To push desktop Linux, radical shift may be required

by Andy Oram

In the server market, Linux and Microsoft were supposed to
be mauling each other like jackals by now. Instead they are
contentedly polishing off the bison of Solaris, IRIX, and
other proprietary Unix server software. Linux and Microsoft
Windows have both grown in the server market--Windows faster
than Linux.

Linux on the desktop is a similarly confusing story. A

conference on desktop Linux
the first of its kind, was held in the Boston, Massachusetts
area on November 10. The forum allowed the leaders of Linux
and free software development to evaluate the progress these
have made on the desktop.

Linux as an end-user system is at an early stage, but
inroads are impressive. One statistic puts annual growth of
Linux on the desktop at 44%. It is already in heavy use as a
limited, kiosk type of application (point-of-sale terminals,
for instance) and as a technical workstation. More general
use is expected to come within the next couple years.

By now, free software office utilities are perfectly
satisfactory and largely compatible with Microsoft Office;
if they lack certain features of Office, they also lack
certain bugs, and compensate with their own features and
bugs. A sizeable base of knowledgeable administrators has
emerged. And installation shouldn't be such a big issue.
Windows installation can be hard too, and people often turn
to professionals for installation.

So why hasn't Linux made big inroads yet among ordinary
computer users? Let's look at a few theories--two that are
relatively commonplace, and one of my own.

The first theory is that Linux's advantages will eventually
overcome corporate and government conservatism. A roadmap
was even laid out in the Desktop Linux Conference (described
in my

weblog from the conference
In fact, the tipping point could be so near that we may all
soon be laughing about the time we were worried about
Linux's difficulties. Japan and China, combining one of the
world's most important established economies with one of its
most important emerging ones, are pouring huge amounts of
money into Linux. IBM is no slouch either. People are
getting it: Linux is a solution to many current computing

A second possibility is that Linux may not catch on at all
for Mr. and Ms. Average Schmo, at least not for the
foreseeable future. But is that so important? Linux could
meanwhile become dominant for servers, embedded systems, and
kiosks. It could also reach the Average Schmos on large
organizational networks using
Linux Terminal Server Project.

But we should also consider a third theory. Nat Friedman of
Ximian (now Novell) explained at the Desktop Linux
conference that the highest barrier to Linux adoption is the
cost of rewriting applications. This was the conclusion of a
consulting firm brought in by the city of Munich to
determine whether it should replace Windows with Linux. The
consulting firm warned that application migration costs
would override the savings in licensing fees, and Microsoft
came in with a stunningly low counter-offer. Munich decided
to move to Linux anyway, for strategic reasons. But it's a
hard decision to make.

Friedman and the Munich consulting firm were not the only
ones to point this out. Back in September, the well-known
consulting firm Gartner reportedly told companies that it
would cost them money to move to Linux--precisely because
they'd have to rewrite their applications. For desktop

"migration costs will be very high because all Windows
applications must be replaced or rewritten."

And this is the same Gartner that had warned companies to
get off of Microsoft Windows because of security flaws!
(Before Gates and Ballmer started to make grand promises
about putting security at the top of their priorities.)
Despite Linux's advantages in the areas of licensing,
stability, and openness, Gartner believes companies would
lose money by switching.

is more hopeful but suggests that it would take five years
to see financial benefits after a switch from Windows to Linux.

And that leads me to my theory.

For Linux to reach the ordinary user, it has to offer more
than good office suites and The Gimp and other free software
implementations of common applications. Most people won't
make the move just so they can keep doing what they did
before. Security and freedom mean a lot to a few of us, but
they are not enough incentive for the vast range of Average
Schmos. And we need those Average Schmos; the median is the

People will move because they feel forced to--because there
is an entirely new way of working that the old system cannot
offer, and the new system can. It must be a shift that
sweeps up millions of adherents and becomes a perceived

Historically, graphical user interfaces were just such an
innovation (although if you were around when they first came
in, you might remember how many ordinary people stubbornly
stuck to their old command or full-screen utilities for
years). The Internet was another: Microsoft, AOL, and others
had to really scramble to avoid being swept into the dustbin
by it.

No single new application is enough to cause a switch.
Microsoft is perfectly capable of writing applications, so
if somebody thinks up a neat utility on Linux, people will
soon get something like it on Windows. What we're talking
about is a new paradigm (pardon that word); a whole shift as
big as GUIs and Internet use. What could it be?

Let me break my chain of reasoning here to point out that
Microsoft itself is not afraid of changing the way people
use computers. It's forging ahead with initiatives such as
Longhorn and SharePoint which, if they live up to the hype,
will put people in new relationships with their data and
with each other. Microsoft has put tremendous energy into
separating data from presentation and creating frictionless
chutes that carry the data from database to office
application to Web page with minimal user intervention.

As usual, one can get snowed when presented with Microsoft's
lists of audacious upgrade features. But what emerges for
me, as the basic Microsoft vision for the computing future,
is an impressive pervasiveness of data--data that can
instantly be viewed and tabulated by anyone who wants it
using the most convenient tool at hand, without fussing over
conversions and conscious transmission from place to place.

Microsoft is not stuck in the past; they're pulling as hard
as they can to move their users to these upcoming
innovations--trying to make them seem indispensable to
staying competitive--because otherwise the company will have
to stand by and watch the hose that gushes license fees
gradually diminish to a trickle over the next couple years.
No, Microsoft is pushing ahead. If any developers are stuck
in the past, it's the free software programmers diligently
recreating what's been done before.

