Not The Year of the Linux Desktop

An interesting article appeared online about why The Year of the Linux Desktop hasn’t happened yet.

A reddit discussion followed, with comments heard before.

The blog post seems typical about this topic, at least with respect to being written by a developer rather than a non technical user.

Fragmented market

Many markets are “fragmented,” such as the automobile market. Often choice is good.

Fragmentation is important for tech savvy users but they are a minority. Fragmentation exists among Linux computer desktops for the same reason as automobiles. People vary wildly about what they think and what they want in this world. Most tech savvy users think fragmentation is good.

Fragmentation makes little difference to most computer users. Most users are not tech savvy and are computer illiterate. They use and grow accustomed to whatever system they are first introduced. A significant number of people today have never used a desktop computer, having only used smart phones and tablets. Swipe and tap is all they know. For these users fragmentation is irrelevant. They have no idea and are incapable of thinking that computers come with a choice.

In the middle of this alleged desktop fragmentation debate is GNOME. The GNOME desktop arose because the developers did not like the original questionable non-free components of the KDE software license. Many users liked GNOME 1.0 but with 2.0 saw the introduction of developers removing features. That continued well into GNOME 3.0 where developers adopted a tablet and phone like convergence interface, which infuriated traditional desktop users. From the GNOME 2 to 3 transition emerged Cinnamon as well as MATE — the resurrected GNOME 2.

While this dumbing down approach makes sense with respect to non technical users, removing rather than hiding advanced features irritates the primary users who are in a position to help sell the Linux desktop — advanced users.

Important to understand about this topic is computers are complex tools. Although choice usually is beneficial, most non technical users do not focus on choice because of that complexity. They want to use their computers as tools.

Lack of special applications

This is a significant obstacle for many users. Convince anybody using QuickBooks, Quicken, or Photoshop to migrate. Not going to happen. Can’t happen. WINE will not enable these users.

Along with the lack of special applications is Blu-ray. Blu-ray support in the Linux world is hit and miss, mostly the latter as content providers continue to hone their digital restrictions techniques. I see this first hand with a family member who uses Windows on a media system almost solely because Blu-Ray support is lacking with Linux.

The lack of special apps does make a difference with tablets. Browse discussion forums about tablets and phones and the topic of running Android apps arises. The equivalent software does not exist in Linux.

Let’s throw in a common software used in business environments — optical character recognition (OCR). Nothing in the Linux side satisfies that category. There are limited OCR solutions. None that common non technical office users will use.

You know those irritating PDF forms commonly used in a certain sector of business? Not supported in the Linux world.

Let’s not forget the ease-of-use most office people perceive with Outlook and Exchange to manage personal information. Thunderbird and Evolution don’t really satisfy as replacements. All other mail clients are for geeks only because none fully support rich text formatting, which usually is done with HTML and is a common expectation by most users.

Oh, let’s not forget games. One of the most common reasons people offer for keeping Windows is games.

Lack of big name applications

This is a continuation of the previous discussion. Vertical is vertical. Let’s just pick one big name app though. AutoCAD. Okay, how about another? Visio. Don’t ask fan-boys. Ask any person who actually uses those programs.

Lack of API and ABI stability

Many Linux users have complained for years about the differences between GTK, Qt, and other widget libraries. The lack of a common look-and-feel, which themes don’t really conquer. Non technical users do not understand why the appearance of the Linux desktop is inconsistent and perceive that the Linux desktop is unprofessional and lacks polish.

Apple resurgence

The majority of computer users are not tech savvy and use whatever is on the computer they buy. The Apple share of the desktop market likely is less than 10%. Most users can’t afford Apple products, which means they know only Windows and Android.

Microsoft aggressive response

This discussion wanders off into la-la land.



Red Hat mostly stayed away

Possibly a good point. The Red Hat folks quietly walked away from the desktop a decade and half ago when they shifted focus from Red Hat Linux to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. With no major enterprise player behind the desktop, Linux on the desktop was sure to evolve ungracefully. Without significant investment in usability testing, the Linux desktop was sure to be owned and ruled by geeks.

Canonical business model not working out

I think the Canonical folks always had a sincere heart and motives about the desktop market and common user. Sadly, they had a vision that collapsed rather than focus on one element and becoming a market leader. Had the Canonical folks focused on a traditional desktop and then had become a market leader, they could have later focused on convergence. Imagine where MATE could be today with enterprise backing.

Original device manufacturer support

A good point. Back to understanding most users. Most users are not tech savvy or computer literate. They use whatever is installed. If Linux is not installed they don’t use that system.

All that said, let’s suppose a popular Linux based distro was pre-installed. Many users have no need for anything beyond a web browser. Many don’t use mail clients, only using web mail. Many people today do not use an office suite outside of their job, if at all. They likely could get by with such a computer. Move a tad from the center of the bell curve and problems appear.

Much like Windows originally was a GUI desktop slapped on top of a command line operating system, so too is the modern design of all Linux desktops. The Linux desktop is somewhat an after thought. The Linux desktop design is driven by developers and not by users. An expectation of using a terminal digs deep in the overall operating system design. Something most non technical users reject. This expectation to use a terminal is perceived by many people to mean the Linux desktop lacks polish and consistency or is a system for geeks.

Examples of this lack of polish populate this blog. A lot.

Development in the Linux world is largely dictated by scratching itches. Developer itches and not user itches. Too many related software projects are personal playgrounds rather than targeting common users. Software development in the Linux world suffers horribly from rapid release, something most users can’t stomach or tolerate. Rapid release means something somewhere is always broken.

Most users don’t care about ideology. They want computers to just work. This is basically why the Year of the Linux Desktop hasn’t happened.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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