Is Linux Really Outgrowing Its Stereotypes? Does It Matter?

by Caitlyn Martin

Last month distro-review ran an article titled 10 ways that Linux is outgrowing the stereotype and becoming the best OS. While I agreed with all 10 points in the article something just didn't sit right with me. I bookmarked the article and gave it a good long think. My conclusion: the facts are correct but there are problems with both the premise and the goal of the article.

My problem with the premise is in the opening paragraph:
I'm occasionally asked "why do you bother with Linux?" by people who haven't used it recently under the assumption that it's difficult to use, counter intuitive, geeky, nerdy and any number of other adjectives.
I hear that too. People who tried Linux back in the '90s often came to that conclusion and haven't tried it since. Microsoft, Apple, and their supporters certainly do all they can to maintain that stereotype.

Having said that, the question I here far more often from non-technical people is "What's Linux?" Outside technical circles a lot of people have never heard of Linux or if they have heard the name it simply didn't register. Think about the recent Apple commercials. You know, the ones that start with "I'm a Mac and I'm a PC". They make the assumption that PCs all run Windows and that Macs all run Mac OS X. So do most people.

In the next sentence the article states its goal:
However it is my intention to raise awareness that Linux is remarkably usable these days, so on that note let's start looking at how Linux has outgrown that stereotype.
The article then details all the wonderful advances in Linux. It's all accurate and spelled out in clear language. There's only one problem: these points all assume you have Linux installed and running or, at the very least, that Linux installation is a no-brainer. The sad fact is that the average Joe or Jane user has never installed an operating system and probably never will. They use what comes on the computer. Changing operating systems is too much work to even consider. Why should they if they think their computer is working just fine for them? They need a reason to want to learn something new and do extra work that they think, rightly or wrongly, is difficult. What's the incentive for them?


2008-04-22 15:21:48
I couldn't agree more. In order to gain popularity Linux has to be either way better in *every* aspect than commercial OS'es. ( A hint: it is not true at the moment) or it has to be first adopted by the companies and/or public administration.
Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-22 15:59:33
@Aleksander: One thing we don't agree on: I do believe that Linux is, at present, better than any commercial OS in every way that matters. Technical superiority, ease of use, prettiness... none of it matters if people aren't sure they need to make a change.

I was once very involved in OS/2 both professionally and in terms of the user community. In 1995 OS/2 Warp was clearly superior to Windows '95 in every important way. The level of Internet integration should have been a great selling point. The problem was that IBM had no clue how to market to consumers (except, perhaps, to those who spoke Czech and to nuns) and Windows captured the market

Being better isn't enough without marketing and the Open Source community, while technically brilliant, has no clue about marketing and many within the community tend to be dismissive of commercial interests and the profit motive. That's one thing that needs to change.

2008-04-22 18:13:27
You know Caitlyn, I've been beating this drum for years. I've even started a business that has at it's core the plan to advertise linux as well as install it.

Still, and as I told the HP and IBM BigWigs at the Linux Summit in Austin. You can surf cable for 30 minutes and see 5 MS commercials. You can surf the same stations 30 days and not see one Linux Commerical.

This is, as I've coined the phrase, the "Linux Dilemma". People returned the cloudbook to Walmart in droves because it was so foreign to them. That's been established. Now...what needs to happen is a mass tv and radio campaign letting people know what Linux is and that they have a choice. Once they Hear and See Linux then they will say:

"Oh THIS is Linux"
instead of
"What the heck is this crap?"

Until we get some marketing, forget ain't happenin' Now who's gonna pay for it? Not the "Linux Community". They tend to be for the most part digital welfare recipients. Two percent write the code and support various programs, the rest just wait in line for the next freebee to drift by.

Corporates don't make a dime from the desktop...they aren't going to do it it falls to the so-called community to do it. If you can get that done, you're better than I've been.


Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-22 19:26:54
@helios: Again, I'm going to disagree. Companies do make money selling the millions of PCs that end up on corporate desktops and in homes. The Everex laptops got returned, yes, but the Asus EeePC is not being returned. You can't take a poor implementation of Linux and claim it proves that the Linux desktop isn't ready for the masses. All it proves is that Everex isn't ready.

I also don't buy the argument that "the community" has to do the advertising. Companies like Asus have proven that there is money to be made and it is those companies that will need to do the advertising.

max stirner
2008-04-22 21:03:42
times are-a-changing, to say it with bob dylan, worry not!

i liked the chap's article: linux is far superior to the monopolists offering, it's good to see it pointed out in clear language!

2008-04-23 03:58:46
If you bring me a brand new computer with up to date hardware and after i installed and configured properly the system with all the nescessary codec and shortcuts on the desktop, i dont think anybody would return that Linux computer complaining its complicated or hard to operate.
2008-04-23 05:40:24
I believe you missed the main point: Using Linux (on a desktop computer at home) is a risk: A user cannot be sure that he or she will be able to find a solution to a problem he or she might have in the future.

Let me explain: Wants and needs of computer user change with usage and by other events. You may have never bothered with Video Conferencing until the day your child moves far away. You may never have bothered with cutting video until you got a video camera as a birthday present. etc., etc.

Wants and needs change. Linux, however, is still not fit to adapt quickly to these changing needs.

If the application, you need, is not in the distribution's respository you're sold. If you buy a brand new hardware and the driver isn't in the kernel (or availbale as a user space application), you're sold. And if you don't have some relative who's able to compile apps or kernels or register additional third-party repositories, your sold indeed.

With windows, nearly everything's available and it's easy to install without adding stuff called "respositories". You don't even a need an online connection, just a CD.

I do believe, people feel these risks. And people are risk-averse.

Even if they could buy a computer with Linux pre-installed, most of them would still get the Windows one. Your first scenario isn't likely to change this, since these small notebooks are just a second-class computer for many of its buyers (unless they are geeks). Your second scenario won't change that since companies have PC administrators to deal with the complicated stuff. People know this.

On a sidenote: What distribution provides the desktop you say people will learn to use? Just a wrong choice in the beginning and Linux looks and works completely different. People have better things to do than learning a couple of different desktops. Cutting their home videos, for example, and talking to the childs and relatives.

Unless Linux gets a proper desktop development plattform third-party application developer can really rely on and a proper system that makes third-party application installation easy, Linux will remain a second-class operating system on the desktop.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-23 06:14:59
@Rufus: Thanks for the Microsoft commercial. The risk you describe doesn't exist. All the major distributions have extensive repositories nowadays that cover almost any conceivable piece of software you could want. Even commercial, proprietary third party applications are often included. In Ubuntu, for example, you enable the "Multiverse" with a single click in Synaptic, one more click to refresh the list of available software, and commercial apps appear. When third party apps have to be obtained directly from the vendor, much like Windows, it's usually a point and click installation as well.

Driver issues are no different than in Windows. If preloaded Linux machines are available (the point you seem to miss) this really becomes a non-issue. At this point the list of hardware supported natively by Linux is actually larger than that supported by Vista in any case.

Most people will use the default desktop and ALL major distributions (no exceptions here) provide a decently configured, straightforward desktop by default. My mother is 70. She uses Windows at home. She sits down at any of my machines and does whatever she needs to do without much thought. She is not and never was a technical professional and yet the learning curve for her approached zero. So much for your argument about the desktop.

More points you missed: My first scenario wasn't limited to small, low end notebooks at all. I used Asus as an example of a success story, one most people who read O'Reillynet posts know. It's a story than can be replicated with high end machines if they are built in a way that is somehow compelling. Your argument against the second scenario is nonsensical. Sure, companies hire desktop support people (they aren't called "PC administrators" in any company I know of) but whether they have and use a Linux skill set, a Windows skill set, a Mac skill set, or some combination is irrelevant. All three are readily available. That certainly won't be an issue blocking Linux adoption.

Once again, I see your argument as FUD, nothing more. What you see as lacking already exists for Linux even if you aren't aware of it. It would have been a valid argument 10 years ago. Not today. I still contend the only things holding back Linux on the desktop are 1) misconceptions, 2) poorly configured offerings from some of the vendors that have entered the marketplace with Linux based systems, and the biggest issue of all: 3) a lack of adequate marketing. Linux is a superior desktop OS today. If people dont know that it really doesn't matter.

2008-04-23 07:43:20
What I think will speed Linux usage is for distributions to provide an automated install something like the KNOPPIX "Poor Man's" install option. (Dybe:bolic provides something like this, too, with an easy way to add extensions.) It also has to use NTFS so including ntfs-3g is a requirement.

This would give the average user an easy way to try Lunix at almost full speed (much faster than a live-CD) and have it readily available (perhaps by booting from the live-cd) without the hassle of disk packing and partitioning and mucking with boot loader installation and options.