But the kink in Microsoft's hose is that its business plan
is a plan for business, not for end users. On the whole,
Microsoft's initiatives revolve around corporate data use,
and depend on adoption by corporations. And corporations
are naturally conservative. They're afraid, for instance,
that the grand SharePoint achievement of integrating office
applications and corporate servers will lead to more bugs
and security problems with both. They're not likely to

Individual users, by contrast, are not conservative. History
has shown them to be, if anything, quite reckless. Look at
what hordes of ordinary people did when they get their hands
on Web server software in the early 1990s. Look at the
current popularity of instant messaging, and now SMS, both
of which started as novelties. Look at the millions who
signed up for the original Napster, and then slid over
comfortably to current peer-to-peer systems.

So Linux has a natural user base it can appeal to. The very
people advocates are trying to reach--individuals at home
and in school--are the people likely to drive radical
innovation in computing.

The area where Linux excels is services. Apache, Samba,
MySQL, and mail transfer agents are practically household
words thanks to Linux (although of course they run on many
other systems too, and are found on Windows more often than
people give credit for). Anything that you need to do that
requires running a service benefits from the
state-of-the-art network stack and security offered by
Linux. This includes peer-to-peer applications, as I
explained in a
I gave back in 2002.

What's the advantage of running an application as a
continuous, background service? Many find it hard to
remember, because the division between server and client has
become so commonplace (and the second-class citizenship of
the Average Schmo, exiled to the client side, has been
enforced for so long). Advantages include:

  1. You're more in charge of your own data. You don't have
    transmit it to some remote system under somebody else's
    bailiwick or beg for someone to put it up for you before
    others can access it. Immediacy opens up whole new
    dimensions, such as the ability to provide dynamic,
    instantly customized content.

  2. You're more in charge of your own processing. You can choose
    when to process information in tiny chunks and when to
    postpone processing and do it in batches. You can choke off
    access or open up new threads to accommodate more. The
    simple, synchronous connections clients have may work for
    small amounts of communication, but when you get busy it's
    critical to have the flexibility of a server.

  3. You're more likely to be able to support multiple users.
    Many servers recognize the idea of an account and offer
    access controls.

But running a service on your computer is socially
disruptive. It puts control in your hands rather than in a
central professional staff, so it's suspect in large
organizations. It also bothers Internet providers because
you need potentially more bandwidth, a static IP address,
and perhaps a domain name. But accommodations have been made
for activities as diverse as file-sharing, Web servers, and
chat. The practice may grow, and that's where the arguments
against migration to Linux break down.

Will the move to desktop Linux take place?


2003-11-13 08:07:42
I couldn't agree more. If all Linux will ever be is a copycat of Windows, then it will never seriously challenge a $40B giant that can afford to constantly innovate and advertise.

The new computing paradigm must so compelling, as to not only generate widespread interest and have people standing in line to get it, but have 3rd party software firms rushing new products into the market to catch the wave.

The redirection must not be restricted to merely a new GUI, but to every fundamental aspect of an operating system, including the current stale file system models.

Failure to take this new direction will result in a future that is remarkably like the present.

2003-11-13 08:31:48
Too much choice ?
I installed Redhat 9 last week - i've done quite a few installs of previous versions but this was the first time i've actually needed a GUI on a Linux box. I think the problem is - there is too much choice. No flames please, but I really don't think Joe Punter cares whether it's Gnome or KDE as long as it runs. I initially chose Gnome, but then reinstalled after a hardware problem and chose KDE instead. Surely the average user just wants a reliable back end, and a desktop that works. If you install Windows, you get a Windows desktop: you don't get a choice but you can customise the appearance. The fact that you don't get a choice means that every copy works consistently (i didn't say reliably).

2003-11-13 08:51:38
I think that if projections are correct in that the next home computing wave is HTPC's....and since you can basically integrate TIVO, MP3, DVD, DVD Burn, FM/AM, cable TV, etc into one linux box....


thinking outside the box...........anyone with me?

2003-11-13 08:57:49
Radical shift
The only reason why I have not made a shift to Linux/Open Source computing is that I have problems with finding print drivers for newer printers. Other than that, I would be willing to commit. First of all, I really like the idea of have a stable operating system/platform, that allows the average user to learn more about computing that just how to use Microsoft products.
2003-11-13 09:29:36
could run afoul of digital rights management legislation but what the heck! I want to do it, perhaps others will too?
2003-11-13 10:05:27
First off Linux is far from being a copycat of windows. It is largely derived from Unix (which windows has also 'borrowed' from on many occasions). KDE and GNOME on the other hand are very similar to Explorer (the windows GUI).

"The new computing paradigm must so compelling... ", blah, blah. Are you serious? Has T-Mobile or Cingular redefined cellular service. No. People (and companies) switch vendors when they are unhappy with their product or found a way to save money. You must only provide a viable option. You are correct in that 3rd party vendors must support your platform but you might be surprised how many already do or how many windows compatible alternatives exist.

The redirection you speak of such as new file systems leaves much to debate. As for upgrading the software with only changes to the GUI, what do you think XP was? New graphics, a small handful of new features, slower performance (compared to w2k) and ... oh wait, that's it.

New direction will come but you must realize the computer age is still in it's infancy. We haven't even realized the potential of computing (much less implemented it). 30 years after the first home was available you still had to have an operator connect your call. Not exactly what I would call the peak of that technology.

We are still going uphill and will be for a long time so sit back and enjoy the show.

As for the $40B giant, just remember what happened to Ma Bell.

2003-11-13 10:13:05
Too much choice ?
I have to agree on that. I am avid Linux user and I have never understood why KDE and GNOME are always packaged with Linux distros.

