Linux vendors are swimming against the current.

Summary:I just finished reading Why hasn't Linux made it mainstream on the desktop? and I think I can answer the question:  Because the average consumer cannot walk into their favorite computer store and buy a robust brand-name workstation with Linux pre-installed with their favorite personal productivity software.

I just finished reading Why hasn't Linux made it mainstream on the desktop? and I think I can answer the question: 

Because the average consumer cannot walk into their favorite computer store and buy a robust brand-name workstation with Linux pre-installed with their favorite personal productivity software. 

Of course, it's not quite that simple.  Or is it? 

Sure, some of you will point out that the consumer can buy a bare-bones entry-level system with Linspire on it but who makes it?  And will they be around next year?  Marketing is about name recognition and consumers will not by an expensive product from a company of which they have never heard. 

For the sake of argument, Adrian's article assumes that the following statements about Linux are true:

  • Linux is more stable than Windows
  • Linux is more secure than Windows 
  • Linux is easier than Windows to use 
  • Linux is a lot more versatile than Windows 
  • Linux doesn't have the same high system requirements that Windows does

I could take this space and discuss each one of these points in detail.  I might agree with some but not others.  (It really doesn't matter though because each of these points are quite subjective.) 

When I was done, I could simply substitute the word UNIX for Linux without changing another word in my line of reasoning.  Thus, one could easily conclude that UNIX is absent from the consumer space for the same reasons as Linux.  That should be the clue ...

Supporters of Linux on the desktop always want to position Linux in the commodity consumer space but to be in that space, Linux needs to be easily available on OEM hardware sold in that space.  Being available for free for download is not sufficient.  Linux may be easy to use but it is NOT easy to install -- and neither is Windows if you are a consumer without computer experience.  Installing an alternate browser or application is not the same as installing an OS and most consumers run the OS that came with their computer.  Rather than upgrading their OS, they replace the computer -- as if it were a TV set. 

The major players (IBM, Sun, HP, Dell) all sell their enterprise customers x86-based hardware that is bundled with Linux and three of them sell similar hardware (some of it proprietary, some of it x86) bundled with UNIX, if that is what the customer wants.  So, why not in the consumer space?  Simple.  Because the profit margins are too low to be attractive to those OEMs. 

So what about the Linux vendors like RedHat, Linspire, and Novell?  RedHat has deals with Dell and Sun but does not seem to be pushing Dell to make Linux available on their consumer lines.  Linspire, so far, has sought out government and small third-tier OEMs and I am not really sure where Novell fits in -- they may be an IBM partner.  The various other Linux distributions seem to have no influence at all with OEMs, without whom they stand no chance of breaking into the consumer market.

Enterprise sales are driven by total cost of ownership -- not up-front cost.  That's why UNIX dominates when scalability, reliability, and security are paramount.  Linux dominates when scalability is not so much of an issue but reliability and security still play a major role.  Windows dominates when compatibility with workstation-based services comes into play.  Were OEMs willing to sell Linux workstations at commodity prices they might penetrate a portion of this market but they do not seem to be all that interested. 

In the enterprise, TCO is driven by human costs -- not hardware costs -- and what Windows might lack in scalability and reliability it makes up for in training costs and familiarity in the minds of non-technical personnel. 

Interestingly enough, Apple finds itself similarly absent from the mainstream for many of the same reasons -- all tied to the narrow profit margins in the consumer space that make it a 'catch-22' -- to break into the consumer market place, you have to live with very small profit margins but you cannot live with small margins unless you have a high volume of sales, which you cannot get unless you are competing in the consumer space.

Topics: Operating Systems

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.