As an example, while we have a couple Linux PCs at home I am trying to use Cinelerra on the "family PC." It is the newest and most capable PC we have. It is also used by the kids for homework and iTunes. So I still want the original OS on it. But I also want to use Linux on it without mucking with what is already on it. Dyne:bolic would fill the bill nicely but I can't get the installed copy of Cinelerra to work in my environment. So I use Musix from a live CD and manually mount the NTFS drive containing the video files. Musix Cinelerra works fine once things are loaded to memory from the live CD.

The one thing missing from the current poor man's install solutions that I am aware of is a means to easily apply updates say for kernel security fixes. Though with an .iso installed it can be easy to update the entire system. Dyne:bolic again provides a good example of this. (Dyne:bolic also seems to work well on older, less capable systems.)

The ability to quickly and easily install Linux on a PC already containing another operating system would be a "viral" marketing method for exposing more people to the advantages of Linux.

2008-04-23 07:50:15
Oh, what a predictable reply: It's not enthusiastic about Linux it must be a Microsoft commercial.

What a grown-up way to argue, by using a Circumstantial ad Hominem. And you call yourself journalist, I suppose?

Sorry to spoil your fantasies but the "extensive repositories" lack lots of software that I may want to use. What about tax software? Or software to help you organize your wedding table plan [1]?

What about software such as Direct Note Access [2]. You may like to check the video [3]. For people who are serious about making music, the software is valuable enough to justify the expense for a Mac of a Windows license just to be able to use it.

While we're at it: What software enables me to cut an AVI file with two audio dubs into two files without re-encoding and no command line usage? Oh, and which distribution provides packages?

So much for your delusion, repositories contain everything that I ever want.

So, how many distribution do I need to install to get all the software I may want in a repository? 3? 5? 10?

Your note about the pure amount of supported hardware isn't very convincing either: Who cares whether Linux supports twenty-year-old architectures and hardware that nobody uses, anymore? Who cares if a color printer is "supported" but prints black'n'white, only?

I'm not saying this is the case but that exemplifies the meaning of your statistic.

The anecdote about your mom isn't very convincing, either. If she doesn't care what she uses, why should she ask for a Linux-based computer the next time she buys one? Also, if she's still running Windows at home, Linux obviously didn't provide any compelling reasons for her to switch, I guess.

In fact, if everybody is like your mom, this is a perfect counter-example to your second scenario: Linux was sort of force fed to her, but she didn't bring it home. Why should this be any different with people learning Linux at work?

These people are unlikely to know somebody who'd be around to help if any issues arise. (This is what I meant by "administrators". Sorry for not being a perfect English speaker.)

Concerning your first scenario: The only compelling thing about the AsusEEE is its low price. How should this be replicated with high-end machines -- especially if we're still talking about desktop usage at home?

Just like the AsusEEE, these high-end machines will fail to solve people's problems if there's no third-party application to do the job.

As soon as you need a software that helps you making your wedding table plan (or solve some other issues, your Linux distribution provides no software for), it fails.

For may people, Linux is still inferior to Windows -- there's still too much risk that it may not provide the solutions you want or need on your home desktop, so you might waste your time learning it.

Of course, that's just my opinion.


Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-23 09:13:16
@John: A number of distros do offer the equivalent of a Knoppix install (no CD, in place hosted from an existing OS) including Ubuntu, Vector Linux, etc... What I don't get is how that is relevant to my article. It's only something an experienced, technical user is likely to do. Most typical users don't do installations at all. I agree a Live CD isn't a great way to run much of anything but I fail to see how a Poorman's install for distros that don't have them would aid in average users, the masses, adopting Linux.

@Rufus: I didn't resort to an ad hominem attack. Where did I attack you personally? I didn't.

How many distros to get all your software in one repository? Exactly one. Debian or Ubuntu would do it nicely. Certainly a given brand of software won't exist for Linux so your links are pretty meaningless. There is no lack of software for musicians and there are a couple of distro variants out there designed specifically for musicians so that all the software they are likely to need is installed from the start. Similarly there is no lack of video software. Just because you aren't familiar with it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Tax software varies from country to country. In the U.S. there is now online tax return preparation available where the OS of the client system is irrelevant. I cannot address other countries, of course.

The Asus EeePC was not just compelling because of price. The Everex CloudBook was equally inexpensive and it failed. What is compelling about the EeePC is size, weight, price, and execution. It's user friendly and cool looking and comes in a variety of colors. Those last points may sound trivial to you ro me but they add to the gee whiz factor. In other words, it has an excellent design in a large number of areas. These are the same reasons many people buy Mac even when a given system may cost more than an equivalent PC.

For probably 90% of the population Linux is not inferior to Windows. They just don't know Linux. As far as not having a friend to help, maybe that's true where you are and in your circle of friends. If Linux were to be more widely adopted that problem would disappear even for you.

My answer was predictable? Yes, on a Linux forum you will find people who know Linux, know what is available, and can defend it. In that sense it certainly was predictable. So was yours... more fear, uncertainty, and doubt not supported by the facts.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-23 10:22:06
I thought a bit more about what Rufus had to say. The whole repository argument is really strange and more than a bit of a red herring. Windows comes as a bare bones OS. There is no repository at all. You have to go to third party websites to download and install any software you might need. Why is it a problem, then, if a given piece of software isn't in the repository of a given distro? All that means is that you are in exactly the same position a Windows user would be in.

The glowing review of the Asus EeePC by a former Linux skeptic I linked in the article is what I expect most users would experience if simply handed a well configured Linux box. A review published yesterday by a self-confessed "Apple snob" was equally positive about Ubuntu on a Toshiba laptop. Adding any software he needed was no problem at all. I could dig up many other such reviews.

What separates these positive reviews from less than satisfactory experiences with preloaded Dell hardware or the Everex systems is that they were well configured in advance of the user laying hands on them. No installation or configuration was required.

This reinforces my position that the problem isn't Linux itself. There is nothing inferior about Linux at all. Software availability is rarely an issue except in the cases of very highly specialized applications. The problem remains getting preloaded systems into the marketplace and having adequate marketing to make people not only aware of them but thinking of them as worthy of serious consideration. Those systems have to be well thought out, well designed, and well configured. It's a tall order.

2008-04-23 11:28:19
I understood your point to be that not enough people try Linux. You suggest that PC makers have tried (non-optimal) installations of Linux with little success. (I went to the Asus EeePC web page you linked to. It says "ASUS recommends Windows for easy computing everywhere.") With friends like that ....

My point was that if you want people to use Linux they have to be able to EASILY try it and have a good experience when trying it. (And not have to buy a new PC to try it.) A way to try it is with a live CD but the experience is not the best. If there was an easy way to install the live-CD without all the disk partitioning and boot loader issues there might be more people using Linux.

You pointed to Ubuntu as an example of example of an .iso install. (One of the PCs at home runs an older version of Ubuntu.) So I went to their web page to explore further. The info on the install from the live CD drops into partitioning the hard drive.

However, there is mention of a "Wubi" utility ( It appears to do what I was suggesting - easily install Linux under Windows. I plan to look into it further. From a quick reading it appears that you just need to download Wubi and run it. It then downloads Ubuntu (or uses an already downloaded .iso) and installs it as an application under Windows. The best situation would be if this capability were part of the live CD.

2008-04-23 12:09:26
Dear Caitlyn,

yes, your innuendo I'm just spreading Microsoft commercials was indeed predictable. Here's your Circumstantial ad Hominen attack, too: Just because someone finds other some competitors to be superior in some respects, doesn't mean his intentions are dishonest.

Btw, I'm using Linux as a main OS for a some years now. I also happen to know a thing or two about marketing, due to my profession. I think I know what I'm talking about.

So let's have a look at your counter-arguments: So you say there's enough software in the repositories to deal with any video, music, and other problem people may encounter?

Nobody believes your bluff.

Where's the tax software? I'm not asking for local taxes. Where's a version that deals with US taxes for the desktop?

You're also saying that it's meaningless to ask for brand applications that are not available for Linux. I absolutely agree if I would have asked for those brands.

But I didn't.

I asked for applications that provide similar or better functionality to deal with the underlying problems. But you were not able to name _just one_ application that fits any of the needs I mentioned.

So much for facts. Your statement, there's enough software in the repositories that I ever want and need is plain wrong.

This is exactly what people are afraid of, too. They don't believe the hype. They are right to do so. Your inability to name just one potential replacement confirms their fears.

Sure, Linux would be work for 90% of the population -- as long as they don't encounter any special problems. However, 90% is quite a lot of people who are likely to have lots of special problems. Planning wedding table seats, for example.

PC enthusiasts are not going to recommend Linux to their mom's'dads because it's unable to solve one of their basic wants: the chance that additional third-party programs may be offered and an easy way to install these.

No advertising will fix this.

If you'd like to educate yourself on the topic of asymmetrical information in markets, see the wikipedia article on "The_Market_for_Lemons". It applies to Linux as well.

