Is Linux your OS religion?

Is Linux your OS religion?

Summary: I have come to the conclusion that picking a desktop operating system is a lot like picking a religion.  No matter what choice is made, for many it will be made on faith alone -- and with the absolute certainty that their choice is the only true choice!

SHARE:
125

I have come to the conclusion that picking a desktop operating system is a lot like picking a religion.  No matter what choice is made, for many it will be made on faith alone -- and with the absolute certainty that their choice is the only true choice!  Once that choice is made, no discussion of the relative merits of alternative choices will be entertained. 

What is it that makes Linux can successfully compete with Windows for the desktop market. some people zealots about which desktop OS to use?  And why would one blogger insist on verbally pummeling another for making a different choice -- as if they were infidels?  I've seen it over and over again and I just don't get it.

Of the major players in the desktop OS market today, UNIX is the oldest -- dating back to 1969.  Its minicomputer origins made its transition to high-performance workstations straightforward.  And its remarkable scalability made it just as suitable for the machine room.  Today, it makes its home primarily in that machine room -- or on the desktop of the scientist, the engineer, or the filmmaker. 

MacOS first appeared on the scene in 1984, a year before Windows first shipped (1985).  As with all modern desktop operating systems, its graphical roots are at Xerox PARC.  With the introduction of Mac OS X (in 2000), Apple joined the UNIX ranks (well sort of) by building their newest desktop OS on top of FreeBSD.  Like the traditional UNIX vendors, Apple continues to focus on proprietary hardware for its bread and butter.  And like those traditional UNIX vendors, it has had to face a shrinking market share as a result.

1985 also ushered in the beginning of the 'free software movement', the Free Software Foundation, and the GNU Manifesto.  (An acronym, GNU's Not UNIX).  Linus Torvalds conceived of Linux in 1991 but it would be 1994 before Linux 1.0 shipped.  When combined with a wealth of GNU libraries and utilities, Linux quickly became a viable UNIX 'clone' -- one free from AT&T's licensing fees. 

Without a doubt, Linux  has changed the face of the UNIX marketplace -- much to the chagrin of many a UNIX vendor.  It has done so largely by putting UNIX capabilities on commodity hardware -- and thus forcing first-tier UNIX hardware vendors to begrudgingly embrace the open-source software movement. 

Then there is Microsoft Windows.  Like the Linux community, Microsoft has built its empire on software sales on commodity hardware.  And like the Linux community, Microsoft wishes to displace UNIX in the machine room, where the stakes are high and the profit margins are lucrative. 

So, how is it that Microsoft so completely dominates the desktop market today while Linux struggles for a place in a market which is characterized by commodity hardware and small profit margins?

A lot of Microsoft detractors would say they dominate through unethical business practices -- and to be fair, the courts seem to agree, but I'm not so sure that it's all that cut and dried.  Governments and robust users (that's us, folks) are quick to complain that Microsoft doesn't give us (or their OEMs) much of a choice about the default tools provided with Windows.  But what about the consumer?  After all, they are the ones buying PCs at Wal-Mart and [insert your favorite electronics retailer here.]  By and large, the typical consumer wants three things:

Value.  Consumers definitely want to feel like they are paying a fair price.  Even if a baseline Macintosh computer sells for about the same price as a comparably-configured Dell running Windows (as some of my colleagues claim), if Dell can get you in the door with a 'lame' loss leader and then step you up, it's those aggressive entry-level prices that got the consumer to shop (and which Apple cannot match!) 

Ease of use.  In my mind, this is a requirement but is not necessarily sufficient.  If it were sufficient, I would expect that most consumers would be buying Macintosh computers for their unrivaled ease of use.  They are not. 

Choice.  This one is a little tricky.  As experienced IT people, we have choice.  No matter which OS (religion) we choose, we can make that choice work to our satisfaction -- because we know what we want/need before we buy.  The consumer is often clueless about which choice to make, and why.  Too many choices and the consumer will throw up their hands and walk away frustrated.  Too few choices and the consumer will question the value of those choices.  In either event, they won't buy.  If Windows offers nothing else, it offers a lot of choices of hardware vendor but once the vendor (and the price-point) is chosen, only a small number of buying choices are required to make a successful purchase. 

