2009: Linux and the desktop

Choosing a desktop platform usually involves the choice between Windows or Macintosh. There are a few factors which people consider when they are choosing a desktop platform. In no particular order, people want application compatibility, stability, security, performance, and ease of use.

When we look at desktop market share, we can see the following (as of statistics reported in October of 2008): Windows boasts the lead with 91% market share, down 5% from March of 2003. Mac holds 6% market share, an increase of 4% from March, 2003. Finally, Linux has doubled its market share since 2003 with a current 4%. While the Windows operating system does seem to be losing ground, it is Apple that must be credited with the loss. While the Linux market share has improved, it is still obviously not a major contender.

What is required of Linux to compete, as Apple has with the Windows operating system? Certainly, as is this case with any market, a product must offer either something different or a more optimal way of doing the same. It seems that Linux is in a difficult position here because what makes it so different, and what it offers, seem to be things which would not be held as important by the majority of the user base.

Linux (or more specifically, free software) allows one to freely manipulate their software and even the operating system. This is one huge perk it has over the competition, but the perk provides functionality that is only desired by a comparative few. The average user does not know programming languages, nor have the time to code a program. This is one of the perks of Linux which unfortunately, is not a perk at all when contrasted with the intended user base.

Linux advocates will tout that Linux offers a more secure work environment than Windows, but there is already an alternative that exists that boasts such. Macintosh has no doubt made many of its sales to users who were seeking escape from the perceived malware and virus infested world of Windows. If given a choice, I would wager that people choose Macintosh over Linux and Windows in regards to security, not necessarily to imply that Macintosh is more secure than Linux, but there are factors which are leading people to choose alternatives over Linux in areas where Linux may offer the most!

Application compatibility is a huge issue for people deciding which operating system to use. Windows is obviously king in this area as the wealth of applications on Mac and Linux do not come close. This is not to imply that Linux does not have many applications, it does, and most offer the same functionality as their alternatives (and they are free!) but still this is not enough to urge the migration of users from the two leading platforms, to the present day underdog.

Performance is an area which Linux can make some headway, but the majority of performance claims are made in comparison to Windows on old machines. Linux definitely can act as life support system for an otherwise deceased set of hardware, but with the falling prices of consumer computers there is no reason to use the legacy type. It is suspected that people will take a knock in performance for what is perceived to be a leap in ease-of-use.

Is Linux desktop ready? This question is asked numerous times every year and I think we are finally at a place where we can say boldly, yes it is! But desktop ready means nothing if people won't adapt the platform!

Distributions have made the previously looming task of setting up and using a Linux system a breeze. Ubuntu has made great leaps in this department, with many other distros following suit. Using Ubuntu, I was able to use the platform for a great number of months without needing to drop to the command line. I would out of habit, but was never at any point required to do so.

What is needed from the Linux community is an advertising push. We have seen the effects of good advertising on the part of Apple, and it is high time to see the same from the Linux community. Novell or Ubuntu by means of Mark Shuttleworth must step up and finance an advertising campaign that serves a few purposes. To be honest, they have started campaigning (and IBM in the past) but nothing that is on the level of what Apple did with Macintosh. The campaign will get the name of Linux out there, a great number of computer users still do not know what Linux is, and have a puzzled look whenever Open Source Software is mentioned. It must show that Linux is just as good as the other platforms in some areas, and better in others. If enough excitement can be generated from this seemingly 'new and free contender to the desktop market', we might see more demand. With more demand comes more possibilities.

It will take a lot of torque to shift the view of an alternative to Windows being Macintosh, to being Linux. This is where Linux must arise as not another alternative, but a pioneer in a different way of computing. This task will not be easy in 2009 with Windows 7 and Snow Leopard scheduled for release, but there is still the possibility that with some key advertising and a few visionary members of the community working to improve application compatibility (or with advertising that motivates some to switch applications completely), Linux might slowly begin to crawl out of its dark corner and have a place in the consumer world.

As it stands right now, on this the beginning of the year 2009, Linux has the following advantages: it's open-source and it's free. Linux must add to this list, while at the same time stop playing catch-up with the other platform and move in an entirely new revolutionary direction. Which direction that may be, I am not sure. Though if I was, the direction would not be that revolutionary.

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

World's largest software counterfeiters jailed in China

Next Story

Marshymellow: The day the Zunes stood still

34 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

What is required of Linux to compete, as Apple has with the Windows operating system? Certainly, as is this case with any market, a product must offer either something different or a more optimal way of doing the same. It seems that Linux is in a difficult position here because what makes it so different, and what it offers, seem to be things which would not be held as important by the majority of the user base.