Niki Kovacs
2008-04-23 12:36:43
This is not the first article trying to answer the question: "Is Linux easy?" I've already read some of them, and I will probably read some more in the future. Curiously enough, I never ever read about what seems to me the most obvious distinction: is Linux easy... for users and/or for administrators? One has to wonder why that distinction is never raised.

My job mainly consists of installing and configuring Linux desktops, most of the time for people who barely know how to hold a mouse. These people use Linux: they switch on the computer, log in, double-click on one of the desktop icons, write documents, manage the public library, surf on the internet... if you ask them (and I do ask them), Linux is easy for them.

Now give these people the latest 2008.04-RC1.iso install CD of Arch Linux (which is precisely the system they use). And spend the next few weeks, months, years... teaching them boot options, partitioning, core systems, configuring /etc/rc.conf with Vim vs. Nano, getting a first draft of xorg.conf, and so on. You get the picture. Nobody in their right mind would do that.

I hear sometimes that my grandmother couldn't probably use Linux. My usual answer to that statement - which comes in various, only slightly altered forms - is that my grandmother probably wouldn't go further than the fdisk screen if she tried to install MS Windows by herself.

My guess: years of using MS Windows and clicking haphazardly on the System Configuration Panel have led users into actually believing they are sysadmins.

Niki Kovacs
2008-04-23 13:02:14
@Rufus: "Using Linux (on a desktop computer at home) is a risk: A user cannot be sure that he or she will be able to find a solution to a problem he or she might have in the future."

I'm a (100% GNU/Linux) sysadmin in France. Let's take a quick glance at all the folks who like to live dangerously computer-wise in this country:

- The Ministry of Defence
- The Police
- The Gendarmerie
- The universities
- Social security services
- The Assemblée Nationale ( = parliament)
- Aérospatiale
- ...

I remember exactly *one* case where an application existed only for Windows: on an install I made for a doctor, the application to read the magnetic cards of the Social Security Service only existed for Windows. But that was four or five years ago, the app has been ported to Linux since. At the time, we solved it by a double-boot install, with the Windows-side dedicated to this single application.

As for hardware: well, just don't buy winprinters or stuff like that. In the room where I'm writing these lines, there are various workstations (NEC, Dell, Noname) and various laptops (ASUS, Fujitsu, NEC, HP). All running Linux, without any problems. Wireless network, printers, scanners, webcams, everything runs fine. Despite what the Redmond FUD would otherwise suggest.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-23 13:40:48
@John: I actually think we pretty much agree more than we disagree. We're talking past each other, though. Yes, the easier the install the better the situation for Linux. However, the point that I don't seem to be communicating well to you is that ANY installation is too difficult for Joe or Jane user. Installing an OS, no matter how easy for someone with a moderate amount of computer literacy, is simply beyond the people who use a computer as an appliance. Most people only change operating systems when they buy a new computer so that is where the emphasis of my article lies. I still believe that Linux' share of the consumer desktop market will only increase significantly when it's as easy to walk into the store and buy a Linux computer as it is to buy a Windows computer. The corporate desktop is another matter entirely which is why I see scenario #2 as the more likely one.

@Niki Kovacs: Someone finally hits the nail squarely on the head! Bravo! Linux isn't hard. Linux isn't inferior in any way. THere is no lack of software. The installation and configuration process is just something most users can't and won't deal with.

@Rufus: No innuendo. I say what I mean and I mean waht I say. Your posts, all three of them, are typical of Windows supporters. They amount to a dismissal of Linux as inferior and a commercial for Microsoft. That's how I read them. If you see that as a personal attack I'd have to say that's your problem.

You can repeate a fallacious argument over and over and over again. It won't make it true. What I'm writing isn't hype. Like Niki I support Linux for a living. In my experience most users, including those with very limited computer skills, are perfectly satisfied with Linux when they finally get it presented to them in a way that is friendly and usable to them,.

I could go and list a bunch of applications off for you but you;d find something wrong with each one. You are the one who is bluffing. I've given you plenty of chances to make your crusading anti-Linux points. You're done, at least on my blog.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-23 13:43:56
For some reason links aren't showing up on my comments. The article I referred to, "An Apple User Tries Ubuntu", can be found at:
2008-04-23 17:40:36
@ Caitlyn: Sorry to hear you give up the argument.

Obviously, you support Linux for a living, so you're committed to a certain position. I completely understand.

I do not doubt that the majority of people you meet have no problems using Linux. Your sample is self-selected (by your potential customers) and thus probably biased. Additionally, some of your customers may have switched back without telling you.

Maybe, you're able to overcome your pre-justice against people who point out flaws in Linux. Or should I say "bugs"?

The following article may help. It fits so well, I would be an interesting read for you I guess.

Here's the URL:

2008-04-23 19:57:04
Like many I've been beating the drum for a number of years. I've encountered so many friends and family having issues with Windows based products (or indeed Windows itself) and yet... I've never had the issues. Since 2.6.x matured pretty much all the hardware I've thrown at the damn kernel has... worked. With the exception of a really belligerent USB disk controller; which was equally stubborn in Windows. I've a whole chest of tales about Windows misbehaving, failing to install and such... I have substantially less about the Linux kernel messing up.

As your article points out, every time we see a review of a Microsoft laptop that's poorly configured/slow/fails to perform it's the laptops fault or the OEM's. If it's a Linux system... it's the Linux OS's fault, not the provider's. It gives very negative connotations and I doubt Microsoft could pay for that level of mind share.

As a Linux user I would love nothing more than to see Dell's Ubuntu offerings appearing on the TV adverts, full, paid for surveys from Gartner and co showing Linux is up to the job and a battery of billboard adverts showing Ubuntu/Suse/etc's latest product. I'd also like to see boxed editions with well designed manuals on the shelves. As a member of the community I'll happily paypal some $'s to the war chest for this effort.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-23 20:57:05
@Rufus: I've been nice. I've let you have one more post after saying I wouldn't allow you another. I don't like arguing with brick walls, which is precisely what arguing with you is like. No amount of facts will sway your opinion, which is fine. I've learned not to argue religious beliefs.

Your link is pretty funny. It was precisely Walt MOssberg I was referring to who reviewed the Dell. His evaluation was spot on. His conclusion, as Sarah points out, was off the mark.

I would suggest you look at my resume before assuming my prejudices. Through most of my career I've had to support BOTH Linux and Windows. I've been supporting Windows since 1.04. That was released in 1985, BTW. Thankfully few people actually went with Windows at that primitive point in its development.

Sorry, but I would suggest you are the one with the prejudice, not me. Most of my customers run Linux or UNIX in the server room and Windows on the desktop. I have to make them play nicely together, a task Microsoft makes as difficult as possible rather deliberately. I don't think my sample over the 13 years I've worked with both Linux and Windows is biased towards Linux.

People who worked with me a decade ago will remember me saying and writing that Linux wasn't ready for prime time. I said, often and loudly, that Microsoft had won the OS wars and NT was the future of both the desktop and the server room. I was wrong and my days as a Microsoft bigot were, fortunately, short lived. Why? Linux matured, first in the server room and then on the desktop. It's been ready for prime time on the desktop for about seven or eight years. The world is just waking up to that fact now even if you aren't.

Niki's example from France isn't unique. Companies and government entities have adopted Linux in the server room in a big way. It is also just now starting to make inroads on the corporate desktop, albeit very slowly. Why? Simply put: Linux is less expensive, performs better, is more stable, and is more secure that indows and despit your protestation to the contrary there is still no lack of apps.

My article wasn't about Linux vs. Windows. It was about why Linux hasn't captured more of the market and what needs to happen to change it. You are the one who went off on a tangent and created an argument.

This time you're done. I didn't say I was giving up. I said you weren't posting any more last go around. My blog is not the place for pointless argument by someone promoting Windows.

2008-04-23 21:10:14
The one thing Linux is missing is a huge marketing department. Most people barely know what Linux is, they believe there are only two choices Windows or Mac - after all, go to any major computer store, what choice do you have?
Maybe there are too many distros, too much choice can be a bad thing, it can be overwhelming for some.

I have been only using Linux for just less than a year and this is what I think: it's easy to learn, easy to use, has all the software that I need for use at home, secure, and stable, I've only ever had to reboot a couple of times, and that was when I first started using it(I probably didn't need to, it was just a windows habit).

It's really sad to see people making comments about Linux when they obviously haven't used it recently, and don't know what they're talking about. Windows isn't any easier, at work I seem to always be helping someone with some kind of problem with their computer - all Windows. I'm not even in the tech department not that we have one.

Last, but not least, I sure don't miss all that MS licensing and DRM crap.

2008-04-23 21:11:06
@rufus: I see you appear to be a victim of the same problem you point out about perceptions (or was is prejudice?).

