Linux Users Deluding Themselves

February 18, 2008

This from Slashdot

Vlad Dolezal tips us to a philosophical take on why Linux hasn’t grown to challenge Windows as the most popular operating system. According to the author, the reason is simple; Linux is free, and humans tend not to equate free things with being valuable. “Here’s what Compy McNewb sees. He can get both OS’s for free. But one of them is worth over three hundred dollars, while the other one is worth nothing. ‘That’s not true!’ I hear you scream. ‘Linux is worth a lot! It’s just being offered for free!’ I know it’s not true that Linux is worth less than Windows. It’s far more valuable to the end user in terms of getting things done. But that’s not what Average Joe Computer Newbie sees. He sees a free product versus a three-hundred-dollar product he can get free. It’s all about the perception!”




Price has nothing to do with it. See the success of Firefox for that.The thought that Windows reigns supreme due to price is delusional to say the best.


Now I’m no Windows fan (don’t even start me on that) and I enjoy Linux, but the difference isn’t the price, its in the usage. Linux has come a long way since I first tried switching in about 2002 (Red Hat 7.6, I know the distro because I just threw out the Dummies book it came with). It was hard then; drivers were thin and installing them required command line instructions. Today things have come along way. Distros are damn easy to install, and most things install without any need for the command line. But simply that’s most things, and presuming then that the hardware is supported. To give an example I tried Ubuntu on my last PC laptop (last year, and it wouldn’t have been 12 months old at the time) and it didn’t natively support the WiFi card. Despite hours trying to find support, no luck.?Ǭ† Linux still doesn’t always work 100% out of the box.


And then there’s the software. The favorite line of Linux fanboys is to argue that there is a Linux package that substitutes for anything. That’s true to a point, but that software isn’t always as fully featured as what is offered on Windows or Mac, and it tends to be ugly as well. Take The Gimp for example, great package that I used in a workplace for years, but the moment I had the opportunity to switch back to Photoshop I did. I recommend and install Open Office for people, but I went with iWork for my Macs because it’s slow and not nearly as nice to work with.


Of course the counter argument (and I’ve heard this plenty of times before) is that you can tweak Linux to make it look however you want. The problem for the average guy is he wants it to look good and work with everything out of the box. Windows is a pain, but it provides better hardware support and Vista is prettier out of the box.


Another point I’d note is that people don’t want to think about their operating system. It’s why people are switching from Windows to Mac and not Linux. In terms of setting things up Linux is a retrograde step, where as Mac’s just work. I never have to think about my OS with my two Macs, I just get on with my work, and if I need to install something it’s 100% going to work with the OS (presuming a Mac version, which is most things these days).


“It’s far more valuable to the end user in terms of getting things done


Um, no, because most people don’t want the extra power and access. GTD in OS is using it, not fighting the OS to install drivers just because you can do more hardcore geek stuff with it. Windows remains familiar and relatively easy to use to the vast majority of people, Linux distros aren’t, its got nothing to do with $.


Last point though is we are starting to see Linux installed and being used, like on the EeePC I bought she who must be obeyed. Great little distro, everything there ready to use and no need to worry about drivers or what not. Although I can install XP on it I’ve got no plans to, because the distro works and is functional. That’s where Linux is going to make inroads, because in its current state it isn’t going to start winning the desktop wars, something that has been argued about for as long as I can remember. How many years were going to be the year of the Linux Desktop? 🙂 Linux will grow desktop marketshare at the low end, and possibly as the distros improve will then make further inroads as people become more comfortable with using Linux.

9 responses to Linux Users Deluding Themselves

  1. I second that (all that). In addition:
    – There is this maximum file size limit on 32-bit Linux that nobody likes to talk about.
    – Try copying an image from Firefox into GIMP
    – Try working with some moderately sized project (like Inkscape) on Eclipse. When that fails you could try to do the same thing on Visual Studio.

    And geeks need to stop saying that Linus Torvalds is God. From what I’ve seen, he is too damn rude and self-centered for me to even call him a friend. Linus is a coder. A good one. When folks get all religious about him, Linux suffers.

  2. Hey Duncan,

    I think you hit the nail right in the head there. I think the author of the original article has found a perfectly legitimate psychological bias and applied it to a completely inappropriate situation, like much of the pseudo-science that gets thrown around these days.

    Linux has no clear value proposition in the desktop market. Sure it’s free, but to the majority of computer users, Windows is available at a very low OEM price (often bundled with their PCs). Add to that the fact that it is virtually impossible for the average user to run any average, off-the-shelf software package on Linux, suddenly free doesn’t sound all that great. Oh wait a minute, what about Wine? KVM? Well then, if I’m going to install a full/partial installation of Windows so that I can run my very average off-the-shelf software package, then why exactly do I need Linux anyway? Why don’t I just run Windows? So called desktop Linux installations have come a very long way. But still, they don’t address the issue of compatibility with existing software (the real Microsoft success story is the Windows API). Compatibility with common hardware is getting better, but it is still poor. Unfortunately, it will continue to be so until Linux is mainstream enough in the consumer market to convince the average hardware vendor to invest in Linux drivers.

    On the other hand, true power of Linux lies not in competing for a place in the current desktop ethos, but perhaps in changing it altogether. Linux has lowered the costs/risks for a large number of efforts that attempt to create an alternative to the age old model where functionality is delivered to the end-user as a desktop software package.