One thing that I have always liked on the other hand is that you can turn the GUI off at anytime freeing up considerable resources. Very nice feature for a production server. I can't believe MS never thought of this. I also think this is part of the reason our Linux servers constantly out perform our 'Advanced Server'.

2003-11-13 10:37:51
Why not? Sony plans on doing a similar project... the DESR-5000 and 7000


2003-11-13 11:48:04
Re: Printer driver as barrier to adoption
Which printers? Nearly all laser printers support PostScript, which means that you can print to them from Linux with ease. Inkjet printers that don't support PostScript, but instead use a manufacturer's proprietary printer language, usually will work with a driver for a similar printer using the same printer language. A specific driver for a given printer model, a driver that supports all the optional hardware doo-dads you can install, will often lag the release of the hardware, sometimes for years. But you should still be able to print to the printer in the meantime. You just won't be able to, say, duplex print your envelope from the fifth optional tray.
2003-11-13 12:41:17
Control issues...
I remember a similar article to this (I don't remember where) about Linux needing a "Killer App" that would set it apart from Windows.

But my feeling is, and has always been that Linux itself is a Killer App. Or, to be more exact, a Killer OS, in the sense that it offers so much flexibility to the end user. It gives the user full control over their computer. And depending on your skill level, that can be a good thing or a bad thing...

If you are on this website reading this article, you probably know enough to determine what you want to do with your computer without any outside help. But the average Joe Mousemover may not have that knowledge. He may need prompting.

With Linux, no one is there to prompt him, or to suggest what he might want to do with his computer. But with Windows, you start up IE for the first time, and you get directed to MSN. Hmmm, maybe he will subscribe... Start up Media Player, and you get ads from Microsoft partners. Hmmm, maybe he wants to buy a CD.

I don't want to start a flamewar, but I hope my point is being made... Windows will walk the semi- and non-skilled user through things, and prompt and suggest things for them to do, etc. Linux will not. In order to reach the desktop user, Linux must learn to do lots of handholding and suggesting. Once that happens, and it stays free and open, Linux will be the Killer OS.

2003-11-13 13:28:50
Re: Printer driver as barrier to adoption
Exactly! I have printers that windows can't print to without the printers drivers, but linux and mac can.
When I use the generic postscript with windows it prints out tons of ascii, but cups handled it well.
2003-11-13 22:05:57
Too much choice ?
Isn't that kind of backwards though? I mean, your so called "Joe Punter" wouldn't know what Gnome or KDE are. He would select the defaults. This means that when you log into Red Hat 9, it's Gnome. For SuSE, it's KDE.

Does Joe User know he is using KDE or Gnome? No. In fact, on a default installation of SuSE, you don't have to select your desktop environment.

Also consider that "Joe Punter" can't even install Windows, let alone Linux, and it makes that less of a difference.

Why do these distro's come with Gnome and KDE? Because the majority of people using them want these choices. Also, consider that most distro's now customize Gnome and KDE to the point that they both look and feel the same to a point.

Anyways, Joe Punter isn't going to install Linux anyways. He is going to go to Walmart or Future Shop or CompuSmart and buy a computer. This computer will come with an OS, and he will use this OS. When he has questions, he will call up his friend that "knows computers".

Gnome or KDE options really have nothing to do with Linux adoption.

2003-11-13 23:12:47
Individual Application Installation
Being one of those users that constantly flip-flops between linux and windows. I can honestly say that the only real stmbling block left for the average joe is the installation of applications. I really want to switch and stick with linux, but. as bad as "dll hell" (witch isn't really even an issue in recent years) is, the dependancy problem in linux is far and away a worse problem. Not to mention compiling. RPM is a step in the right direction, but you still ahve the dependency problem. What linux needs is a standard set of libraries, and if a library is needed that's not in the standard base, it should be included in the application installation. I'm often surprised how often the OS installation is brought up as a problem, but never individual apps.
2003-11-13 23:48:11
Individual Application Installation
For the less technically inclined: Mandrake's URPMI handles all dependencies. Emerge on Gentoo works like a charm. Debian's apt-get is so good, it's being ported all over the place. All of the above have thousands of programs at your disposal. There are even nice GUI tools for them. The dependancy issue is such an old (and pretty much solved) issue. If you want to use oddball programs (rpm's or tarballs) from Sourceforge or Freshmeat, do it. Learn something.
How many MS OS's have the option to fire up a GUI installer and then allow you to pick from said thousands of programs?
2003-11-14 00:01:28
Control issues...
I agree what you have said. In response, Get people using Mandrake. Mandrake WILL make using Linux a painless experience. It does hold the user's hand. If you buy it, you get a nice, easy to read manual (and 7 cd's filled with apps! That said, I use Slack), that will walk you through the install and configuration. If you just burned the .iso's, well, the install itself does offer numerous tips.
2003-11-14 00:09:54
Too much choice ?
I disagree. But the decision whether Gnome od KDE options matters depends upon where you can expect the fastest Linux adoption to take place: Is this really the Walmart Computer Shopper without any experience or is it the experienced Windows user who is used to tweak things a little bit.

In my opinion, we can expect the Windows users to be the faster adopters because 1.) their adoption is independent from third parties (like Walmart) and 2.) they should be able to deal with Linux usage shortcomings and 3.) they already suffered from Windows shortcomings.

If that's true, then please take a look at inofficial Windows support boards and how they discuss and solve problems. Very often, its as easy as "Install software and you can do " or "Go Start -> Whatever -> Wherever, and select Option <123>".