So far, all I've seen you argue about are the same issues people have with MS system as well - yet I don't see you arguing the same position about MS systems. Interesting.

Herring #1: Software. I use software that's not available for Windows but should be, so what's your point? And asking about possible future use is the problem with ALL O/S's, not just Linux. BTW - asking the question about installing mutliple distributions to use multiple repositories just shows your tunnel vision (or was it prejudice in your last post?) and also lack of facts-gathering.

Herring #1A: Software installation. Last time I checked, clicking on the menu item to check repositories is a little easier and cleaner than going to the store and hoping (a) they have the software I'm looking for, (b) the CD that it came on is not infected, and (c), that the installer for that software doesn't rake my already installed software over the coals.

Herring #2: Drivers. My sister-in-law's drive died on her laptop. Drivers were not available on the XP install disk. Again - tunnel vision. And, yes, she's one of those "risk-adverse" people that you point out (college student required to collaberate with her MS-using classmates). She's happily running Linux now (which I had to install since she couldn't install Windows or Linux herself - just like your average computer user.

Herring #3: PC Administrators. I think Helios answered that one (since companies will have computer (not just PC) administrators for the systems that they have.

Herring #4: Windows desktops are all alike. Yep, tell that to my wife who had to replace her stolen laptop (XP installed) with a new one that only came with Vista. (humor on) Nope - no learning curve there. (humor off). And yes, I had to learn it as well to help her learn it. This one also applies to any other software that gets installed (like the video cutting or remote chat stuff) - you have to learn the program, whether you want to or not, if you're going to use it.

Herring #5 - Software developers. Last time I checked, the quality of the linux software and comparable MS platform software are either on par or slightly tilted to the linux crowd. I will grant I've known a lot of good MS platform programmers, but they still have to rely on the underlying O/S to perform properly. When an application dies and takes the whole system with it, not much you can do about that. That's an MS problem from the beginning, not the developer's problem.

Herring #6 - Risk. How much money do you have to spend before you hook your Windows computer up to the internet? Or to scan that CD (software OR audio) before you can try to use it on your computer? Sorry to hear that you have to purchase more 3rd party software before you can use your computer the first time.

Speaking of software, you harp on tax and wedding planning software for the desktop. Why should I spend good money on a software package that I'll only be able to use once, then have to buy again in a year? Tax software is one of those issues where the online tax services are the better value, since the online version does not take up space on my disk and waste computer resources when I'm not using it. Same for the wedding planner software.

And, by the way, my sample is not self-selected: Microsoft is pushed on me because I'm the only one that uses Linux. The ones that have switched are because of Microsoft problems. And they have not switched back, either.

I think Caitlyn has a reason to think your posts represent an MS advertisement. And I may come back later to read some more of your tunnel vision.

2008-04-23 22:19:02
With Canonical committing to enterprise desktop I believe we're getting there.
And I certainly like their approach: they do not provide lots of enterprise applications, but they provide a distribution channel for other enterprise application developers.
This looks like Microsoft successful strategy in the old years. Should they become a successful Linux ISV many will find success behind them. That seems the way to challenge Microsoft - on their own ground.
Aaron A
2008-04-24 03:21:31
Totally agree with you, your second scenario is the way to go.
I'd like to add my own musings to your points and possibly expand it (hope that doesn't sound impolite).
I was around when Netware dominated the server space with UNIX/Mainframe on the big iron. Nobody saw any money on desktops except MicroSoft, so kudos there. After this Microsft turned there attention to the server room and by the use of slick marketing aided by Novell's frankly useless attempts at there own marketing Microsoft managed to convince CEO's and people with the purchasing power - not the techies - to replace the far superior Netware 4 with NT 3.51. Novell then carried on fiddling with their Office Suite while the empire collapsed around them (Helios do you really want Novell to spearhead the Linux marketing campaign). More bad decisions and marketing (always good tech) left them dead in the water. Then this upstart Linux got a toe hold into the server room.
That quick potted history (I could ramble on this topic for days) brings us to now, where we find that Linux has started to attack Microsoft in the server room. This is effectively the bridgehead with which to get out onto the desktop, just as Microsoft used the desktop to get onto the servers. The decision makers and money men need to be shown that the stability, reliability and ease of use of the Linux servers can be transferred to the desktop. Microsft did this in reverse, they convinced these people that it made sense to use this nice GUI to control the servers, then anyone could admin the network and a huge fortune could be saved in IT staffing costs (brief explanantion but essentially what happened).
Red Hat and Novell (boo, hiss) know this and this is why they do not supply a supported distro for home users. Simply put, they do not have the resources (cash, staffing levels etc) to support such an endeavour in the current climate, imagine countless calls from Joe Public complaining that the Norton Anti Virus software they just brought won't install etc. However they do have the abilities to support the desktop within the corporate arena. They can to a certain extent control the environment and therefore provide a high level of service. So do we need some poorly implemented distro rollout to the masses that is doomed to failure, or do we wait for the larger comapanies (Red Hat, Novell, Canonical) to decide when the time is right. I have no experience of running a multimillion dollar corporation so I trust those that do in these matters.
So the point is that once Linux is accepted as a desktop within organisations, the infrastructure to support it properly will start to grow. People will become familiar with it. Third parties (such as Helios already does) will start to provide support (how many home user actually get support from Microsoft). This takes the burden of home user support away from the distro provider.
While we wait, lets just consider that the 2 largest private companies supplying patches for the Linux Kernel are Red Hat and Novell. Also how much work these companies do for GNome, KDE OpenOffice and various other major projects.
A lot of people seem to spend there time looking for ways to attack these companies, so next time anyone has an urge to bash Red Hat and Novell remember Fedora and OpenSuse, both excellent distros and think of all the work these companies do. Also consider that when Linux does make it big on the home users desktop, it will be because these companies along with others like Canonical have got it into the boardroom.
Finally, well written blog Caitlyn - a pleasure to read.
2008-04-24 05:35:46
@ Ken: Interesting points. Maybe Caitlyn allows me to reply.

Many of your points boil down just a few lines of thought:

(a) Straw men arguments: I never said all Windows desktop are the same nor did I say Windows has better driver support than Linux.

(b) "Point-of-view" arguments: I absolutely agree with many of your observations. However, they do hold for Linux as well (or visa versa). You just didn't look close enough.

For example, I'm not sure what you mean by "scan that CD" but freeware rippers and burners are available for Windows.

(c) "Your fault" arguments: Whenever somebody points to the lack of a certain functionality, Linux enthusiasts say this is not Linux' fault but the one of the user. Then, they usually recommend that the user should change his or her habit or preference.

For example, why should people switch to SaaS if they want a desktop application? That's just a meaningless reply. (I admit I expected it earlier in the discussion).

(d) "Final defeat" arguments: Windows is just as bad as Linux, so there's no need to improve, anymore.

Many people probably consider switching the OS to be expensive. Time needs to be invested. With no compelling reasons to switch, they won't do it.

For example, check the review by the Apple "snop", Caitlyn linked to: He just needs a word processor and a browser. Linux fits that need perfectly but he still isn't going to switch to Linux as his primary desktop.

Now, what are people going to say who want or need some advanced applications?

Sure, for some people, Linux' stability and security may be enough compelling reasons to switch. For others that's not sufficient.

Remember many critical points for widespread desktop adoption were fixed by the Freedesktop standard, Project Portland and new releases of Qt and GTK+ only recently.

I just believe the lack of the wide-spread adoption of a unified installation system is one of the last open points.

Even Ian Murdock agrees:

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-24 11:51:42
Rufus,for the last time there is no lack of specialized applications. You raised the issue of applications to deal with video. I'm going to be writing a review of the Vector Linux Multimedia Bonus Disc soon. The free video applications it includes are:

  • Avidemux - a free video editor
  • CinePaint - a motion picture retouching system
  • Gmerlin mutimedia suite
  • Kino - a simple video editor
  • LiVES - Linux video editing system
  • OpenMovie Editor
  • RecordMyDesktop - screen capture software
  • Acidrip - DVD ripper and encoder
  • DVDcopy - DVD backup and copying software
  • DVDripomatic - another DVD ripper
  • DVDStyler - DVD authoring system
  • K9copy - another DVD copyer, this one is for KDE
  • Mandvd - simple DVD authoring
  • Qdvdauthor - yet another DVD authoring program
  • Tovid - video conversion software

At the professional level I can tell you from my time with Red Hat that all the major Hollywood animation studios do their major work on the Linux platform. Professional high end (read: commercial) 3D modeling, animation, and video software like Houdini and Maya used to be primarily for SGI IRIX. Today it's all on Linux.

I'm sorry, I haven't planned a wedding lately but I have seen reviews of wedding software for Linux. I just don't know what's good and what isn't. It does exist, though.

