Monday, October 18, 2010

Desktops and Linux are Not Dead

So, in an article at PCW (, Robert Strohmeyer argues that the dream of desktop Linux is dead. I disagree. I strongly disagree. I don't disagree because I have some hope of Linux out-pacing Windows or Macintosh OSX. I don't disagree because there is some new distribution that is going to sweep the market. I don't disagree because of how easy to use Ubuntu, Mint, and Mandriva are. I disagree because the Linux community will never rest.

In the mid-90s, the Linux community was much smaller than it is today. It was, in fact, minuscule in comparison. We've grown by leaps and bounds. Well, if our community is so much smaller, why are the market share estimates by so many relatively the same size? Well, how do you gather data on the number of desktop machines running Linux? Are you doing so by website polls and such? Are you doing so by the Linux Counter? Are you doing so by PC sales? None of these are going to deliver any kind of accurate statistics. This is because Linux normally spreads by word of mouth. How many times have you shown Linux to someone? How many times have you told people what Linux is? How many times have people entered into conversations describing the benefits of Linux to others? It is often from these encounters that Linux market share increases. Very few people by computers with Linux preinstalled on them, which means you would have to literally ask everyone who owns a desktop computer which OS he/she is running. To date, no one has asked me or anyone I know (not anyone conducting a poll anyway).

Next, the article asserts that reasons are flash, or that the reasons are lack of content, or that the reasons are due to media incompatibilities. These are all bogus. Flash runs well on most desktop Linux distributions. Media playback is often painless and beautiful on most desktop Linux distributions, and there are many thousands of applications available on most Linux distributions. None of those are the reasons for the lack of Linux to become dominant in the PC world. The real reasons have never changed. Number one is the lack of hardware vendor commitment. Number two is a lack of advertising. Number three is the general lack of knowledge/care that most users have of/for operating systems in general.

This article then moves on to say that the desktop is becoming irrelevant itself. This is probably the most bogus claim in the entire thing. Have desktop PC sales slowed? Sure they have. Have desktop PC sales stopped? No they haven't. There are several groups who will never want to give up their desktops. First, gamers. Laptops are never as powerful as their desktop brethren of the same era. Second, workstation users. A workstation these days is quite simply a powerful desktop computer. Third, the thrifty. A low-end laptop costs about as much as a mid-range desktop of the same era. Fourth, enthusiasts. You usually cannot build your own laptop, and certainly cannot do so as easily as you can a desktop.

All in all, the article was bogus. People need to be weary of FUD like that. Too many credible news agencies are starting to churn out drivel like this PCW article.


Barnaby said...

Nice rebuttal. What do you expect from pcworld. Their 'technicians' fit network cards and clean out Windows junk for £50 an hour, any 12 year old can do.
Yeah, his arguments are all bogus, Flash is running great here on everything above a 1Ghz Celeron / Duron. I thought it's only ok on Slackware and related due to being cleaner OS' but as I discovered no performance problems or sound problems on #buntu either. Thanks for the write-up.

gmartin said...

You can ignore all the evidence that the year of the linux desktop has come (and gone), but that won't make it any less true. You don't have to believe it for it to be so yet your post seems to suggest doing just that. Ignore the evidence and pretend Linux is growing - it isn't.

Some real world evidence -
I work on an IT staff of 25 people and the number of people who have installed Linux on a home PC - 2. And I'm one of them. People just don't care - they want a PC that works without hassles. They'll live with an annual cleanup, but not without a working video driver.

Need further evidence? Recall the lowly netbook. On release they ran one OS - Linux (if not 6 variants which is part of the problem). 12 months later, try to find one that ran linux. WinXP and Vista to the rescue. Seriously, Vista, bad rap that it had, is installed on more netbooks than linux.

I will agree with one thing - who cares what PC World says. I run Slackware because it is fun. And by that I mean, I still feel like a hobbiest when I use it. Windows bores me. But it doesn't bore my wife or sun because they don't CARE about the OS. They care about working.


Jens Staal said...

The most relevant issue remains unanswered by both posts: why should we care about market share? Linux as a desktop system grows in absolute numbers, and more importantly, a large fraction of that user base are the people that are also able to contribute to its further improvement (let's face it a developer is a more valuable user than a grandma). The only advantages I see with a significant market share is that it might pressure OEMs to offer naked computer offerings without MS tax and that standards compliance for file formats and protocols get more important. If I was MS I would however worry a lot about that a significant (and possibly growing) fraction of the important "geek" segment of the population is going to Linux and other alternative *NIX OSes (including OSX).

yobdab66 said...

The right release of KDE is ..the next. same for Gnome. Same for audio or audio subsystem...and so on. And don't talk about it's impossible to install an application where you want.I use Linux for server every day , from 10 years and I love it. But , for the desktop the developers simply dont'have the right approach. Everybody talks ALWAYS about the next release for every thing , for a normal user it means this release is not ready.Desktop on Linux has a lot of problems ( audio is one )...but there are too many energies...missing. My 2 cents.

Barnaby said...

Hi gmartin, releasing the netbooks with Linpus was a mistake for sure. Most people I spoke to said they preferred SLED on the HP Minis because it looked more professional and not 'kiddie-like' like on the ones Acer offered. Then I bought one HP that had obviously been returned, it was full of that persons pictures and .exe files in home. She thought she had bought a version of Windows and tried to get these programs to run. That's where the problem lies, people need to be educated more about Linux and that it is an alternative, but that it is different.

2 people out of 25 are still 8.00% though. That's quite respectable.

trashbird1240 said...

@Jens I don't think OEMs will offer naked computers, they'll start packaging GNU/Linux (or FreeBSD or whatever) just to make their computers run. They'll be selling to the gamers (who can have Windows if they want) and "workstation users" like me. They may use software as a selling point, but I predict instead we're returning to the hardware era, a la workstations in the 80s. "Regular people" will just buy for hardware, and they'll buy mobile phones and tablets, and the software will be incidental, it will be whatever makes the thing run. People know you don't need Windows for that thanks to Android and iPad.

All of this means that Microsoft is losing its grip, which is on new desktop PC sales. I think the market is giving OEMs a chance to stand up to Microsoft, and soon they will, and people will take what they get, just like they have with Windows for so long.

soltesza said...

I just don't know what some here talk about.

Problems with audio or Flash? I have been using Ubuntu for 3 years and with the last 2 versions of Ubuntu, I just didn't have problems with those two. Everything worked, period.

I have moved 4 people in the family to Linux in the last year, happy Ubuntu users ever since.

Ford said...

my points exactly.

you hit the nail on the head my friend.

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