There is one more thing though that gives Windows the edge:

One-stop shopping.  No matter how little you know about computers, if you are a first-time buyer, or an experienced user, buying a personal computer running Windows is a one-stop shopping trip.  Your hardware vendor can sell you everything you need -- Windows + Office pre-installed takes care of 95% of all consumers' needs.  A copy of Quicken and/or TurboTax and that jumps to 99% of consumers' needs.  Most everything else can be purchased on-line (or downloaded for free) and installed by the typical user -- no muss, no fuss. 

What's that you say?  Linux can provide that same one-stop shopping experience?  Sure.  Today, the user can buy an entry-level Linspire PC made by Microtel, from Wal-Mart, or a Linspire PC made by Mirus, from Sears or K-Mart.  But, if you know nothing about computers, do these hardware manufacturers give you confidence that they will be in business in six months when you try to call them for support? 

In the end, Linux can successfully compete with Windows for the desktop market -- but they cannot do it alone.  Rather than seeking out only the lucrative machine room market, Linux vendors must work closely with first-tier OEMs to establish consumer-conscious bundles for desktops and for laptops.  They must be price-competitive and offer a wide enough range of capabilities to make them attractive to the first-time computer buyer who doesn't know beans about computers. 

Topic: Operating Systems

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

Talkback

125 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Linux on Desktop

    I have been using linux exclusively for the past three years. I recently bought a laptop from Dell.

    Linux pros:
    Very robust; runs for months together; I never had any virus problem. All OS upgrades with software bought at news agent.

    Linux cons:

    Not very good support for multi-media(music, video)

    I find linux has to improve on multi-media support to become a viable desktop OS. WinModem is another barrier to Linux adoption on the desktop.
    Van Der
    • WinModems

      Not really an issue with distros that were produced in the last 6 months. Even the live distros are including support for them now. It also isn't a big issue as DSL doesn't use a WinModem but rather an ethernet card and DSL has dropped to 13-20 dolars, or only a few dollars more than dial-up.

      Multi-Media... If you have Linspire and fork over the cash for the DVD Player/ Windows Media CodeCs you will only have an issue with MS Media 10. This is becuase MS refuses to license that format. You will end up paying more for a software DVD player than a hardware one though.

      The problem lies with the fact that MS won't license the CodeCs to any General Computing OS Maker, Apple refuses to offer iTunes or QT for Linux, Google betrayed the Linux community by making it's customized VideoLan Player (A player that originated on Linux in the first place) Windows only, and the DVDCAA won't license a DVD player for all Linux distros but rather forces it to be tied to Distro X or Y. Xine and MPlayer can use any CodeC written for Windows.

      The issues are not technical but rather due to companies refusing to allow the media to legally play on Linux as BTW you can get all forms of media to play on a Linux OS, just not legally in countries like the US.
      Edward Meyers
      • And the answer is

        we need a couple more DVD John's to create the codecs for us. I mean if we can license them then make our own! I would love to but I will admit I am NOT that level of programmer. I wish I was but I am not. I wish I was because I would create what is needed and deploy it for ALL Linux and FreeBSD's to use.

        I think it's bulls*** that Apple will license QT to Windows but not Linux. Personally I think that is bunk especially since they used FreeBSD, another Open Source OS to build their new platform on.
        Linux User 147560
        • DMCA gets in the way

          They are already out there. The problem is the DMCA makes it illegal in the US to use them.
          Edward Meyers
          • And the problem with that

            Edward is the average consumer doesn't realize the damage being done to their choices with things like the DMCA. Sad really... but hey! At least when I travel outside the US with my laptop I can get all the stuff legally! ;)

            And since airport security is not looking for DMCA crap and since 99.5% of them probably have never seen a Linux machine before, they wouldn't know where to look!

            There are always ways around BS laws and regs. The beauty is that short of censoring the internet (and if that happened in this country AND got out in the media, there would be a feeding frenzy on the government, there is no real way to enforce these stupid laws.

            There are too many ways to get these plugins and capablities to those that want them or need them. But you have a good point. ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • Distro Makers Won't Touch It!