Ian Murdock isn't the ultimate arbiter of what is and isn't good about Linux. His 2006 opinion proves nothing. I can post a dozen links to "Windows sucks" articles and a dozen more to "Linux sucks" articles all by people who are supposed to be respected by someone somewhere. It's pretty pointless, isn't it?

Your posts are looking more and more like trolling to me. You've made your points, all of which are easily refuted. I probably should have exercised more control over this blog before now but I wanted to give you enough rope to hang yourself. Call it censorship if you like but from here on in I'll happily delete any further repeat performances from you since we all know you think Linux is inferior and Windows is the way to go. It's an argument that will never sway many people on a Linux forum. This is the O'Reilly Linux Dev Center, remember?

2008-04-25 10:42:47
I agree completely with everything Caitlyn is saying here about Linux marketing, and Linux being properly configured with complelling hardware (like the ASUS).

But I also agree with Rufus, to a certain extent. I've been using Linux since '02, various distros (I've tried many), and have settled on Debina/Ubuntu/sidux. I've very much attached to apt and the huge Debian and Ubuntu repositories. In the repos I can find pretty much everything I will ever need. But the key part of that sentence is "pretty much".

My wife and I stopped using a CPA to do our taxes, and gone with using TurboTax the last 3 years. Our returns have been just as good (deductions for our kids, mortgage, etc), it's been pretty much just as easy as going to the CPA, but it has saved us a bunch of money.

But TurboTax runs only on Windows (and I think Mac).

Now, there are online Tax handling offerings out there. But I don't want my taxes to be stored "in the cloud", plain and simple - I'm not comfortable with that. There are a number of accounting software titles in the Debian/Ubuntu repos (like GNUCash, KMyMoney), and there are commercial Java titles (like MoneyDance). But none seem to really specialize in Taxes, and none really seemed to be completely up on latest tax code.

There is not a snowball's chance in hell that I'm going to risk my taxes getting screwed up, and risk having an audit, or fines, or get smaller returns than I might be eligible for, on using something that "might" work out OK, for the purpose of running on Linux (as much as I want to run all my software on Linux).

In purchasing a copy of TurboTax each year, I'm purchasing a guarantee that it will be up on latest tax code, I'm purchasing a contract that my taxes will be filied properly, I purchasing a the ability to have direct deposit into my bank account for my returns, I'm purchasing convenience, I'm purchasing peace of ming that it will all work as advertised (TurboTax specializes in it, and if they fail, they're out of business), and I'm saving money because I don't have to pay a CPA.

I simply can't get all that from an OSS program, in this case. There is no OSS project out there that has mindshare, the amount of developers, the amount of corporate support, that is going to make a program that will guarantee everything that I just mentioned. There are titles, like I said, but they're not to the point I need it to be.

And, unfortunately, there is no Linux version of TurboTax. I also don't truts Wine or Crossover Linux to run it properly (in my experience, most non-trivial programs have various issues - remember, with TurboTax, I'm buying convenience, trust, peace of mind).

I would absolutely love it if TurboTax released a Linux version. But obvisouly there has to be large enough market for them to commit the resources to do so.

Also, at this point in time, it's simply not very easy for ISV's to port their wares to Linux.

I'm a developer, and I think Linux programming tools are great.

However, Linux fails as a platform. By platform, I mean a consistent target for developers and ISVs. You can't just make one package, you have to make several - for just about every relevant distro, and for various verisons of those distros, and worry about various dependencies, versions of glibc, and so on, and package them in either RPM, Deb, tar.gz, or write your own complex shell script (like NetBeans has done). You also have to worry about different distro implementations of the file structure (does it go in /usr/bin, usr/share/lib, /opt, usr/local/share???), and different implementations of various config files (xorg.conf, /etc/apt/sources.list, yum,so on and so forth).

Now, to be fair, there are variances in implementations of the Windows platform - NT, 2000, XP, Server 2003, Vista, etc. But you always get the Win32 API, various services, and you produce either an exe or an msi for the install. And the user clicks on the exe or msi, and it installs.

Windows, as a platform, or target, just makes it easier for third party developers or ISVs to develop and deploy on, than Linux.

It's all fine and good for common open source projects to have the code avaialable, then the distro packages can put the package in the standard repos. But it's stickier for third parties that aren't open source.

In short, it's probably simply not practical for TurboTax to produce a Linux version at this point - to much development/deployment investment, for too little market and financial gain.

Now, the market is gradually expanding, and more and more ISVs are porting their wares to Linux. That's great. But there are still too many crucial titles (and TurboTax is a classic example) that remain unsupported, and there aren't viable OSS alternatives in the repos.

The Linux community, and particularly distros, can help alleviate this situation, and make it easier for ISVs to port their wares to Linux. That's common standards (that are actually adhered to), and a common package system (that works across distros). LSB has been there for years, but most distros completely ignore it. And there have been attempts at a common package system - Klik, Smart, etc. But none have gained traction. Also, the Linux foundations has been trying to address common compatibility issues (Gnome,KDE, differen libraries, etc). But it all has to get much better.

So, after a long meandering post, it boils down to the fact that I, and many other people, have to have Windows. I use Linux for about 98% of my computing. But the specialized cases, like TurboTax, are very important.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-25 12:24:43
@JeffS: I'm going to disagree with most of your points. If you file electronically with Turbo Tax your return is going into the same cloud as mine. It's supposed to be a secure transmission, of course, when you eFile, but it's still over the internet. Some of the online offerings allow you to store your data locally, just as you are doing with Turbo Tax, and the eFile. None of the data gets permanently stored on the 'net. If you use one of the major tax preparation companies' service you are also buying a contract with all the guarantees of Turbo Tax. I'm not suggesting that there is an OSS solution for everything. I am saying that you made a purchasing decision that requires Windows because you like a particular way of doing your taxes. The additional safety you purchased is illusory, IMNSHO, and I've done network security for a large part of my career. In other words, I can achieve the same result as you do with the same level of safety with a product, albeit a proprietary product, that does not require me to run Windows or MacOS. Please note that I am not making a Free Software Foundation style argument against proprietary code. If Rufus or you were arguing that it can't be done strictly with FLOSS code we'd have no disagreement.

ISVs do port to Linux and they don't, generally, have to provide multiple packages. There are two ways around this. You can take the approach that Oracle or Sybase take, as an example, and support a limited number of distributions that represent the lions share of the corporate market. Oracle supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SuSe Enterprise Server only. That's about 95% of the corporate market in the U.S. and nearly that in Europe. Their installer works on either one since both systems are rpm based and have the same filesystem structure.

Another approach is to come up with a universal package. Despite the lack of standards you describe a number of companies have successfully done just that. Let me give an example that would be used by the typical consumer. I have a Lightscribe enabled CD/DVD burner and I want to use the technology. Once again that requires proprietary software since HP has not chosen to open the driver code. I decided to try both the HP and LaCie labeling software. It turns out they use the same driver (different versions, just use the newest one) and the drive and software are only offered as rpms. Well... in Vector Linux and most Slackware derivatives the packaging system isn't rpm. rpm is included, though, for cases like this one. You have to install with the --nodeps option since most packages aren't in an rpm database but it works just fine. In Ubuntu and most Debian derivatives it's even easier using alien and GUI tools are often available to simplify the install for those not comfortable at the command line. One package, many distros, and so far as I can tell, no problems at all. Certainly all the major distributions can be supported this way. I can cite other examples where a master graphical installer (no package per se) is used and it's point and click. The Lightscribe software is one of the least elegant examples I can think of.

So... no, Rufus' arguments don't hold water. Your argument boils down to your choice of a specific program and methodology that isn't supported, not that adequate and safe tax preparation isn't available. I still firmly believe that for 90% of the people out there all the software they will ever want or need is available for Linux if they don't insist on a specific brand of program. Lots of commercial ISVs seem to be perfectly able to support Linux if there is sufficient demand. Creating more demand for consumer products is all that is needed to offer more choices and bring more ISVs on board and that will be covered nicely is either of the scenarios I describe play out.

2008-04-25 13:40:32

I'll revisit looking at some online versions of tax preparation software next year. If they do indeed let my store everything locally, and if they are as easy to use as TurboTax, and if they make the same guarantees, I'll consider them.

This go around I did not quite get the "warm fuzzy", when checking out online versions, that I needed in order to switch from TurboTax. TurboTax, AFAIK, has a solid reputation, and of the 3 times I've used it at this point, it hasn't let me down.

And, as much as I want do my taxes on Linux (I want to do everything on Linux - and let that be perfectly clear - I prefer Linux by orders of magnitude over Windows), it will take a major "warm fuzzy" to get me to switch from a program that I'm used to and I know that works and that is handling something of such extreme importance as taxes, which has complete zero tolerence for failure.

So we'll see about that.

And to your other points -

Good point about Oracle. I was well aware of what they do. And not only do they support RH and SuSE, as you say, but they also support Ubuntu and Debian on many offerings. Plus, all their Java offerings run on anything, so long as it has the JVM installed.