Due to the diversity on Linux, similar suggestions in Linux support boards are seldom because often they depend on the distribution and the desktop one uses. This slows down adoption because under certain circumstances, the Linux diversity is too much even for an experienced windows user to deal with.

The only counterexamples are kernel, bash and some GNU tools. Maybe that is also the reason why Linux support in most cases needs to fall back on commandline usage.

However, this does not mean it prevents adoption completly. But next time you find a hardware or software vendor who is unwilling to support Linux, remember that this is partially our own fault as a community.

2003-11-14 00:53:13
Control issues...
No, wait! Get Lycoris! Wait! No! Get Lindows! Get RedHat 9!
Maybe tone down the zealotry a little?
2003-11-14 01:24:24
Control issues...
Not quite sure I was being a zealot. I've never tried Lycoris or Lindows, so I can't speak about those two distro's. Never was much of a RedHat fan. RH6.2 was friggin' cool when it came out, though. Mandrake (from 8.2 anyways) worked well for me. And I've put Mandrake 9.1 on three other peoples desktops. The whole 9.2 - LG cdrom thing was a bummer. I know the fixes are out for that. Mandrake does walk you through things. It does make a lot of decisions for you (if you want it to).
The parent post was talking about a handholding Linux.
Still not sure where I was being a zealot.
2003-11-14 02:12:38
Radical shift
Aren't there 4 major players now in the ink-jet printer market? Epson, HP, Canon and Lexmark? Epson
and HP printers generally work well with Linux. Forget about the other two.
2003-11-14 02:35:25
Too much choice ?
"Due to the diversity on Linux, similar suggestions in Linux support boards are seldom because often they depend on the distribution and the desktop one uses." -- When I made the switch to Mandrake 8.1 from W98 (had messed with RH 6.0 and up before that. Now, I'm a Slackware enthusiast) I didn't go to a SuSE forum or a Debian forum looking for help. I went to a Mandrake site. Pretty much anyone can type "mandrake linux help" into the search field on Google.

"This slows down adoption because under certain circumstances, the Linux diversity is too much even for an experienced windows user to deal with." -- Not true from my experiences. My x-g/f is now happily using Mandrake9.1. She prefers KDE over Gnome, and has discovered that BlackBox is "really neat" (her words, not mine). She is the "typical" Windows power-user. All she still needs from M$ is access to M$Access files for work. So she dual-boots. She was also floored when she saw that there were so many different burning apps than just Nero. Never mind the games. My sister ("Jane Mousemover") was stunned by what can be done from the CLI. WinXP Home was the first OS she ever used, and now she is asking if I can put Linux on her computer (she loved Knoppix). I have installed Mandrake9.1 on two other friends computers. They love it. I was then forced into a tech support role, but they buy beer. It's all good.

"...inofficial Windows support boards and how they discuss and solve problems. Very often, its as easy as "Install software and you can do " or "Go Start -> Whatever -> Wherever, and select Option <123>"." -- unofficial Linux support boards show how easy it is... "Install software (tar -zxvf filename.tar.gz or rpm -ivh filename.rpm, or, click the .rpm) and you can do " or "go to /usr/bin and click on the executable." or "go to the Kmenu (or Gnome menu) -> whatever -> wherever -> option<123>".

"Maybe that is also the reason why Linux support in most cases needs to fall back on commandline usage." -- "fall back" on commandline usage??? The CLI is a FEATURE. If there's a problem with the X Server, being able to "fall back" to the command line is a lifesaver. Booting to runlevel 3 and allowing me to get down and dirty with whatever problem is a "f**king THANK YOU. Here is some money to help support your efforts" type of thing. Do we need to launch the whole GUI world just to check pop3 email? Or to add our little brother as a user? Why wait for KDE/Gnome to launch to burn a cd when 'cdrecord' will do it no prob? Why do Windows users think that typing is a problem? Hell, while the whole world was gobbling up MSDOS, Mac users were laughing. They had a GUI back then. MSDOS users had the dosshell! But now, typing's a Bad Thing. LOL

Linux is not Windows. Treat Linux like Windows, get ready to be frustrated. I get frustrated everytime I (try to) treat Windows like Linux.

Off-topic, I was accused of being a zealot on a previous post in this thread ("Control issues"). Just to clarify, this post is much closer to being a zealot.

And I like it.

2003-11-14 02:53:32
Computers will disappear when the connectivity is there. Just plug in your terminal to the network like you would hook up your TV to the cable service. And who will care about the OS when it is all about the services you use. Phone companies give away mobile phones for free because the money is in the service you use. One big difference at this moment: MS Windows is a 95% or so monopoly at this is the Killer factor what linux does: it offers competition so it will offer choice for us (it even offers control)
2003-11-14 03:55:37
Individual Application Installation
'I really want to switch and stick with linux, but. as bad as "dll hell" (witch isn't really even an issue in recent years) is, the dependancy problem in linux is far and away a worse problem.'

This is just plain wrong. Debian solved the dependency problem some time ago. As for the "DLL hell", last time I looked, the problem had been swept under the carpet, not solved. What's broken is Microsoft's specification of how DLL selection is supposed to work. Apps which require different versions of a DLL can coexist only if you don't try to run them concurrently.