    On the server side of the picture, Linux has made it possible to create powerful servers from commodity hardware at a much lower cost, much lower risk and unparalleled flexibility (open source rocks here). Just look at the poster boy of the Web 2.0 – Google. In fact, have a closer look at how much of Web 2.0 efforts are in fact powered by Linux driven back end infrastructure! Utility computing is another crucial area where Linux has already started to shine in.

    And more importantly perhaps is the client side picture. Linux lowers the cost of entry for innovative client side experiences by providing an operating system layer that can be adapted to specific hardware devices reasonably easily. With a rich infrastructure ecosystem that allows for the deployment of rich, end-user experience already (and increasingly) available for Linux, it creates an environment where functionality can be effectively delivered outside the traditional desktop PC. OLPC, EeePC and Google Android are great examples of this.

    As time goes by, both sides of the picture will merge to create a new paradigm where computing driven functionality will be more accessible, more powerful and require less commitment, creating a richer technology ecosystem.

    I have absolutely no doubt that Linux will continue to play a crucial role in disrupting the traditional end-user computing era. But I doubt it will be as a replacement to the dinosaur that is the modern desktop.

    In the meantime, I hope I find compassion for these Linux zealots who keep rambling their “Linux desktop will own the world” and “my Linux distribution is bigger than yours” BS.


  3. Actually, I meant to say:

    I have absolutely no doubt that Linux will continue to play a crucial role in disrupting the traditional end-user computing era. But I suspect it will be as a part of a great replacement to the dinosaur that is the modern desktop rather than another dinosaur joining the pack.

    Note to self: Don’t type angry! 🙂

    – Nishad

  4. I heard a rumour a while back that the Russian and Chinese Civil services were considering moving over to Linux in a token gesture of anti-americanism. That would create a couple of hundred million Linux users overnight.

  5. I think also many people use it at work so they want it on their own home computer too. I think in general people are reluctant to change and when you buy a computer nowadays windows is pre-installed. When you buy your new computer you want to take it home and start using it straight away, not messing around with drivers and installation disks.

  6. Hi Duncan, really enjoyed the post.

    I think there is a further factor at play here which needs to be recognised: “Open source / free means no commission”. Therefore who has the incentive to push it? In any enterprise level sale it is a real significant effort to get a company from one platform to another, and the sales lead time can be up to 12 months or more.

    At an individual level the cost in personal time in training, lack of access to friends that can help without charging etc creates a pretty big disincentive to change.

    Further entrenchment occurs with the army of Microsoft Certified guys and gals that support desktop infrastructure everywhere. Certification means higher value charge rates, which goes to personal salaries. And every edition of Microsoft product ensures tonnes of work for these guys. So, the channel is an embedded as petrol is embedded with motor vehicles.

    Is Microsoft fundamentally evil for doing this? Of course not, it is sensible business practice and they would be remiss to their shareholders if they didn’t do so.

    In order to really get the shift in momentum you need:
    1. Great product
    2. Well supported with business quality delivery on help
    3. Seemless transition

    I’m also a huge Mac fan. Point 2 above I think is the challenge for getting business centric help there. There has to be significant education of the networking guys to get to understand Mac before you will see any co-existance (other than just the usual response of rolling their eyes at you!).

    Perhaps if users demand to connect their own gear to networks we might see some movement – see my post on

    for a discussion I had with Michael Grey of Dell on this point.

    Thanks again for a great post….

  7. What Linux needs is a kick-ass game that isn’t available on PC. Something as popular as WOW, Call of Duty 4, or Half Life 2 would do the trick.

    I recently bought myself a Mandriva Bootable USB drive. It is awesome to have so much power in your pocket. It makes Vista users weep. It’s preconfigured to save all your files to the drive. Total portability.

  8. Wow, the commenter on /. needs his marbles counted. The reason why windows is, and will be for a long time, so popular and linux won’t be, is that a huge portion of PCs have windows pre-installed on the computer when the consumer purchases the machine.

    Another thing is… Duncan, or anyone in this thread… when you open a browser window in OSx or ubuntu or kubuntu or vista… it’s a browser ‘window’… familiarity. Brand penetration, etc.

    OSx and Linux are ‘choices’ and ‘alternatives’ to windows and that’s all they will be for many years to come to the regular consumer.

    Sorry if I hurt anyone’s feelings.

    BTW, I have Kubuntu set up on my HP Pavilion dv2120ca laptop (dual boot with XP) using and it worked 99% from the initial install. Only glitch was with my speakers and mic, which was an easy fix after searching on the ubuntu forums.

  9. I can give the commentor a couple of good reasons as to why Windows software will be challenged by Linux and its NOT because its free. 1. US Army is now changing all their computers to Linux (used to be Microsoft). Reason? More security! 2. It has been reported that anywhere from 42% to 45% of the total business world have changed to either Linux or Mac software platforms. AND not to mention number 3…. Microsoft has lost their A…..and has already lost two major lawsuits from the European Union due to breaches of the antitrust act. Bill Gates has forgot business lesson number one….when in Rome….do what the Romans do. And lesson number two…..Just because it works in the good ol USA…..doesn’t mean it will work the same for Europe, Asia, etc. Let’s see….Microsoft lost 65 million from last years ruling and this year 1.35 billion dollars not to mention that there are two MORE potential lawsuits that the European Union will be hearing against Microsoft! Ouch! kinda of takes a bite out of Microsoft profits! I guess ya gotta make up the profits some way other than buying out Yahoo! I know! You can make computers already configured with Linux (via Dell computers)! That oughtta take put Microsoft back into the black again!