But Oracle is an exception. They're the second largest software company in the world, so they have the resources to do different versions. Also, Linux is very much a part of their overall strategy in the Enterprise. Larry Ellison himself has said that he supports Linux because it helps him take market share from Microsoft.

I was also aware of the Slackware and Debian RPM converters. I have used rpm2tgz on Slackware, and I've used alien on Ubuntu and Debian. Both worked reasonably well, but mostly with smaller apps. With larger ones, it failed. For instance I downloaded an RPM for VMWare Server, and tried to convert it to deb with alien, and then install the deb. The conversion seemed to work, because the deb was produced. But the install failed completely (I won't get into the details now - it's too lenghty).

Regardless, we Linux users/advocates cannot expect "regular" users to be aware of tools like rpm2tgz or alien, much less expect them to be willing/able to use them. They're used to clicking on an exe or msi, and the stuff just installs. They expect nothing less.

That said, if the program is in the repos, then it doesn't get any easier than Synaptic, or the even simply Add/Remove Software program in Ubuntu. Works smooth as silk. But again, third party ISVs don't necessarily want to submit their source to distro packagers, nor do they want produce an rpm and a deb, and sometimes multiple versions of those (an RPM that installs on RH may not necessarily install on Suse or Mandriva PCLinuxOS).

"Your argument boils down to your choice of a specific program and methodology that isn't supported, not that adequate and safe tax preparation isn't available."

Again, adequate and safe tax preparation alternative software programs might indeed be available. But it will take a lot to make me want to switch, or even feel confident enough to switch. I already know TurboTax works, and tax preparation has zero tolerence of failure - it absolutely has to work 100%, or I'm screwed.

But that gets back to the "inertia" phenomenon. Even people are aware that of Linux, and that it is a superior operating system, are often reluctant to swtich because the alternative programs are not compelling enough to make them want to switch, or they don't inspire enough confidence to make them feel safe enough in switching.

And believe you me, I very much want people to feel both compelled to switch, and feel confident enough to switch.

That's why I try to be honest about potential pitfalls, shortcomings, or shortcomings about switching, and advocate on forums such as these for improvements in Linux that will help overcome shortcomings, and inspire confidence in, and compell, the "regular" user to switch.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-25 14:45:11
@JeffS: Thank you for a well reasoned and rational discussion. I suspect the "warm fuzzy" argument, the fact that we are all comfortable with what we know, is the main reason MOST users don't switch from Windows to Linux. It's something neither I nor anyone else can argue with. If someone is satisfied with what they have they have no reason to switch. I'm sure you've noticed that I didn't criticize Turbo Tax for anything other than not running on my OS of choice. I also suspect that if Linux rose from the 4-6% of the desktop market it holds to even twice that the folks who make Turbo Tax may reevalute whether or not its worth supporting to them. An ISV is no different from any other vendor. It always comes down to a cost vs. benefit analysis. I wouldn't expect it to be any other way.

Look at Adobe. They supply Acrobat Reader and Flash for Linux probably because their enterprise customers demand they do, not because there is any money ot be made by giving away those products. They don't supply a full blown Linux version of Acrobat and if I were making development decisions for them I wouldn't recommend porting it. Why not? There are FLOSS tools that do a great job of creating pdf files so the chance of significant sales in what currently is still a relatively limited market is fairly poor.

On to Oracle: a couple of years ago it was just Red Hat and Novell. I currently don't support anyone running Ubuntu or Debian servers (I actually never have, to be honest) so I wasn't aware that they now certify additional distros. I'm glad to hear it. The situation with Oracle ties very well into a point Bogdan made. When I consulted for Red Hat I worked with customers who had deployed RHEL both in the server room and on the desktop. With Red Hat and Novell both abandoning the Linux desktop there is a fantastic opportunity for Canonical to offer one stop shopping for Linux business solutions, something neither Red Hat nor Novell can currently offer. Having ISVs like Oracle on board is critical to making that work. If Hardy Heron doesn't suffer from the number of serious bugs that Gutsy and Feisty were plagued with they have a great opportunity to capture some market share. Competition is a good thing.

I certainly agree that Oracle or IBM or Adobe have deep pockets and can absorb some costs if they believe that there is a long term benefit. You are absolutely correct in pointing out that smaller ISVs often can't afford to do the same and may even lack the core competencies to support additional platforms. It's a chicken-and-egg problem for Linux. Thankfully as Linux has grown in popularity more ISVs have come on board. I expect that trend will continue.

I agree with your argument that a product has to be compelling for people to buy it. This is why the Asus EeePC is so important even if Asus as a company isn't a great friend of Linux. It proved that compelling Linux products can succeed in the marketplace.

Back to your "warm fuzzy" comment: that is precisely why I felt that the corporate market has to come first and why scenario 2 is the likely one. At work you don't get a choice of OS :) Either way we are right back to marketing being the issue.

FWIW, I didn't use rpt2tgz. It isn't necessary on Vector Linux and on most of the friendlier Slackware derivatives. rpm is natively supported by VL. it was an rpm -i just as it would have been on Fedora. You are also correct in pointing out that Joe or Jane user won't learn tools like alien to rpmtotgz. There are Debian and Slack derivatives that do offer GUI tools which support multiple package formats. For users of a distro with such a tool they don't need to know about package converters. I guess I should also point out that Joe or Jane user is never going to choose Slackware :) That distro is aimed squarely at experienced Linux user.

Good discussion in any case. Rufus was making the argument that Linux is fatally flawed and inherently inferior to WIndows. That isn't where you are coming from at all and I don't see much disagreement between us after all.

2008-04-25 14:52:30
Interesting discussion. I hate to burst the bubble, but Linux is still a hobbiest OS and always will be. It is way too fragmented for any interoperability in a serious sense. Yes, some corporations use Linux, but it comes with a greater pain/expense when it comes to integration. What, your package only works on RedHat, but our standard Linux is Ubuntu? Imagine yourself as a CIO trying to manage the madness of incompatible distros and maintain a responsible budget. Linux is a great way to learn Unix, nothing more. A real flavor of Unix is used for serious biz apps such as AIX.
Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-25 15:10:10
McCann: What planet are you on? Linux has more than twice the share of the server market than ALL commercial UNIX variants combined. Source: IDG. Clue: IDG is no friend of Linux. Major corporations the world over have a primarily Linux infrastructure. That ranges from Wall Street investment firms, the major stock exchanges, Google, banks, utilities, Hollywood studios, airlines, chip makers, and even government agencies at the state and local level in the U.S> and at the national level in some European and Asian countries.

Fragmentation? Linux is Linux. Anything that runs on one distro can run on another. That isn't true of commercial UNIX variants, is it?

Fragmentation? The corporate server market in the U.S. is 91% Red Hat. Novell dominates Europe, TurboLinux dominates Asia, particularly Japan. Sure there are lots of hobby distros but the corporate market isn't very divided at all.

I suggest doing a modicum of research before spouting off opinions that make you look silly.

Oh, and BTW, this article was about the desktop. How many people run AIX workstations, even in corporate America?

Niki Kovacs
2008-04-26 09:17:19
@JeffS. Quote: "However, Linux fails as a platform. By platform, I mean a consistent target for developers and ISVs. You can't just make one package, you have to make several - for just about every relevant distro, and for various verisons of those distros, and worry about various dependencies, versions of glibc, and so on, and package them in either RPM, Deb, tar.gz, or write your own complex shell script (like NetBeans has done)."

In "Open Source", there's "source". IMHO it's sufficient if a developer publishes the source code of his/her application, as well as some sensible instructions on build dependencies and other README stuff. Then, it's the distributor's task to integrate that nicely into the distribution.

(Side note: this is one reason why I'm particularly fond of Arch Linux. Either a program is available in binary form in the repos, then 'pacman -S program' will install the latest version of it. Or it isn't, then the Arch Build System - think: FreeBSD ports for Linux - lets you build your proper package yourself in a matter of minutes with the makepkg script.)

And if you still have doubts in the open source vs. closed source debate, read this forum thread and imagine something similar happening in the Windows world:

Niki Kovacs
2008-04-26 09:24:28
@McCann. Quote: "Linux is a great way to learn Unix, nothing more."

That's why folks like the NSA or the Army like to run Linux on their servers for relaxing :oD

2008-04-26 09:45:12
I am from planet earth, and live in the context of reality. If you want unix on a desktop just run a mac, it's that simple too. It is fun to watch many socially inept linux hacks try to make their case(s) while they wait on their IRS stimulus checks. If you are real professionals you would not be racing towards each distro of the month or slogging your way to the mailbox each day to see if you got a gov check. Real IT professionals manage an environment holistically and are compensated to the point of being ineligible for this latest stimulus package. The hobbiest mentality will not get you folks far and I suspect some of you are limited in social skills anyway based on your responses.

