Why Desktop Linux Still Hasn’t Taken Over the World

Recently an online article prompted many comments about the Year of the Linux Desktop.

The author wrote that quality is not a reason for Linux systems not having more market share on the desktop.

That depends on the definition of quality. Many of the people writing comments about the article focus on quality although many people offering comments did not use that word specifically. In my writings here I focus much on usability, which qualifies as a topic in the quality discussion.

One reason Linux quality often is a low debate point with Linux users is most of the users are technically oriented to one degree or another. Most have some nominal geek DNA in their blood.

Non technical users are not like this. Many non technical users are not fanboys or enthusiasts of computers or technology. They use computers and technology only to get things done and be productive.

The author focused primarily on the lack of marketing as a cause for the dismal market share. I agree marketing is one reason for a lack of market share. Only one reason.

The often abused quotation from a popular movie, “If you build it they will come,” does not apply to technology. Technology must be useful. Technology must be easy to use by non technical users. Smart phones exploded in popularity because they became useful and easy to use — something desktop computers have yet to provide at the same level of user satisfaction.

Reviewing the article comments reveal that the lack of market share is complicated. The volume of people replying reveals the topic is a contentious point.

  • Poor support for common proprietary technology, such as Active Directory and Outlook Web App.
  • Lack of or support for certain popular vertical software.
  • Lack of robust compatibility with MS Office.
  • Lack of robust seamless document exchange.
  • Clashes of philosophy that cause developers not to add or support commonly expected commercial features.
  • Lack of VBA compatibility and portability.
  • Lack of a common app store.
  • Conservative opinions and comfort levels among enterprise users. Stay with the devil you know rather than the devil you don’t know.
  • Lack of drivers, or at least lack of easy access to drivers, notably printers, scanners, and pen-based tablets.
  • Differences among distro designs that confuse non technical users when troubleshooting problems.
  • Philosophy conflicts between usability and convenience.
  • Lack of vision or willingness by free software developers to look beyond the local culture with respect to testing and usability.
  • Lack of incentive for vendors to make money from free software.
  • The Beverly Hills effect: some people believe that high quality costs money. Hence many people believe free software must be low quality.
  • The Celebrity Effect: A lack of well known people using free software.
  • Lack of development toward non technical users, focusing mostly on technical users and scratching geek itches.
  • Inferiority with respect to a feature-by-feature comparison of equivalent apps.
  • A high reliance on the terminal.
  • Poor support when updating distros to new releases.
  • Mobile technology is superior to desktop technology and more convenient than desktop technology.
  • Lack of hardware vendors preinstalling Linux systems.
  • "Death” of the PC.
  • Difficulty for non technical users with administering and maintaining a Linux based system.
  • Not Invented Here (NIH) ideology with respect to common desktop design practices.
  • NIH practices causing interface differences that confuse non technical users wanting to adapt to Linux.
  • Lack of Linux vendor support for the desktop, instead focusing mostly on server and cloud services.
  • Generally Linux systems are user-hostile rather than user-friendly.
  • Software designed by geeks for geeks rather than non technical users.
  • Elitist and abrasive attitudes in forums and support groups.
  • Without technical support and tweaking, installing a distro is unlikely to fully “work out of the box.”
  • The lack of market share is mostly a myopic American problem. People elsewhere around the world are embracing free software.
  • The Elderly Syndrome, where developers and elitist users believe that people older than a certain age are incapable of using desktop computers.
  • Vendor lock-in.
  • Linux Is Not Windows: Incorrect perceptions by non technical users attempting to adopt and migrate to Linux.
  • Fanboys and enthusiasts refusing to acknowledge the issues addressed by the people sharing these comments.
  • Comparing Linux systems to Windows or Macs is just another apples-versus-oranges discussion and accomplishes nothing.

That is a long list.

Mind you, these are the opinions of the people writing the comments. Yet I believe all of them are correct and offer insight into a complicated topic.

Conversely there is evidence of a growing number of people adopting Linux, both at home and in the enterprise. Reasons for this adoption vary for all of these people.

All of these complaints and opinions address the issue of quality. Quality is defined as 1) an essential and distinguishing attribute of something or someone, 2) a degree or grade of excellence or worth, 3) a characteristic property that defines the apparent individual nature of something.

Quality is very much subjective.

Browsing the web forums reveals Windows and Macs are far from ideal and users share many of the same complaints. A simple conclusion is desktop computers suck. One approach to resolve the dilemma is for each individual person to find the system that sucks least and causes the least pain for each specific use case. Just do not ignore the fact that the final choice will still suck and still involve some level of pain.

Posted: Category: Commentary, Usability Tagged: General

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