2003-11-14 05:03:26
Individual Application Installation
I recently upgraded to Mandrakes 9.2 and tried to burn an ISO image to CD, my old application, K3, which worked so well, would not work. So I go and get an RPM for Eroaster from the Mandrake site specifically for Mandrake and using their GUI interface I tell it to install. Not a chance, it did not work. I very rarely go to windows anymore, but I like to tinker with computers, others do not.
I am sorry you think all the install problems are solved, but they are most definately not solved. I want a windows program, I double click the install icon, or just put in the CD and 9 out of 10 times it works. Linux I would have to say that 5 out of 10 times it works. 50% is a failing mark in any book.
Linux has a long way to go before it ready for prime time and not just due to application installation problems.
2003-11-14 07:41:49
Individual Application Installation
1) Go here and set up your urpmi sources.
2) Type urpmi nameofpackage, i.e., urpmi evolution at the command line or go to Mandrake's control center if you prefer it to do in a GUI.

It works like a charm.

Finally, fire up knode and go to the mandrake newsgroup. It's a friendly place where everyone is welcome. And the mandrakeforums at and are also great.

Welcome aboard.

2003-11-14 07:59:26
Individual Application Installation
Someone always, always brings this up. All I can say is that you must be using a severely dated distro. Software installation is different to Windows, you can't just download any rpm or binary, but it is now longer how you describe.

It's still not great, but it's no longer nearly as severe a problem as it was. My advice is to use a distro that supports apt, (eg Debian, RH, SuSE).

Standard libraries may seem like a good solution, but they would reduce some of the aspects that make Linux great. Anyway, good luck trying to co-ordinate all the different distros to use a standard set of libraries. Solutions are being developed. Have you heard of Autopackage?

Anyway I don't see this as such a big barrier, most desktop users never install software. And when they do it's a big fancy well known package that will probably come with a noarch rpm (Flash(tm) anyone?)

2003-11-14 08:06:55
The Killer App is Ubiquity
What continues to hold Linux back is, in part, the same list of usual suspects as has always been there (difficult to maintain, too much reliance on the command line, dependency issues with installing applications, etc).

Many will argue that these problems are more issues of perception than real problems. I think that the biggest thing holding Linux back is people's perception of it.

The Average user, when confronted with something new, is not going to care about it if it offers them nothing or has no relevance to their daily computing life.

What we need is better visability in a positive light. We need role models in the form of avergae users who successfully migrated to Linux without giving up or losing anything. We need to make the connection between Linux and the desktop in the minds of the average user.

In short, Linux on the desktop needs to advertise. And it needs to show that Linux is everywhere - on the server, on the PDA, on the utility appliance, AND ON THE DESKTOP.

But we must answer the basic question that every potential user will have - "why should I bother? What is in it for me and what will happen to my ability to work/communicate with people still on Windows if I do switch?" But they are also going to want to know and care about what happens to their investment in Windows by switching to Linux.

So, yes, we need the office suites that seamlessly work with Micorosoft office file formats. We need IM clients and email tools that are every bit as good as the Windows version (if not better). We need to be able to tell them that they won;t need some of the utilities they bought for Windows because those problems do not exist on Linux or are handled automatically.

And we need to provide ease-of-use that IS BETTER than what Microsoft offers. "Just as good as Windows" will not drive the masses from Windows - it needs to be "insanely great" (with apologies to Apple).

2003-11-14 08:37:48
Too much choice ?
Yes, I already expected a zealot commenting my post. ;) Btw, I didn't say options or the command line are bad; just that it slows down adoption, IMHO.

For the rest, go here:

and wake up, please. Not everybody has a Linux zealot at his hands who is able to install and teach the system.

2003-11-14 08:40:02
Killer apps? Games would be nice
Does anyone know why I write software for a a living (for peanuts) instead of counting beans in a back-office budgeting place (for fewer peanuts)? The same reason I have computers all over the place now. Because I've always liked video games. I bought a Commodore 64 in the '80s because of the overwhelming availability of games on that platform compared to the CoCo III and Nintendo systems I already had. Before long, I realized that I liked controlling the computer on a lower level. And I was off...

Here's my point: Look at the games that install with [pick your linux distro]. They either suck or have graphic routines so bad that the animation makes them unusable on most systems. Or they don't have sound. Or they're just plain stupid. Or, the screen comes up, and you're left looking at it, wondering what the point is. Having a lot of good arcade-quality games available, and not having any of the sucky ones available as a default, would do a lot towards capturing at least a segment of the market. I'd like my son to learn Linux. But until it has good games to suck him in, he's not going to budge.

Also, let's quit saying that linux offers a lot on the desktop. It doesn't, at least by comparison. Hardware detection's getting fantastic. Kudzu rocks! But although you can detect the existence of a new printer, you still can't detect what it is. When someone buys a computer, it can be purchased with everything set up. But what happens a month later when the grandma, grandpa, wife or college student purchases a printer? Or, God forbid, a scanner? Unless they have a good administrator-friend on call, they've got a really cool piece of technology to use for a paperweight. This precludes adoption by the masses.

It doesn't matter that the OS itself is vastly superior to Windows. It doesn't matter that the user can control code bloat down to the most minute detail. It doesn't matter that the user never has to deal with the blue screen of death that I actually encountered when I was reading this article. I want everyone to use Linux because I wouldn't mind writing code for it. But for now I'm writing code for Windows because that's what people are using.


2003-11-14 08:48:17
Command line
The command-line rocks. I'm a relative newbie on Linux. But when you get a sucky install (i.e., Fedora Core 1) that tries to install gigs of crap on your minimal 2 GB system, being able to drop down into RPM is cool.

I used to be able to control everything with Windows. Those days are sure over. Even a Windows power-user can't tell what's going on on his own system.

2003-11-14 08:52:31
Re: Printer driver as barrier to adoption
Hold on there, pardner!