For Niki--many of the DoD types that so call manage linux servers usually lack basic enterprise skills. They know how to manage a box, but fall short when it comes to working in an enterprise that has many moving pieces. Those may be excellent point solutions, but not for sustaining a business. I do think this is an excellent hobby and you should continue and balance this with business skills/training/education.

Chris Josephes
2008-04-26 11:00:19
McCann: "Linux is a great way to learn Unix, nothing more"

Ironically, that's not entirely the case, since Linux is not Unix and never claimed to be.

Caitlyn Martin: "Fragmentation? Linux is Linux. Anything that runs on one distro can run on another. That isn't true of commercial UNIX variants, is it?"

Now that isn't entirely a fair argument either, since there is no guaranteed binary compatibility between major kernel revisions. That only means you can copy binaries between two hosts at the same kernel level. And even then, you had better hope that your shared libraries are exactly where the application expects them to be.

What exactly would the benefit be from migrating to one Enterprise Linux distro to another?

Niki Kovacs
2008-04-26 11:01:47
@McCann. Quote: "The hobbiest mentality will not get you folks far and I suspect some of you are limited in social skills anyway based on your responses."

There's a fat chance indeed most Linux users turn out to be less talented for headbanging, stagediving and hippie-bashing than you seem to be, judging from the overall tone of your posts. But then, our respective definitions of "social skills" might diverge.

Carla Schroder
2008-04-26 11:05:37
heya Caitlyn, nice analysis. One thing troubles me: your premise is that getting Joe and Jane Sixpack to try something other than Windows is going to require some kind of outside pressure, rather than an informed decision. And you're probably right. Even though I passed the big 50 last year, humans still baffle me. They cuss Windows, they get repeatedly infected, their data are routinely lost, they can't get their work done, and this all costs them a mint in money and lost time, and yet they are resistant to exploring options. They've used PCs for years, and yet still don't have the foggiest understanding of basic concepts, such as software and hardware being two different things, and an operating system being a different kind of software from applications. To most folks it's a majik boxx inhabited by a moody demon.

Back when I still supported Windows users I was always encouraging them to take some classes, and there were a lot of really good classes in the area. But nooo, always some excuse. The ones who did learned a lot of good things and quit bugging me about the same dumb problems over and over.

You're also right that better marketing and presenting good polished products is key. User interface is still a big weakness, and it isn't helped by snooty geekbeard attitudes. There is nothing virtuous about a text command-line interface- it was born or necessity, not a result of the best design principles. Most folks are visual and comprehend information better with nice formatting, colors, and images. I loathe the Linux command line, though I use it routinely- remember Xtree Gold or the DOS shell? Those were great because they gave you all kinds of useful visual cues. They proved that a CLI can be more than an unhelpful blank space.

JeffS is right that people simply won't leave certain must-have applications. (Jeff, personally I think you're nuts to not use a real CPA- when you factor in your time plus the cost of the software, the cost will probably work out about the same. Then add a CPA's expertise for advice and planning you come out ahead. I would also be very nervous about entrusting my finances to known malware-friendly operating system.) But the main point is some apps are very hard for people to leave behind. Throw in a difficult migration and they're just going to stare blankly at you.

Other examples are easy-to-use greeting card and calendar creators, like Print Shop. A lot of people love those, and there is nothing on Linux that compares. And then there is a whole world of specialized professional tools, like legal applications, medical stuff, scientific thingies, and whole lot more I forget.

I think for the long-term health of FOSS the one big needed killer app is a friendly programmer's toolkit that is easy to learn, while still being structurally sound, because we need to attract more programmers. I'd like to see something that allows even inexperienced programmers to make their own extensions and customizations to existing apps, and to build their own interfaces and forms. FOSS has proven that a pretty interface and solid underpinnings are not mutually exclusive, unlike the windoze world, we just need a lot more of it.

What bothers me the most is how little people value things like security, owning their own data, and being treated like real customers instead of exploitable victims. I'm sure you've heard it as much as I have- "Oh I have nothing interesting, I don't care." They're not bothered by being charter members of the WorldWide Botnet, probably because it's too abstract, and not something that demands their attention like their roof falling on their heads.

Eh enough ranting. Linux and FOSS are going to grow on the desktop, too. It's been a steady progression, and when we see things like the ASUS laptop that's a significant sign- it means the Borg is losing its grip and finally the villagers are feeling a little braver.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-26 11:24:11
@Chris Josephes: I have moved binaries between systems with different distros and different kernels and had them work. Of course, these may be apps that have limited or no interaction with the kernel. I do agree that there is no guarantee that this will work. The Lightscribe driver and apps I mentioned claim to work with any Linux distro with a 2.6.9 kernel or newer. So far that seems to be true.

Normally there shouldn't be an advantage or a compelling reason to migrate between enterprise distributions. The main reason I have seen it done in my career was when different groups within an organization chose different distros and finally some control was instituted and a corporate standard was set. In one case I did some work for a bank that wanted everything moved to SLES because they had an enterprise support contract with Novell and anything else added cost. I've seen other organizations that standardized on RHEL.

One possible reason for migrations is the decision by Novell and Red Hat to abandon the desktop. If a company or organization has a major investment in the desktop and wants a single source of both the OS and the support behind it they now have a problem with both Red Hat and Novell. This creates a major opportunity for competitors, primarily Canonical, Mandriva, and TurboLinux. Canonical is aggressively marketing Ubuntu LTS as an enterprise product but they have had a couple of seriously buggy releases lately. If Hardy Heron has solid code (the jury is still out here) and they can keep quality control at a high level they do have the best opportunity. Mandriva has the product but, at least in North America, would need to ramp up a support organization in a major way -- a move I consider unlikely. TurboLinux is dominant in Asia. The question is whether or not they want to try and succeed in markets where they have previously failed (North America and Europe).

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-26 11:50:18
@Carla: I was wondering when you were going to weigh in. I think you've pretty well summed up the situation when it comes to average users and yes, it's frustrating that so many see their computers as an appliance and treat it like some kind of toaster. Their lack of security can often have negative effects on huge number of other Windows users on the Internet as they unwittingly help spread malware and yet they are totally oblivious and will look at you like you have three heads if you try to explain it. So long as things are working for them they don't care.

Outside pressure works. I saw it contracting for IBM in the mid '90s. OS/2 was mandatory on the desktop and a huge percentage of IBMers, including people like administrative assistants and other non-technical support staff, ran OS/2 at home. They were used to it, they liked it, and at that point there was still significant ISV support so a lot of top flight software was available. The Linux desktop has matured to the point that if people are forced to try it they will like it.

Must-have apps are often not really must-have. I know people who cite Microsoft Office as the major reason not to leave Windows. Look at the reviews I linked -- people tried OpenOffice and realized that it was just fine for their needs. Most users won't make that jump unless compelled to try the alternative. Linux has calendar software, of course, but it's more business-oriented (think Sunbird, for example) and has a higher level of features and complexity than something like Calendar Creator Plus, which is the kind of software you're describing. It's not that the functionality of Print Shop doesn't exist for Linux (it does) but rather that it doesn't exist in such a simple form. Linux and FLOSS developers in general often ignore what they would regard as dumbed down versions of things we already have despite the fact that many consumers want something simple. That's a very valid issue. How do we get FLOSS developers to look beyond their own needs and, in particular, look to the needs of people who aren't tech-savvy? It's happened on the desktop interface. It needs to happen more at the application level.

On the issue of simplifying programming, have you looked at Gambas? It's what the Vector Linux developers have been pushing, with some success, as a relatively easy to learn programming language and environment.

Anyway, good comments as always. I don't have all the answers, of course, but I, like you, see Linux continuing to slowly grow on the desktop. What I tried to put forward were recipes that would result in more and faster growth.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-26 12:01:25
@Niki Kovacs: Don't stoop to McCann's level and don't feed the troll. I gave him rope and he hung himself. Once he couldn't refute facts or numbers (i.e.: IDG or Gartner's figures for Linux server market share) he went into attacking us personally. That proves more than anything else that his argument is indefensible. Never mind that most Linux professionals are also commercial UNIX professionals. I did HP-UX and Solaris work years before I did Linux professionally. I had to move into Linux because that's where corporate America was going despite McCann's claims to the contrary. Let him have his delusions.
Carla Schroder
2008-04-26 15:08:53
Caitlyn, it's a beautiful Saturday. Turn off your computer and go outside.

Me? Well, I have a window next to my computer :)

I agree that polished, reliable pre-installs are key to wider awareness and adoption. They always have been- that's why MS invests so much in the retail channel, and it keeping everyone else out. And seeing it at work as well.

