win­dows is com­put­ing. Any­thing else is just heresy.

These crit­ic­al art­icles about Linux aren’t new, but they should not be ignored. Linux has many rough edges to smooth out, but then again so does Win­dows. At the end of the day, it often comes down to people being set in their ways and being afraid of the unfamiliar.

I’ve seen this hap­pen even with Microsoft products: Win­dows Live Mes­sen­ger, Inter­net Explorer 7, Office 2007 (Word, Excel, Power­point, but mys­ter­i­ously not con­sist­ently in Out­look) and Win­dows Vista have been widely cri­ti­cised for adopt­ing odd and incon­sist­ent inter­faces. The first three lack a basic menu bar (each using its own weird altern­at­ive), and Vista does­n’t have a Start but­ton (it’s a round circle with a Win­dows logo). It’s a tech sup­port night­mare. Yet des­pite the res­ist­ance, people force them­selves so that they even­tu­ally accept them. Some even grow to defend the changes. What pos­sessed people to behave in this way? Is it the mar­ket­ing, or even the cult of per­son­al­ity that Bill Gates has man­aged to build, as the art­icle pro­claims? We are now in a pos­i­tion where it is easi­er for an MS Office 2003 user to move to Open​Of​fice​.org than to Office 2007. Why aren’t we see­ing this hap­pen­ing more often?

Nev­er under­es­tim­ate the power of iner­tia and marketing.

The fact that Linux can prove to be such a great sys­tem des­pite its min­is­cule desktop mar­ket share and lack of resources com­pared to the pro­pri­et­ary world (which is much big­ger than just Microsoft) shows the strength of the free and open source soft­ware (FOSS) mod­el. One needs only to look at Mac OS X to see a desktop that is almost unques­tion­ably super­i­or to Win­dows in every way, thanks in part to its extens­ive use of FOSS.

Anoth­er thing to remem­ber is that the desktop com­put­ing mar­ket is but a tiny frac­tion of the over­all inform­a­tion and com­mu­nic­a­tions tech­no­logy sec­tor. Linux is quite pre­val­ent, and even dom­in­ant, almost every­where else [PDF]. In most of these mar­kets, Microsoft isn’t rep­res­en­ted at all.

By the way, the ‘year of the Linux desktop’ thing is not taken ser­i­ously by more estab­lished Linux users. The phrase is used mainly by journ­al­ists look­ing for atten­tion, or by more recent Linux users. For every­one else, it’s become more of a run­ning joke, much like Linus Tor­valds’ faux ambi­tion of ‘world dom­in­a­tion’.


Update:  Yet more reas­ons for why Linux is sup­posedly unsuit­able for the desktop.

Update 2:  Here’s anoth­er rebut­tal to these articles. 


LotD:  I failed basic chem­istry 

Will Linux succeed on the desktop? / Sridhar Dhanapalan by Sridhar Dhanapalan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.
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