Linux has better printer support than ANY other OS. That includes Windows. The flaw is the lack of automatic detection. They're fairly easy to set up, and compared to Windows 3.1 (or /maybe/ 95), equivalent in ease. But compared to current Windows versions, they're just not as easy to set up.

2003-11-14 10:07:44
"Has T-Mobile or Cingular redefined cellular service. No. People (and companies) switch vendors when they are unhappy with their product or found a way to save money. You must only provide a viable option."

Joe Schmo knows he's unhappy with his cell phone because his options (lower prices, new features, etc.) are advertised to him daily. He doesn't care that cellular digital technology gave him more options than wired analog service. He does know he can call his wired phone from his cell and vice versa; they are compatible. He knows he can do more, and is willing to pay for it.

Unlike with cell phones, Joe doesn't know he is unhappy with his operating system. He doesn't even know what an OS is (that's why he can't tell you what version of Windows he's running) and certainly doesn't know how to replace it. Linux has not presented him with anything he can't already do with Windows. He doesn't care about open code because he'll never change it, just like he has never stopped his VCR from blinking "12:00". Linux may (or may not) be better technology, but until it offers a killer consumer app unavailable in Windows, he won't bother paying anyone to switch his OS. And the new one had better be compatible with his old applications.

2003-11-14 10:35:20
You're totally right! It's a frequent mistake in marketing to look at the market leader, and assume you can catch up to him or surpass him by doing the same thing he's doing. It never works. Forget about trying to write open office for Linux. Even it worked perfectly like MS office, it would not increase the number of desktop Linux users.

The only way to catch up is to aim to be number 2, and the number 2 solution always presents itself as *the alternative* to the number 1. It does this by emphasizing the ways it is opposite to the number 1, or not like the number 1. How is Linux not like Windows? No virsus? Install once, never patch? Brilliant people use Linux. Make people want to join that club with some hokey catch-phrase like, "Be brilliant. Use Linux."

It's counter intuitive at first, but the only way to approach number 1 is to aim to be number 2.

2003-11-14 13:54:53
Control issues...
I have used Red Hat (now Fedora), Mandrake, SuSE, and even Solaris for Intel on my various desktops. And they all have their varying levels of installation ease. I found Red Hat and Mandrake to be the easiest to install since they did a lot of handholding on the installations.

But what I was trying to say in my original post was that no distro does any handholding or prompting after the initial installation...

Imagine you're a new linux user. Okay, so now that you've installed Red Hat, what do you do with it? Click on the Mozilla Icon? Okay. Mozilla opens. Now what? I see a Red Hat web page. What do I do with it? Click on Ok. Yeah, I know, Red Hat Linux page. I just installed it. What's next??? At this point, a new user would be getting bored, and would think that Linux is boring.

Linux apps are written by and for people who look down on subscription services, online ads and spyware. But, at some levels of expertise, those ads and spyware can be a good thing. Now I am not saying that they are universally good. Far from it. I'm saying that they possibly can be good for some people.

Linux offers much, much more choice to the end user. That's why it's generally thought of as a "geeky" operating system. For some users, though, there is such a thing as too much choice. For them, Windows will narrow the choices, or even choose for them, and those users will find that acceptable. To be competetive on the desktop, Linux must learn dial down the level of choice to meet the psychological needs of those kinds of users.

2003-11-14 18:54:09
Two applications are missing for small business
Two application are missing for small business: Good Accounting Package to replace QuickBooks and Fax Communication package to replace Winfax.
2003-11-14 19:41:07
That's just stupid.
Sorry, without StarOffice / OpenOffice in the shape they are today (thanks be to Sun) there wouldn't be any point to any discussion about a push into the desktop area. Not now, not anytime soon.
Munich, Largo FL, Burlington Industries, other public sector enterprises the world over plus thousands of United States government DoD desktops --forget about it. SO/OOo is why those stories exist. KDE / Gnome are NOT the killer app and are not the reason for these victories.
2003-11-14 20:00:55
The Killer App is Ubiquity
What you are saying to me is that Linux suffers from a critical lack of integration and standards.

Too many applications THAT DO NOT TALK TO EACH OTHER. That do not offer to hook into each other. Maybe what we have can be coaxed to hand files off one program to another, usually NOT. And usually you HAVE TO OPEN THE HOOD AND SWEAT, AND BLEED to make this happen, when it is possible at all.

Too many toolkits, not enough standard components. Too many UI approaches, not enough binary compatibility.
What if I write an application that does everything people want up to and including tickle their bells. And it's written for QT and assumes the existence of KDE components. WHat happens when someone who has only Gnome installed buys my application and tries to install and use it? Angry phonecalls and mounting support costs followed by loss of revenue.


When are people going to understand:
Until there are some DIFFICULT DECISIONS made and a SINGLE LINUX DESKTOP SPECIFICATION arrived at, Linux will remain EXACTLY AS IT IS. Good server. A messy failure of a desktop.
Soon enough and I mean like within 5 years at the outside, without major gains for Linux on the desktop, Microsoft W I L L succeed in tying the advanced features of their desktop OS and Office applications to the SERVER. and then it will be

Want the crappy situation you have now to continue until that final eclipse? Just keep on going in twenty different incompatible directions like you're going now.

Or maybe you could try changing. At least give it A TRY. Since everything else has been tried and failed, you should at least give it a try once before MS applies the final flush to you.

ENACT A DESKTOP LINUX SPECIFICATION --or stop wasting my time with your bleating cries of "NO FAIR, WE CAN'T COMPETE !"

