Opinion: Linux on the Desktop
Desktop Linux (GNU/Linux, the entire ecosystem) has been suitable for non-geeks since
about 2004. It works well, looks good, has superior security and freedom
from malware, has thousands of applications covering almost every need,
and costs nothing. In spite of these advantages it has failed to win
more than a 2% share of end-user desktops. Why?
(Note that Linux is
the biggest player in the server space. Google and Amazon have over a
million Linux servers between them. Most of the world's web servers,
stock exchanges and scientific supercomputers use Linux.)
Here are the main reasons for low adoption by end users, IMO:
Fear of Change
People hate change. Linux is as easy to use as Windows, but
requires re-learning familiar habits. For most folks, this is both frightening and time-wasting.
+ many competing flavors of Linux with different user interfaces
+ several window managers with application compatibility issues
+ several incompatible application packaging formats and tools
+ library incompatibilities causing application program incompatibilities
+ package naming and content variance causing application dependency variance
+ library API changes requiring application program maintenance to keep up
Application developers must be willing to support many slightly
incompatible versions of Linux. "Build once, run anywhere" is not
possible. Attempts at standardization have gone nowhere. In
contrast, Microsoft provides a stable standard that both
developers and users can depend on. Backward compatibility is
carefully planned, and programs from a decade ago still run.
No major company with
clear staying power is making a desktop Linux system.
vendors are fearful of making Microsoft angry. They used to have
to sign exclusive contracts, but this was ruled illegal years ago. Now
they get license discounts and promotion funds from Microsoft, which
means that nothing has really changed and the monopoly power continues. This is the main reason you will never find a
Linux PC in a retail store. There are a few small online vendors of Linux
switching to Linux must convert custom applications and retrain
technical staff and users, a potentially huge cost. A few companies and
government organizations have actually done this.
applications vary from excellent to unusable. The latter give Linux a
bad name. Some developers seem to think that letting users find the
bugs is acceptable. Others stop work when the application is half
Free Software Culture
software advocates are in denial and are not facing the problems. One
often reads "having many choices is good" or "the Darwinian process will
select the best alternatives". This is also what they said 20 years
ago. The freedom of Linux is also its downfall. Developers
have little regard for standards that could constrain freedom or
innovation. There is no effective standards body. Every player runs his
own show. Linux movers and shakers do not worry about this. They are having fun.
The Way Forward?
the desktop has not been able to compete with Microsoft and Apple.
Google is about to enter the desktop market with a more capable
Android. Legacy Linux (GNU/Linux) will become more irrelevant and will
be abandoned by more developers. It is a shame that our only viable
options involve high costs, malware galore, and massive invasion of
privacy to better target advertising. Free software could have made
a difference, but lack of management and standards has ruined the
chance. The only solution would be to consolidate resources and
standardize. Sadly, there is no chance for this to happen.