            The people who are "converting" expect all of it to work out of the box. The issue is that becuase they are not Kosher in the States Red Hat and Novell won't include them hence MultiMedia does not work out of the box for most formats. Novell even went out of it's way to disable un-encrypted DVD support, which is legal BTW, from Xine. Even Debian won't include the naughty codeC's.

            That does not mean that they are not available. The problem is US desktop Linux adoption is under 1% and you won't get much/any sympathy from the courts let alone have the DOJ anti-trust divsion investigate why the CodeC's are not available for Linux- Oh and you can forget about the *AAs publishingf in a more free maner. In fact one court hit the developers with a larger fine than was usual becuase the users were technically skilled and thus "Should have known better" - I kid you not it was the BnetD case.

            Now as far as "converts"... part of the problem with a lot of Windows users moving to *Nix is that they don't want to move to a *Nix but rather they want to move away from Windows. This creates problems becuase these users tend to not want *Nix- They want a cheaper less buggy more secure Windows - In otherwords they want a secure free Windows clone and not a *Nix. They want Linux/BSD/Open Solaris to perform exactly like Windows, have 0 interst in learning anything new, and complain when *Nix does work the same way as Windows instead of reseraching why it was done that way in *Nix and the benifits of doing it that way over the Windows way, which a lot of the time was done for security reasons.
            Edward Meyers
        • Move to in the EU

          The EU lets you do more stuff like run equipment you have without patent issues.

          I have never managed to work out why the US allows software patents especially for things like the DVD codec. I mean someone makes something as widespread as a DVD but doesn't let people make software that can run the stuff. This kind of stuff allows certain small groups with one thing to apply huge disproportionate leverage in situations.
          quantumstate
    • WinModems/MM Support issues

      You have touched on two of the most 'problematic' areas of Linux.

      That would have 'held water' as recently as a year ago, but not so any more.

      For WinModems, just stop and pick up a Linux driver from SmartLink Modem here:

      http://www.desktoplinux.com/articles/AT8673493458.html

      As for MM support, I can only vouch for SuSE 10.0 (am testing 10.1 RC2)--A good place to go for 10.0 is this url giving the 'scoop' on getting jump started with Non-OSS apps written by Jem Matson in October 2005:

      http://www.thejemreport.com/mambo/content/view/178/42/

      Based on my experience with 10.1 RC1, these Non-OSS applications have been separated out from the installation CDs (5) to a sixth CD and via Yast you are provided an Icon to branch to installing Non-OSS software--a very nice approach!

      But anyone who has experienced Yast would agree, it's always been a very good implementation.

      As for WIFI, the common complaint has been kernel updates tend to disable after such an update occurs.

      My approach, based on hitting this issue numerous times, is simply to leave the sourceforge ndiswrapper in a child directory to my home directory, make uninstall, make, (su) make install--a 5 minute process and I am back up on the WIFI.

      The 10.1 RC2 has now an option for GNOME and KDE to use Novell's 'NetworkManager' for much better wireless GUI support. I use KDE so, the wrapper on NetworkManager is knetworkmanager. It really is MUCH better and negates more of the arguments made for why Linux will not gain Desktop market share.

      Ok. That should do it.

      Linux Users Unite! ;)
      Whowah whowah!
      D T Schmitz
      • Wrong link to SmartModem Driver

        I hate it when that happens! (DOH!)

        Here's the link:

        http://www.smlink.com/content.aspx?id=135
        D T Schmitz
      • Ever So Easy, Isn't It?

        I can picture my mom following exactly those steps to manage her Linux box, and liking it. She'll tell all her friends how easy it is. Everybody will want one!!!
        ZappBrannigan
        • WINmodems

          If you buy a WInmodem, then don't expect it to work on anything else than windows - that's why it's called a WINmodem and not a modem. If you buy a WINPrinter, same thing. Another example of Microsoft crashing established standards.

          And yes, you can expect your grandmother to live happily with Linux. She won't have any clue about what happens behind the curtains - and she has no need to know, because she will never need it. I have shown her how to update via YAST, and she called me on the phone 'just in case' the first time, and never afterwards.