Why should Linux Compete? It is Free. It works for me and does what I need to do. I don't worry about virus and such. So why does it have to compete? Compete with who? Linux is not Windows or Mac. Linux can be anything you want.
Mel_B

Linux provides a streamlined and hassle free user experience. If you take a look at Ubuntu, there is minimal configuration required to get to a usable desktop. All the applications update from a single simple interface out of the box. Application installs are all the same and don't ask questions or install helper apps that try to wrestle preferences that favor that application and swamp you with splash screens and notifications. Applications don't try to have wild unique skins and looks that stand out, they are familiar looking desktop applications. It is just a simple usable system that doesn't overwhelm you or try to scare you off. It has its rough edges but has made great improvements and the direction is obviously to make things easier to use and to support important desktop applications. This is pretty much the same in Fedora, Mandriva, and SuSE as well as others. Linux is definitely worth checking out on the desktop.

With the right push, any of the big three could easily become a viable commercial alternative to MS and Apple. I don't think it's a great leap for something like Ubuntu to become "The Linux OS". I believe many people see it as that anyway, and don't really understand why there are so many other Distros available.

If that's what Canonical want, fine. If their userbase wants it too, great. Linux by it's very nature can be anything you want it to be.

What is wrong, though, is the assumption that all Linux users want this, when the truth is that actually we're really happy with our minority-use OS.

"Linux by it's very nature can be anything you want it to be." - I totally agree with this.
But, again, linux is a "labour of love" from tech enthusiasts, that doesn't mean it's only made for other tech enthusiasts. Most of "the minority" are geeks, but why not expand to users? Sometimes tech enthusiasts also like to restart and create a clean and simple environment for everyday use. Yes, because we also get tired of consoles/terminals/command lines . That's why many Microsoft geeks use Macs at home, because when they get home, they don't want to handle the same problems they handle at work.

Linux has been ready for the desktop for quite a few years. I believe Linux not being ready for the desktop is currently more of a myth than fact.
Linux became so easy to use these days that a 7-year old can use a Linux desktop without any difficulty (seen it happen). Being "difficult" is not an excuse no more, GNU/Linux to the masses is the trend now. :)

When Valve finally port Steam to Linux, I'll switch to Ubuntu. (which may be soon, been saying for a while now that Valve are working on Linux stuff)

Step 1: Install Wine-Doors
http://www.wine-doors.org/wordpress/
navigate to the downloads page, and install your installation type. I had the easy route and could install from an RPM.

Step 2: Run the program from your main menu Applications--> System --> Wine-doors. This was for Fedora 9, I did not try any other distro's yet.
Step 3: Fill in some basic username information that is in regards to YOUR computer.
Step 4: choose which programs you would like to install. I Choose Steam, the Tahoma truetype font, and the DirectX 9 runtime stuff.
Step 5: Hit apply
Step 6: Programs are downloaded and installed automatically.
Step 7: VERY IMPORTANT!!! Restart your os. For some reason it took me two or three restarts but I have a fully functioning steam client.


At first I was disappointed because my steam client didn't show up with the tahoma font, but now everything is visible. Also something of note, I installed the adobe flash player before trying to run steam. I'm not sure if it affected it or not, but if your superstitious, reboot 3 times, install adobe flash player (rpm) and then open steam from main menu Applications --> Other --> Steam.

Source: http://developer.valvesoftware.com/wiki/Steam_under_Linux

Asuming the market share numbers in the article were right, how do they consider a 2% difference enough to claim Linux is not a major contender? Or how would Apple be a major contender being only 2 points above, if Linux is not?

ichi said,
Asuming the market share numbers in the article were right, how do they consider a 2% difference enough to claim Linux is not a major contender? Or how would Apple be a major contender being only 2 points above, if Linux is not?


OS X market share is closer to 10%. Counting the surge in December sales for Apple, OS X is now at 9.63 according to Net Applications.

http://marketshare.hitslink.com/operating-...rame=M&qpsp=119

I hope the advent of netbooks will help with the acceptance of Linux. Many of these come with Linux preinstalled and if users give it a chance, they may realize it's a viable alternative.

With the popularity of netbooks that include linux, i think more users will become used to using linux, and since netbooks are targeted mostly towards students, those that travel, it's a great way to introduce students who are willing to learn and try out new things such as linux to be familiar with the OS. Not to mention the fact so many devices run Linux (garmin navigation/routers/Large Hadron Collider, some nokia phones, etc) The potential is amazing once everyone figures out the potential they will surely see clear reasons


I think it's a good direction!

In a sucky world without fences, who needs a great world with gates?

Linux is far from being a famous desktop enviroment. A lot of people don't like it.

and since netbooks are targeted mostly towards students, those that travel, it's a great way to introduce students who are willing to learn and try out new things such as linux to be familiar with the OS.

Too bad most people that buy a linux netbook end up returning it.

ichi said,
Source?

