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 OpenOffice.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.