I am a Linux user, full stop. I am comfortable with the fact that, unless I have a hardware failure, my system will boot up exactly the same way I have shut it down - no black screens, no blue screens of death, no clueless non-responsive screens, and no weird errors. I do not need to download megabytes of installation files which do basically nothing other than replacing some files of a couple of kilobytes in size. I love the things that I can do with my Linux computer, way beyond what the Windows and Mac users can think of. (For the curious, I use Windows under a VMWare Virtual Machine. I am not so brave to put my files into custody of Windows.)
But why is it that this beautiful system currently holds a tiny 2% of market share in the operating system market? Why can’t Linux crush the other operating systems? Why isn’t it the clear champion in the arena? What is the reason that it is not triumphing over Windows?
Go to a computer shop and ask about Linux. Possible answers you may get are as follows:
- Linux is a text-based operating system.
- Linux is for the professionals.
- I have seen it on my friend’s computer.
- Will you run a server?
- Yeah, I have heard of it.
- We do not sell Linux.
- Our hardware is only compatible with Windows.
- … add your own favorite here
Seriously, which one is true? None. Really none. The salesperson is totally unaware of what he or she is saying and is unable to offer you anything other than what she or he was told in the latest training session. Ignorance about Linux results in misguidance.
Think about a common user who arrives at X-Mart to purchase a computer: “I want a computer that is not expensive, but I want to use it for a couple of years.” The salesperson is the only one that the consumer trusts and the salesperson is the “sales”person. Let’s be realistic here. Grandma doesn’t need the sidebar or DirectX 10. She just wants something that she can use like a kitchen appliance.
Microsoft’s greatest success, much as Satan’s greatest triumph was to convince the world that he did not exist, was to make everyone believe that Computer equals Windows. Add this to misguidance and you basically do not need any other reason to explain the market shares.
2. Hardware Vendors
Hardware manufacturers do assist Microsoft in their “final solution” to be the only operating system in the world by releasing drivers and hardware specifications only for Windows (or “the operating system with the dominant market share”.) Manufacturers, if you do not want to disclose your hardware specs and release binary drivers, go for it. It’s now been nine years, and I have never felt uneasy about using Nvidia’s drivers on my computers. I love open source, I support it to the maximum that I can, but I don’t say that I don’t use anything other than open source. I do, and I don’t have any problems. The hardware manufacturers have to think commercially, and they have the right to do so.
But come on, hardware vendors, after you have written a driver for a sound card for Windows, how much more effort will it take to code one for Linux? Outsource it if you must: you will increase your sales because the Linux community will buy your product because they will know it will work. And take a look at Intel and learn something: the giant did not lose anything by opening up their hardware specifications to the community for their graphics cards and wireless adapters. Do you know what? I always tell people to buy “Centrino” notebooks because the wireless card will work out of the box. Sorry Broadcomm and Atheros, you’ve lost. And you’ve lost for good.
Next: Read on for Linux’s desktop environments, support and lack of skilled engineers.
3. Windows is One, Linux is Many
I do not deny the fact that Windows and Mac OS can deliver one consistent desktop environment to all of their users. See just one desktop after a default install and you can identify it as XP, Vista or 7. See the wallpaper and you will say if it is Tiger or Leopard. Now install Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Fluxbuntu on four different computers and run a focus group test. 99% of the group members will identify four different operating systems. If they are the end users who want to do some simple tasks (let’s say netbook tasks), they think that in order to learn Linux they need to learn four different operating systems. In Windows, there is one, just one.
The solution is to agree on one desktop environment for the mainstream users. This does not have to be Gnome (although I am using it) or KDE (although I love it) or Fluxbox or Enlightenment. Just one, to go head to head with the other operating systems so that you can say “look here is Linux, but if you don’t like the looks you have many options: KDE, Gnome, Fluxbox, XFCE, Enlightenment, etc. You can keep all of them on your computer and you can switch between them whenever you like and your programs will run on all of them.” Does this sound competitive?
Different Linux Desktop Environments
4. Support (or Lack Thereof)
All users want support and they want it now, as we all do. You can’t expect someone to search the forums endlessly if his brand new graphics adapter is making him stare at a garbled desktop. Commercial Linux distributions fail to address this point correctly. What is the 1-month installation support good for? Who on earth has installed an operating system in one month? A typical installation lasts 1 hour maximum with a detailed package selection on reasonable hardware. When finished and when the user reaches the desktop, what will she do? Why can’t she call 1-800-FOR-LINX (or FOR-FDRA, FOR-SUSE, FOR-UBNT, etc.) and get an explanation about how to install programs? Why isn’t the user welcomed as a newcomer, instead of being advised to read the man pages? She just needs to install the damn mp3 codec to listen to the same music he or she was using in the other operating system. Why is she being told to RT*M and/or to Google instead of being provided with a well documented manual? (SUSE has been doing this for years; therefore they are out of this question.)
Come on, people. Mandriva is easy, Fedora is easier, but I want something that I can put on my bookshelf. Convince me that the printed material will get me going, and I will not need to pay for anything else. Vendors, unite if you need to. Unite if you can’t handle everything yourselves individually.
And you, the forum gurus: We geeks do not rule the market. It is the Joes, Jacks, Lucies, Ivans, Jorgens, and Zafers who do. Why can’t you be a little bit patient to explain the things to them simply? Did you know bash scripting before you started to talk? Were you born with a command line before your eyes? How long ago was it when you yourself were a “n00b?"
5. Lack of Skilled Engineers and Support Technicians
For whatever reason, there are many certified Microsoft professionals out there to hire. As the boss, if you are not happy with one’s performance, you can hire another for a slightly higher rate. Consider a Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE). I wonder how many CVs you will receive in a day if you look for a RHCE.
In terms of technicians, for whom you are looking for to employ for your help desk and for whom you do not require certification, good luck. Anyone who has seen the command line and is able to show you that they can do the job just by listing the files in a directory with the ls command will call himself the “Tech Guy” to get the job. Don’t laugh, this is experience.
Yes, I want the penguin to rule the desktop and server market. I want to use it in my workplace. I want every device to support the open standards and communicate well with each other. But we must become as one. We have to know our problems, we have to decide on the solutions, and we have to implement them in order to compete. Otherwise it will be hard for the fragmented Linux community to improve. Time has proven this.
Source: Author’s own experience.