He's talking about the MSI units. Only MSI has reported this disparity, and ASUS has confirmed that they have not seen a disparity. MSI uses SUSE, and they have a poor network driver installed on their Linux units which causes periodic loss of connectivity. I would return any unit that lost connection, regardless of OS.

But 39 Thieves (and others) chooses to believe that this is an overall rejection of Linux as an OS by the consumer instead of a single-vendor hardware config issue.

Windows and Mac OS X are relatively intuitive, Linux is a complicated cluster**** for n00bs. Just installing software in Linux is a nightmare. Normal users who use computers just to get stuff done don't wanna bother with overly techie things.

Might I ask what software? Everything in the repos just installs easily. And my purchased copy of Unreal Tournament had an installer right on the CD. Click. Install. Done.

My kids wanted to try Guild Wars, so went to their website, and the installer exe ran with wine by clicking (again, just click). And it plays just like on Windows, as near as I can tell.

Sounds like you haven't tried Linux in a while (not you markjensen.... ).

Install is fairly straight forward nowadays on the most popular distros if you also disregard that how it's done slightly differs for each distro.

The fact that I can monitor new available versions of every software I have installed automatically is something I really miss in Windows.

You have to think of it in terms of n00bs. What's a repository? How do I install from that? What if what I want isn't in the repository? What if I want to play a game, what the hell is "WINE"?
Questions with obvious answers, but only obvious if you know stuff about Linux.

Kushan said,
You have to think of it in terms of n00bs. What's a repository? How do I install from that? What if what I want isn't in the repository? What if I want to play a game, what the hell is "WINE"?
Questions with obvious answers, but only obvious if you know stuff about Linux.

That's exactly on the mark... from the p.o.v. of someone who's used windows all of my life (since i gave up the old c64), i keep trying and giving up because all i get are answers like "wtf? you didn't run it from wine??" or "if you just start up the terminal and enter the command......."
it needs to be intuitive to people coming over from other o.s. not just to people who are designing them.

Kushan said,
You have to think of it in terms of n00bs. What's a repository? How do I install from that? What if what I want isn't in the repository? What if I want to play a game, what the hell is "WINE"?
Questions with obvious answers, but only obvious if you know stuff about Linux.

They don't need to know what a "repository" is. Just run their package manager program and click on the programs they want, then click "apply".

Likewise they don't need to know what wine is. Just run the exe, and click "ok" when it prompts to run that exe with wine.

Do users in Windows need to know what a DLL is to run their programs? No.

markjensen said,

They don't need to know what a "repository" is. Just run their package manager program and click on the programs they want, then click "apply".

Likewise they don't need to know what wine is. Just run the exe, and click "ok" when it prompts to run that exe with wine.

Do users in Windows need to know what a DLL is to run their programs? No.

Does windows prompt you to select a DLL to use when running a program? And do you have any idea of the amount of problems caused when that DLL just happens to be missing?

But what IS a package manager? When you know what you're looking for on a computer, it's easy to say "Oh just use this", but when a complete novice first sees that Linux desktop, they have no idea where to begin. Even windows, for as long as I can remember, starts up with a "take a tour of windows..." popup. The best I've seen a Linux distro do is pop up the release notes for that particular distro.

To this day, pretty much every guide I've ever read on switching to linux, at some point, ALWAYS say "now open up a terminal window and type the following command..." and I'm sorry to say, this isn't the early 90's any more, if there isn't a button or a checkbox to click to do something, novice users are simply not going to know. What's a package manager? That's just a fancy term computer geeks use. as much as us experienced users hate them (and probably why Linux doesn't use them), we need more wizards, more "helpful" popups and dialogues and most importantly, a way to do just about everything with the mouse.

In my opinion, getting the general population to move over to linux would be to teach an old dog a new trick. It just isn't going to happen anytime soon. Unless you've grown up with linux development, most people don't want to relearn. They are already comfortable with what they have.

Another thing is, linux has yet to make major headway into the gamers market. Sure you can probably get Wine to do it if you tweaked with it enough, but the experience wouldn't be the same and for most people it's just not worth it.

Is Linux desktop ready? This question is asked numerous times every year and I think we are finally at a place where we can say boldly, yes it is! But desktop ready means nothing if people won't adapt the platform!

Famous last words :P

Beastage said,
Famous last words :P

It's so god damn annoying hearing this year after year...

Is this the year?... dun dun dun. No, it isn't.

The only avenue I see linux exploiting are netbooks, but if Microsoft shapes up (as it is clearly trying to do), they will probably squash that with Windows 7

Naturally people will complain about massive corporations stunting the growth of Linux, but really it comes down to this:

Linux must add to this list, while at the same time stop playing catch-up with the other platform and move in an entirely new revolutionary direction.