The world just isn't ready for Linux

Summary:Windows Vista brings with it a new era of DRM and restrictive license agreements that aren't going to sit well with even your basic power user (let alone the uber power users that regularly read this and other blogs at ZDNet!) and some are looking for an escape route. These changes are making some users question their commitment to Microsoft. The obvious step is to make the leap to Linux.

Windows Vista brings with it a new era of DRM and restrictive license agreements that Linux is pretty much a wasteland when it comes to gamesaren't going to sit well with even your basic power user (let alone the uber power users that regularly read this and other blogs at ZDNet!) and some are looking for an escape route.  These changes are making some users question their commitment to Microsoft.  The obvious step is to make the leap to Linux.

But what's holding people back from escaping Microsoft's shackles and moving to a free and easy platform?  My guess is that the platform isn't everything.  In fact, it's only a small part of the equation.

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I've been very impressed by the Linux distros that I've tried out.  I'm currently quite partial to Ubuntu.  It's got a lot of things going for it - installation is a snap (I'm guessing as long as you have the correct hardware), it looks good, and it's usable in that within a few minutes you can be surfing the web, writing emails and working with word processing documents and spreadsheets.  It's also a fantastic platform for building a library of recovery tools to get your system up and running after a major problem.  Life is good.  Up to a point.

The problem with Linux is that as an operating system, it's great, but as a platform for your average desktop PC, it's leaves a lot to be desired.

Here are the areas Linux could improve on in order to transform itself from an operating system into a desktop platform:

  • Gaming
    Let's face it, for your average home PC user, gaming is pretty important aspect of PC ownership.  In my experience, even people who really aren't all that into games still indulge the occasional new game. 
    Linux is pretty much a wasteland when it comes to games.  Go through the top 10 PC games (or top 50 if you're feeling adventurous) and you're unlike to find more than one or two that will run on Linux.  The sad fact is that, while there is plenty of interest in developing Linux as a platform,  
    when it comes to gaming that interest just isn't there (for a number of reasons, which revolve around money and the number of users). 
    If you're a gamer and you want to go down the Linux road, the best you're going to achieve is a dual boot system.
  • Software support
    Going hand-in-hand with gaming is software support.  Walk around any store selling software and see how much Linux-compatible software you can find.  Not much.  This needs to change.  Consumers want to see stuff that they can buy that will work for them.  Granted, there's a ton of stuff available for Linux as long as you know where to look, but for your average user that's not enough. 
  • Stop assuming that everyone using Linux (or who wants to use Linux) is a Linux expert
    Let me draw an analogy with Windows.  Even though Windows has been around for years and is almost universal, that doesn't mean people have mastered the basics.  I still get emails asking me very basic Windows questions.  The thing that amazes me when I get one of these requests (and I'll get at least one a week) is that these people have somehow found my site, figured out how to get in touch with me, and then written me a note asking me their question.  Firing up Google and doing a quick search would have been much faster and got them the answers they were looking for much quicker.  You can't assume that someone who uses a PC is an expert.
    Linux needs to look like it's a simple choice, but at present, certainly from the outside looking in, it doesn't look that way.  In fact, I'd say that the simplicity currently ends at the point where you install the OS.  It needs to go further, much further.
  • Hardware support
    The one area of Linux ownership and use where it becomes apparent that there's an assumption that everyone who uses Linux is an expert is hardware support.  Your average user doesn't have the time, the energy or the inclination to deal with uncertainty.  Also, they usually only have the one PC to play with.  Hardware just has to work.  There's a very good reason why Microsoft spends a lot of time on hardware compatibility - it's what people want. 

There are a number of other hurdles that those new to Linux have to jump and issues to come to terms with that aren't related to Linux as a platform.  For example:

  • Too many flavors
    If it was a straight contest Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux, choosing Linux would be easier.  Unfortunately, going Linux means choosing your OS from a huge number that inhabit the Linux ecosystem.  So that makes the jump to Linux a bigger deal (it could be argued that Windows offers the same problem of choice, but with XP the choice was pretty simple - with Vista however, that might change).
  • The whole OS Holy War thing
    Too many people I've spoken to feel that making the leap to Linux means that they have to become some sort of fanatic or join a cult.  The face of Linux  as portrayed by the extreme fans just isn't wining it much support.  It comes across as hokey, uninformed or just raging against the machine (usually Microsoft). 

One thing is for sure, 2006 will be the final year of Microsoft dominance at  the PC Doctor HQ.  I'm already investigating ways to incorporate Linux into the system.  The first systems are likely to be file storage systems (seems crazy to pay for an OS for a system that I'm not going to interact with all that much).  From there, I don't know how things are going to pan out.  Yet.

Topics: Operating Systems

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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