Unfortunately, the issues are much larger than a 'I prefer Pepsi and they prefer Coke' type of choice- their choices affect me, and you, and everyone else. The collateral damage and expense from Windows' notorious friendliness to malware (tens of billions of dollars per year), Microsoft's scorched-earth filthy tactics on both their friends and their enemies (as if there were a difference), the strangled marketplace, and the whole proprietary ecosystem which has corrupted legislatures all over the planet. Those dirty sods couldn't jump on the DRM bandwagon fast enough, and have been instrumental in our stomping our basic rights into the mud. Diebold, anyone? Gutless telcos? Sheesh. Is it really that hard to do the right thing?

Grown billionaires who can't speak two truthful words in a row, and who behave like oppressed victims are corrupt and embarrassing. When Adobe deployed the jackboots on Dmitry Sklyarov they should have been boycotted into oblivion. But nooo- Photoshop! Shiny! Must have! It's disgusting and pitiful.

Or you hear "I have to stay compatible with Microsoft products!" Yeah, right. Wrap those chains a little tighter around yourself. Whatever.

So the point of this whole rant is there is more at stake than simply choosing a computing platform. I wish it were that simple.

2008-04-28 00:13:48
I agree with the sentiments of your blog but one of your later comment is of the mark.
You state "One possible reason for migrations is the decision by Novell and Red Hat to abandon the desktop". However this is incorrect. Novell and Red Hat are not abandoning the desktop. What they are doing is not producing a supported consumer desktop. So everything stays the same.
Businesses can still purchase RHELD from Red Hat and SLED from Novell. These are fully supported and are in ongoing development, with annual fees for this level of commitment. Neither comapany has any intention of abandoning these products.
Consumers can use Fedora from Red Hat and OpenSuse from Novell, which are free and are supported by their own communities. These products are in ongoing development, but are used as a sort of testbed for future enhancements to the enterprise products. So it may be advisable to keep an eye on exactly which features and updates you install.
So the story is that both Red Hat and Novell release statements that basically say that everythings carrying on as usual and suddenly there is a huge outcry across the Linux community.
It seems that we don't need MSoft to spread FUD when we can do it ourselves.
Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-28 08:05:20
Jonny T: I'm going to assume that what you are saying is 100% accurate. I must say that an awful lot of the reputable IT press misunderstood both Red Hat and Novell's announcements. LinuxToday was full of articles that interpreted those announcements as I did. Red Hat didn't have a "consumer desktop" at all to match RHEL 3 or RHEL 4 so I guess I don't understand why they needed an announcement at all. Anyway, I'm very glad to hear that they aren't abandoning the enterprise desktop customer. Having said that I certainly feel that the way the announcements were worded and quoted it sure looked like the desktop will be an afterthought at best for those two companies.

As you correctly pointed out both Fedora and OpenSuSe are test beds. As such they often have bugs and issues that make the unsuitable for a lot of people. I abandoned Fedora because I need my OS to be reliable and in a number of areas, most notably repository management, I was very disappointed. Touting Fedora as the consumer desktop by Red Hat is a really bad idea because it gives the impression that the Fedora experience, which has been a relatively poor one in recent years, is the Red Hat experience. RHEL is a reliable platform and Fedora isn't. at least in my experience. I skipped Fedora Core 8 but I may give 9 a look to see if anything has changed in that regard.

Carla Schroder
2008-04-28 09:03:10
Hurrah JohnnyT for injecting a voice of reason. The whole "RH/Novell abandon the desktop!!" craziness is absurd. It is a bunch of lazy copycats reproducing each other's sensationalistic headlines. Even back in the days of Red Hat Linux (pre-RHEL) they downplayed the consumer desktop, and after RHL was retired their focus has been all on the enterprise. This is the original blog that inspired all the stupid Red Hat "news" stories:

Novell has never had any interest in the consumer retail market, ever. It's a fake tempest, fueled both by poor reporting and dopey fanbois who still haven't forgiven Red Hat for taking away their free Red Hat ISOs. It's like a bunch of 13-year olds at a slumber party, all squealing and freaking out for the fun of it.

Caitlyn, it's time to get over believing in "the reputable tech press." They're out there, but they are not the same as the mainstream tech press.

2008-04-28 16:25:20
I have been developing software for 15 years on pretty much every variant of Windows and in several languages and environments: C/C++, Visual Basic, .NET. On all counts Windows is a superb platform to develop for, server and desktop. I have also configured, deployed and supported “pretty much every variant of Windows” as a network engineer. Once again on all counts Windows is a superb platform to administer: server and desktop. This of course makes me a Windows user and again on all counts Windows gives me a great user experience. Any professional of the IT business who dismisses Widows, be they tecchie or management, has no idea what they are talking about.

I have tried to approach Linux for over ten years now. The networking is rock solid and amazingly feature rich. The driver support is fantastic. There are a huge number of applications out there. On all counts Linux is a mature and stable operating system: server and desktop. If I had two lifetimes I would love to know as much about Linux as I do about Windows. Just as with Windows, any professional who dismisses Linux has no idea what they are talking about.

However true open source, free, Linux lacks commercial polish and support. To say that the desktop “out of the box experience” of any of the free, open source distributions matches or surpasses XP, Vista or OsX is really pushing it: there is still work to be done. I really cannot see how even the most evangelical Linux supporter can fail to see this.

If Linux is to make serious inroads to the desktop then it will need to be polished and supported: this can only be done by a commercial venture. It may be that Linux will rule the world, it’s just that is will take a single profit based organization to do that. Now, if Microsoft where to buy Novell?

2008-04-30 10:48:34
@Rufus, you make excellent points. Linux has a number of serious shortcomings making it completely unsuitable for an average user's desktop. It's a pity the blog owner is so intolerant of 'dissent' she had to forbid you from posting, but it's not very surprising. Linux desktop got to where it is today (about 0.6% usage share) because the Linux supporters prefer to live in their own make-believe world. When something disturbs their 'reality', they start lashing out.

'Choice' in the Linux world consists of choosing between hundreds of equally broken variants. Installing a program is like proving a mathematical theorem or something. No wonder the people rejected the Linux desktop. What did Walmart say? "This is not really what our customers are looking for!" LOL!

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-30 14:53:58
@Ram: I'm "intolerant of dissent"? That's a good one. How come I left Rufus post repeatedly and at length? How come I let you post your little bit of misinformation? If Linux "variants" are "equally broken" how did Linux capture in excess of 30% of the corporate server market? I can assure you that big corporations and government agencies are far less tolerant of failure than the average Windows or Linux user running their desktop at home.

Where on earth did you get your 0.6% number? Your imagination? The fans of Microsoft club? Gartner, IDG, et al put the real number at somehwere between 3 and 6%. If you want to claim some market share number please provide a source. You can't, of course.

How much experience do you have with Linux to know that all the "variants" (they're actually called distributions) are broken? Which distros and versions have you actually tried? What is broken about Xandros as shipped on the Asus Eee PC? What is broken about the latest Ubuntu release, Hardy Heron? Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop? SLED? You haven't tried any of them, have you?

I live in the real world every day and deal with real companies and customers using Linux every day. Who do you deal with professionally to come up with your uninformed opinion?

2008-04-30 22:00:50
@caitlyn: How come you ultimately banned Rufus out of here? You showed some tolerance, yes. Not enough to let him stay. I'm pretty sure it won't take you long to see a 'troll' or a Microsoft agent in me too.

Going by hardware revenue, Linux server accounts for some 13% of the total. Linux server is not a disastrous failure like the Linux desktop, yes. Usually, the C word is bandied about in the context of personal desktop, so my remark about choice concerns the Linux desktop. Linux desktop distributions all seem to be equally broken. I have used (if you can call it using) various versions of Mandrake for several years when I had a Dell box. (Even after I switched back to Windows, I continued to try live CD's of various distributions from time to time on my Compaq box. SUSE is the only one that successfully booted & installed. Nothing else I tried even completes booting!)

I got my 0.6% number from Net Applications. IDC figures look inflated and unrealistic. Didn't some company recently count Linux desktops in UK companies? They found 1 Linux desktop for every 300 XP desktops. There was an article in CIO about it too. You struggle for 17 years, and you land 0.6% of the user base. You got to be doing almost everything wrong!

As for the EEE, Linux may not look all bad if you force the users to treat the device as a closed box, capable of a small number of functions. It's when you try to extend the device (by attaching hardware to it or by loading new software on it) that you get into trouble with Linux. Even the people that liked Linux on EEE remarked about how program installation is beyond average user's ability. Windows lets ordinary people easily extend the operating system in useful ways (like loading a device driver or installing a program). Linux makes that kind of a thing too hard for non-technical users. People will ultimately outgrow Linux even on the EEEs. People want to do more things than Linux will let them comfortably do. The Linux loonies keep singing the same old song about how most people want nothing more than web browsing and email, while people continue to reject the Linux desktop whenever they get the chance! (ASUS itself says they are bringing in XP because it can support more devices, and people are asking for it.)