2003-11-14 20:36:23
The Killer App is Ubiquity
You make many excellent points. I wholeheartedly agree that there must be a single vision/spec for Linux on the desktop - there is no other way to compete against Apple and Micorosoft otherwise.
2003-11-14 21:06:56
RE: To push desktop Linux, radical shift may be required
Progress on that front may not be as swift as some would like, but it's happening. I have a colleague who asked to borrow my SuSE CD's for an install. I thought it was for his company laptop, but a few weeks later I got a thank you call, saying that his wife loves it, she's able to do her photography work, plus all the other usual things a computer is used for without having crashes and losing hours of work. That lady is no techie and her husband is no Unix guru, but somehow they figured Linux would be the answer - they didn't even ask me what camera software was available. They have now bought a copy of SuSE Professional.
Linux has proliferated under it's own worth in the gold virtues of stability, security and usability - contrary to daily news items. No glitsy multi-million dollar TV ad campaigns and it continues to sell itself by reputation. There is more of it about than you'd think, ask the OTHER guy with the worried look that talks the worried talk (postcode Redmond), he's seen the future.
2003-11-14 21:08:02
Push Linux to Desktop
The author wrote

But we should also consider a third theory. Nat Friedman of Ximian (now Novell) explained at the Desktop Linux conference that the highest barrier to Linux adoption is the cost of rewriting applications. This was the conclusion of a consulting firm brought in by the city of Munich to determine whether it should replace Windows with Linux. The consulting firm warned that application migration costs would override the savings in licensing fees, and Microsoft came in with a stunningly low counter-offer. Munich decided to move to Linux anyway, for strategic reasons. But it's a hard decision to make.

It is certainly true that IT shops cannot afford to rewrite all of their applications today to take advantage of Open Source. But they can surely stop the insanity of platform lock, in their current and future development.

Will it mean some retraining and rethinking? Of course. However, it can also mean huge savings in the future and increased business opportunities. Linux nor Windows is going away anytime in the near future. Can your company support customers who use both, or will it be only one and not the other?

How well will your company be able to compete for services and goods, when your customer base might not be able to run that new Visual Basic or DOT.NET application, nor access your services and sales, because you have been shortsided enough to have a "write here, run only here" type of mentality? Do you really want to pay all of those license fees and cost ad-infinitum, or would you like to have more leverage and control on how and where your business IT resources are spent?

These should be the questions that todays IT departments and companies ask, and it is the xplatform developer that can provide the answers.

The reason that this problem has and currently exists, is that there were precious few XPlatform options in the past. That has now changed with the ubiquity of Java, the new comer of Python, and the newer xplatform widget sets (like QT and wxwindows) that are made with Xplatform in mind.

XPlatform development is the key to Linux growth and adoption, but for not for this reason alone. XPlatform development also affords the best potential for expansion in IT savings and freedom, not to mention commercial business venture expansion.

2003-11-14 21:39:14
Good article but....
Wide descriptions like this can never be complete. There is a second element going on regarding money.

To the extent that computers, and with them operating systems, are purchased for want, I agree with most everyone who posted. Talk about your wants for an OS, they probably each represent some of the market.

There is a second element -- need.

Corporations would buy only what they need for computers if they could do so cheaper. When Windows achieved its success it was the cheaper option that ran on more hardware that is no longer the case.

Look at recent news for Thailand -- to basically remain in the market Microsoft reduced its price for Office by 87%, and still seems to have lost. When a desktop computer costs $200 far more people are going to resent paying $200-800 for Microsoft software. Microsoft prices have to come down. When that happens Linux has a whole new competitor.

Linux for the most part, is driven by far more modest margins than windows. It is lean and competative in the new emerging markets.

With satisfied need comes popularity and maybe more software writers. Certainly Linux is already getting more sources that twist it to what people want. If the projects are GPLed we'll all eventually see the new products.

my .02

2003-11-15 05:35:28
The Killer App is Ubiquity
Good server. A messy failure of a desktop.

One more M$ Troll that has never used the newer "versions" of Linux.

When will trhese people give up Liunx IS the new OS for the NEW Generation.

I have put susE 9.0 on to many home systems to count any more and EVERYONE has loved it even ex XP users comment on how much nicer looking KDE is and how stable linux is. No more rebooting 2 or 3 times aday.

2003-11-15 10:41:19
The Killer App is Ubiquity
Actually my friend I am an RHCE who installs Mandrake for people's desktops. LTSP for groups.

I am probably moving away from using Linux as my own primary desktop and toward OSX.

I have waited a long time for Linux to get its shit together. An IRRATIONALLY long time and you could say I'm sick of it. Every advance on the application usefulness side just heightens the frustration that these wonderful things just DO NOT WORK TOGETHER. Too many cooks cooking up too many toolkits and incompatible components. No UI standards for look and feel.

Linux will not make any real progress --I mean towards mass acceptance among people with a CHOICE in the matter- until the people who make Linux distributions come together and first admit that the desktop is infinitely more complicated than the server and second commit themselves to creating a unified platform that independent software vendors can write desktop software for without worrying that

a) the user won't have the needed requirements installed.
b) Software that complements the function of their product won't easily integrate with it.
c) Their software will be broken by the next release of the target distribution 6 months from now because of incompatible library versions, glibc changes, X changes, etc.
d) the package manager won't know what to do with their package or how to fulfill/resolve dependencies when installation is attempted.

