Why Linux will never win the desktop

Posted on November 17, 2012

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge linux fan. I use it on all my machines(even my phone, Android is basically linux) and even converted my sister and a few friends. But if you don’t convert somebody, chance they’ll try a new operating system is slim to none. Only geeks like me install funky stuff as their primary software just to try it. But the major problem lies somewhere else. People hate making choices. And linux is all about cohice. It gives you power and you choose what you’ll do with it. And it starts with selecting selecting distribution.

You don’t install linux. You install a distribution. You install Debian, Ubuntu, Slackware, Fedora… There’s a sea of different versions what to choose! I would even argue that all this fragmentation hurts development. Sure it’s great to have different implementations and approaches and let time what’s the best. But there is also quite a lot of duplicate work being done. And this cost’s time and money that could be put to better use. Back to choices. I like choice. I have a problem and need a piece of software(or hardware) and spend a few hours(or days) browsing the web looking at pros and cons, reading reviews, testing stuff, or just surfing the ebay and hunt for good prices. I like to do this for fun. But I hate doing it when I need to get something done. And most people just need software to get stuff done. They don’t care about open source spirit or ability to hack around…they just need something that solves their problem. And when you have a solution, why change? Why fix something that isn’t broken?

I attended a great talk on future of web search(by @dusano) and somebody addressed this problem…”Why fix search if it ain’t broken?”. Answer was along the lines of “Because if you don’t somebody else will. And he will dominate the industry”. I’m not quite sure this is so true in the short run. It’s like with promotions in the supermarket. People are used to buying one brand of product and consciously selecting another is equivalent to mental work. And people are lazy. So they’ll avoid thinking about possibilities because frankly they don’t care enough about value/price ratio of their coffee to invest their time into it.

And it’s similar when it comes to software and computers in general. A colleague once said that people who don’t understand how computers work shouldn’t be allowed to use them(he’s linux sysadmin), but I strongly disagree. People want to use computers as tools and they should be able to. Not everybody is a developer! And that’s why MacOS is popular. See Windows is here from the dawn of time. At least from youngster like me who used computer for the first time in this millenia. MacOS might be a BSD but it’s only one and it’s locked down. It doesn’t give you options but everything works. Perfect for most people.

Luckily things are changing for the better. Ubuntu broke the “easy linux” taboo and make things friendlier. And on my laptop I have Linux Mint which is even better. Installation is super easy and everything works out of the box. And I’m writing this post because a friend posted a video about ElementaryOS which is another Ubuntu fork that looks very much Mac-esque.

So things like Ubuntu, Mint or Elementary might have a fighting chance on the desktop if they try real hard. But most of the converted users won’t know they’re actually running linux under the hood. Anyway I should stop blabbering about desktop and focus on post-pc era. But that’s a whole other story.

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