          I work professionaly with Windows, and many other OS'es, and have done so for 35 years. This household switched to Linus 5 years ago, and we will never go back. I switched my mother's PC from W/2000 to Suse, because I got tired of spending half my visits fixing the thing. After switching to SuSe and spend my visits with my mother with her, and not her PC.

          Games IS a problem on Linux - if you use games. There are ways of solving it, but we decided for a REAL gameconsole instead of the PC.

          No reason not to change if you want to. Multimedia is not a big problem, I can play any MM format I came across yet using MPlayer.
          pkrdk
          • LINUX

            Ia am not an IT do not know any how to do programming and stuff. However, I would like to download Linux to one computer and start learning how to use it.

            If someone can tell me, what is the minimun harware performance I should use for doing so??

            And what spource I should use for downloading or requesting a CD?

            Thanks
            Pepperoni_z
          • It depends

            On what you want...

            In CLI (Command Line Interface) Mode; Basic Linux http://distro.ibiblio.org/pub/linux/distributions/baslinux/ Slax Frodo http://slax.linux-live.org/download.php ,or DSL in CLI mode only is a good start to learn CLI the requirements is a 386 computer with 3 MB of Ram for Basic Linux and a 486 with 8 MB of Ram for CLI mode which is what you would have on a server or router- not really a desktop though.

            On a desktop you most likely will want a GUI. DSL and basic Linux are not designed to give you the most modern or easy to use Linux distro but are rather designed to give you a modern OS that is useful on a machine that will run nothing else. Ditto for Puppy http://www.puppyos.com/ , http://cyti.latgola.lv/ruuni/index_en.html . The micro distros do include a GUI mode but tend to use ICE WM, Flux box, JWM, or OpenBox as the windows manger and ROX or EmelFM as the file manger. Full distros tend to use Gnome, XFCE, or KDE as the desktop environement- so this is very differnt. Reasonable Requirements for a Micro Distro in GUI mode would be a Pentium 60hz or higher processor and at least 64 MB of RAM, 128 MB is better and as most MicroDistros can run entirely from RAM, that is the applications and OS all load at boot time (And they do this on their own unless you tell them not to) the more RAM up to around 256Mb is going to improve performance with some apps. If Installed to a HD or ran from Quemi the boot times will be about 40 seconds for Puppy and about 1.5 minutes for Austrumi and DSl (No benefit from installation in boot times unless you reconfigure the start up scripts) this is due to the hardware probes and autoconfig and not size of OS.

            A better introduction would be a full LiveCD distro such as Knoppix http://www.knoppix.org/ (KDE), Gnoppix http://www.gnoppix.org/ or BeatrIX http://bea.cabarel.com/ or http://www.watsky.net/ (Gnome), or Slax popcorn or http://slax.linux-live.org/download.php (XFCE). Dyne-Bolic http://www.dynebolic.org/ if you want a taste of MM Creation for Linux. Live CDs however are a little slower than an installed copy. Requirements for a live CD is a Pentium II processor and at least 96 MB of RAM the more Ram the better response time. Boot time will be around 2 - 3 Minutes on a Live CD due to the fact it has to hardware detect each boot.

            Kororaa is a live CD but it is special http://kororaa.org/static.php?page=static060318-181203 Live CD that utilizes Xgl (The new Novell developed graphics system) and it requires at least a PIII, 256 MB of Ram and a high end graphics card.

            You probably want Ubuntu http://www.ubuntu.com/ (They will mail you a CD for free) , Fedora http://fedora.redhat.com/ (You can download it or go to a book shop as it is often found in Linux Book Covers), or OpenSuse http://en.opensuse.org/ unless you want to fork over some cash then Suse, Linspire, or Xandros until you get some experience.

            I am also assuming you are able to downlaod an ISO and burn it as a CD (Not to a CD which is all you will be able to do with the defualt tools in XP)...
            Edward Meyers
    • With poor support for multimedia, I'm surprised the RIAA and MPAA won't

      lobby for it to replace windows. After all, with all those CODECs not allowed on Linux, it's a good start...

      The CODECs are still out there for anyone who cares... But I don't and the typical userbase out there won't want to spend the time fiddlefarting around to install and get them working.
      HypnoToad72
  • It's none of the above.

    It comes down to marketing, what comes pre-installed, and price.

