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 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