There must be a SINGLE DESKTOP SPEC for Linux. If the user's distribution certifies against that spec, and it has a label attesting to this fact then the ISVs software will install without more than a click from the user (and a password) and the software will just run with reasonable defaults. It will know how to call the browser if needed or the email program, it will know how to call the filemanager open/save file dialog instead of using its own non-standard dialog. it will not break upon the next teeny to majpor number revision of the certified distribution's libraries. I have seen stuff compiled for windows95 and not touched since, install and run on XP. Obviously not everything can be like that but we also don't need the situation where an updated version of an installed packaged on Linux breaks something else, because the library they both depend on had to be changed with the update.
The reason this happens is that developers are all on different library versions.
For purposes of the desktop at least these need to be MUCH more tightly synchronized. No one should label as "Stable" a piece of software for the linux desktop that means a user of a recent major distribution has to upgrade a library, thus breaking something else. People who do this should be treated as though they had leprosy herpes and infectious tuberculosis.
The only way for a reliable desktop for developers and users can come into being on Linux is through the elaboration of a prescriptive spec to govern these things and the need for distros to obtain and abide by a certification process that assures customers as well as developers that this distro will not give them problems. Nobody who doesn't want to participate will have to. There will always be a place for mini distros, non-standard wm style desktops and server oriented distributions. But the demands of desktop software require that a MUCH greater effort to standardize, synchronize and integrate be made.
Else quit yer bitchin'.

2003-11-15 13:38:35
The Killer App is Ubiquity
> WHat happens when someone who has only Gnome installed buys my application and tries to install and use it? Angry phonecalls and mounting support costs followed by loss of revenue.


Excuse me? I can take a 20 year old Unix program and compile it and have it work on Linux. Can you say the same about a 5 year old Windows program? Likewise, a Unix sysadm from 20 years ago would have no problems administering a Linux box. Now I don't know all that much about Windows, having given up on MS at about Windows 3.1 as they kept changing their OS interfaces so as to hide but not remove design flaws, but I suspect the only Windows administration skill that carries through from release to release is the technique of giving up and re-installing the OS after about 3 hours of trying to fix the problem.

The only reason developers waste their time keeping up with Windows is because Windows has the market share. A developer has only to keep up with the 3 or 4 most recent Windows releases to be able to sell to 90% of the desktop market. And user's are used to being told the same line, which they hear repeatedly "upgrade your windows to make it work." These days will soon be history. When the MS monolopy collapses there will no longer be 3, or perhaps 4, operating systems out there. There will be many more. Your lament above, that you can't fix the user's problem by telling him the same story he's heard before "upgrade Windows", will be heard far and wide. You're going to have to come up with a solution other than "everybody must conform!" At least when dealing with developing technology. (How many times has the DirectX "standard" changed?) It's the future, get used to it.

In the meantime, see

2003-11-15 15:42:20
Two applications are missing for small business
Try Quasar Accounting from
2003-11-15 16:47:48
Mainstream desktop Linux
I think a good way to give Linux a more mass market must have feel it should be targeted at the core people who drive the hardware market...Gamers. Linux could be such a great pc gaming platform. One thing about being a windows gamer that really needs sorting is stability and the fact that windows actually inhibbits performance of the hardware your using. If there was a viable option other than windows that was cheap and reliable could run all th latest hardware and games, surf the net and entertain in general I would not look back. Where MS have failed (not giving uses flexability and choice) Linux has the potential to compensate. Imagine what would happen if I posted a very impressive bench mark score on a gaming site and I was running the game/demo/benchmark on Linux....a bit of pride and willy waving would do Linux good.
2003-11-15 20:44:30
When are you people going to face reality?
Microsoft totally rules, and will continue to rule!

Abandon your elitist self-delusion!

2003-11-15 22:04:14
The Killer App is Ubiquity
The fact that you mention compiling software in the context of a discussion on desktop usage shows how pathetically out of touch with reality you are. Don't worry you've got lots of company here in la la land.

Users do not compile software to make it run on their desktops. Never. Ever. They don't even *install* software. They merely assent to its installation with fear and trembling. Please try to get out and meet some average personal computer users and wake the hell up already. They don't want to 'know the computer' and you damn sure won't force them to.

2003-11-16 07:08:37
I belive the answer is WINEHQ
In my opinion, there is no doubt that linux is a BETER os than windows, if a user spends enough time understanding it, in linux you can do virtualy anything.
In my modest opinion, the key to make sure the avarage user changes to linux is to make sure they can run the SAME aplications in linux (not a better/worst version) and i belive WINEHQ is the answer. It is not perfect, it still has a lot to go but if linux can perfectly (or close enough) emulate windows, and be able to add every program ever made to windows to gnu-linux, with the kernel as it is and the stability linux is offering, i have no doubt the consumer will change.
I think this is also the answer to the problem of licences described above.. is companies can use the same program in gnu-linux they used in micro$oft window$, there is no need for them to re-lincence it and it becomes a simple economic reason to change: THEY SAVE MONEY.
If they change, their workers will follow, i am sure...

SÚrgio Gaspar Lisbon-Portugal :)
2003-11-16 07:28:10
The Killer App is Ubiquity
I'm sorry but I'll have to disagree with you.

Linux is NOT meant to be the same on every macjine, it's all about flexibillity.
For example some (l)users might want it look one way and some would prefer something else.
The point is that it's not aimed at one standart but at all of them, so that people can choose what they want.
That is just opposite of M$ which tries to force users to do all their tasks the same way.

And i prefer my machine to be suitable for me, not suitable for some M$ programmer that thought that would want Blue Screens of Death every 5 minutes.

2003-11-16 09:36:01
The Killer App is Ubiquity
if you want linux on the desktop to succeed,
you should think about what Joe Average wants.
Not what you want. Most people want their computer to juist work. Not tweak it.
Flexibility is not the issue. They just want to start the engine and drive away.