    Windows is as popular as it is becuase it comes pre-installed from the name-brand computers. The name brand computers are purchased becuase of marketing. You can get a computer and a copy of Red Hat from Dell but Dell will not pre-install the Red Hat for you, they ship it with a copy of FreeDos pre-installed and the boxed copy of Red Hat that you have to install yourself. To get this machine from Dell you have to search through 4-5 pages to find it and the machine doesn't cost any less than the equivalant model with Windows, the Windows model is actually cheaper as you get free componet upgrades with it that you don't get with the Linux model.

    In the case of K-Mart and Wal-Mart they don't offer these machines in stores and are underpowered machines compared to Windows offerings. In Fact the MicroTels that they sell through Wal-Marts online store lack enough memory to use KDE, the defualt desktop system with Linspire , without resorting to Swap space. These machines will also only run Windows at a crawl if they want to have more than one or two apps open at the same time becuase WIndows also has to use Virtual Memory (Swap Space) to do so.

    People who are using Linux do so for several reasons;

    1. They don't agree to MS license terms. Read the EULA there is a lot to object to there.

    2. The computer they have will not run Windows, either becuase Windows is not supported on their computer's architecture (PPC) or the machine is too old (Linux runs on older hardware... some distros will run in GUI mode all the way down to a 386 with 16 MB of RAM).

    3. Windows is to expensive for the home system builder. WIndows Retails for close to $200 for the non-OEM version. It retails for $120 for the small OEM version. If you have 100 in used computer equipment are you going to spend another $120 to just run Windows?

    4. Most Linux distros are 5-17 Cds worth of software for a full Distro. A Linux distro is not just the OS but also office apps, developement/programing tools, games, web servers, ect Debian is something like 16,000 apps in the distro. Also consider the full boxed distros include a printed manual, something that Windows lacks, and it becomes clear that the Linux distro is the better value. This isn't advertised though.
    Edward Meyers
    • Some other reason

      5. People love the freedom that comes with Linux, as it let's the user decide which software to install and which not!

      6. It provides a relatively safe platform

      7. Instead of having to visit numerous sites for updates, you can just apt-get the newest version (or whatever your distro supports)

      For the technical savy user:

      8. It doesn't assume you're an idiot, it actually assumes that there's an intelligent person behind the buttons.

      9. It's architecture feels sound and secure

      10. It lets you actually tinker with everything you like

      11. There are no borders to what you can do with it, except limited by you're own capability and imagination.
      tombalablomba
    • Corporate Peer Preasure

      Most people I know that have purchased Windows, justified that purchase "because they use Windows at work". There are a LOT of people who move files and data back and forth, to and from work, so they buy a Windows systems for home, mostly for compatibility. That momentum sells a LOT of home PC's. Until home users realize that moving files to and from Linux, or any other OS for that matter, is not that hard, they will continue to avoid all of them for Windows, sorry to say.
      linux_for_me
    • your windows reasons are just restatements of

      the writers reasons.
      Joeman57
      • Not at all

        The author states that;


        Value.
        Ease of use.
        Choice.

        Are the reasons why people choose Windows.

        I say that people choose windows becuase there is still no choice in the X86 PC market besides Windows. None of the first tier OEMs are really offering a choice of Linux on desktops , servers are completly different story. Dell makes a show of offering it but it is real hard to find the Linux offerings on their website, they don't offer the choice on all their models, and even when you do find it the Red Hat option actually costs more than the Windows option and Dell won't even ship you the computer with Red Hat installed on it- you must uninstall FreeDOS and install Red Hat yourself.

        The White Box makers that are offering Linux are not typically offering them in stores- the exception is Fry's sub 200 Linux 'puter special they run on holidays which draws lines of customers around the building, and the computers that are being offered as Linux computers really aren't powerful enough to handle the distro's defualt desktop environment that comes pre-installed. A lighter desktop environment than the defualt would be advised if the computer isn't going to be upgraded right out of the box.
        Edward Meyers
        • The author's point (my point) was ...

          ... that linux vendors have it in their control to provide CHOICE in the X86 PC market -- but they have to seek out OEM partnerships to make it happen.
          M Wagner