Mac, not Linux, is desktop contender

Mac, not Linux, is desktop contender

Summary: Sometimes one's choice of a comparison gives subtle hints about hidden assumptions. A recent ZDNet article discussing Apple's and Microsoft's upcoming operating systems was probably driven by the fact that both OS vendors plan upgrades in the near future (one much sooner than the other).


Sometimes one's choice of a comparison gives subtle hints about hidden assumptions. A recent ZDNet article discussing Apple's and Microsoft's upcoming operating systems was probably driven by the fact that both OS vendors plan upgrades in the near future (one much sooner than the other). I've long thought that the real contenders in the consumer OS space have been Windows and Mac OS X. If meteors wiped Redmond, Washington off the face of the earth, my first alternative would be an OS from Cupertino.

That will, of course, cause Linux fans to froth at the mouth. How dare I suggest that Linux isn't a serious contender for desktop computers, and in particular, the wider group of non-technical computer users? It's pretty clear from the statistics, though, that most people who use desktop Linux are orders of magnitude more technical than the average computer user.

Compatibility and ease of use are the driving factors here, in varying degrees. Apple lacks compatibility with the majority of software available, but has high ease of use driven by levels of stability derived from Apple's control over the platform and great UI features. In Microsoft's case, the balance shifts toward compatibility. (Not to say that Windows is ugly, but the Mac OS X is damn sexy, IMO.)

 Many want to make Linux a contender on the desktop. As I've argued previously, that's going to be hard because the people who contribute to Linux tend to be highly technical and less interested in the needs of non-technical users. Why am I wrong? And what features of Linux are most relevant to non-technical users?

Topic: Operating Systems

John Carroll

About John Carroll

John Carroll has delivered his opinion on ZDNet since the last millennium. Since May 2008, he is no longer a Microsoft employee. He is currently working at a unified messaging-related startup.

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  • There's room for both..

    The main issue is that everyone competes fairly..

    Otherwise someone might obtain an unethical monopoly, followed by illegal behavior to maintain it.

    And then get CONVICTED for it!!
    • Exactly right!

      When the playing field is level EVERYONE, even VILY, wins
    • Monoploies are naturally occuring

      For instance, RBOCs. It's their abuse that is unethical (and often illegal).
      Real World
  • Mac ON Linux...or Intel/FreeBSD or....

    Look, we could all have a GREAT GUI interface tomorrow if Apple would just release their crown jewel on top of Linux or FreeBSD or something using the Intel chip. OS 10 is built from BSD, right? How hard could it be to move it to the Intel base? They'd make a killing! But NO...Steve Jobs knows better than all of us.

    Why Sun hasn't bought out the smug bunch at apple and integrated them in as their own desktop, I don't know. Somebody in Silicon Valley, wake up would you?! Buy out Sun and Apple, sell off the consumer electronics crap to Sony and give us a decent framework/alternative to Redmond!
    • Buuuuhhh

      Apple isn't a software company, it is a computing company.

      Let's repeat, they are neither a hardware, nor software company.
      They are a computing company. They do the whole experience.
      • True, but look at DaimlerChrysler

        Mercedes prides itself on the Whole Experience, from how their vehicles interface with people, to the handling of the car, to the quality of the product.
        YET now they are passing some of those components to Chrysler cars. This gives people the chance to have some of the Mercedes experience without the cost.
        The 300C is built on the old E-class platform.

        Apple can do this also. Retain their own image, while releasing a separate port of the OSX for the intel (or is that now AMD) platform. Even if you limit the possible configurations and drivers it would be fantastic.
        They would make a killing montarily, and people would get some of the quality they wish.

        I like the idea.
        • Apple is doing this...

          ...albeit in a limited manner.

          ---YET now they are passing some of those components to Chrysler cars---

          You mean like porting iTunes and the iPod to the Wintel world?

          ---They would make a killing montarily, and people would get some of the quality they wish---

          No, and many have torn this argument apart repeatedly. The key points:
          1) Apple makes its money from hardware. Port OSX to X86 machines and you kill off nearly all Apple hardware sales
          2) OSX would lose much of its reliability if it had to support the near infinite combinations of hardware available in the Wintel world
          3) If OSX was available for x86, no software developer would ever write anything for the PPC platform
          4) They'd be going up against an entrenched monopoly with a history of crushing all opposition. BeOS worked just fine on x86. How well did they do going up against Microsoft?
          tic swayback
    • Been there, done that, flop

      MS tried it with NT4 - PowerPC, Alpha, x86. Flopped miserably. Few apps were ported to the other computers, even within MS. Office PPC? Nope. Office Alpha? Nope.

      Rumors have it that internally, Apple has OSX on Intel - the Darwin base already runs on Intel.

      Apple faces 2 issues of porting to Intel:
      1) As soon as they do it, expect MS to drop all Office apps for the Mac and OSX. Then you kill OSX:Intel alltogether for most people.

      2) Apps for the Mac won't run as they will need to be recompiled. Then developers need to have and ship 2 versions - Intel and PPC. Most developers won't bother or will release Intel and not PPC.

      So there really is no reason to release OSX on Intel. After all, Macs start at $499 and are very price competitive. Just buy proper hardware.
    • "They'd make a killing! But NO...Steve Jobs knows better than all of us. "

      Since Steve jobs went back to apple, their stock has increased something like fifty fold in value.
      So actually I do think that Steve Jobs knows better than you.

      (In that time, Microsoft stock has lost money - not a huge loss, but some all the same).

      The average PC is a pretty horrible mess architecturally, and the Macs are very green (low power consumption generally, etc etc) and reliable.
      • was going to say the same thing

        So this guy wants Apple, which has been doing amazing lately, to get bought out by Sun, a company that has been floundering for years, can't make any good decisions, and is on their way out of the industry?!
        Jeff Spicoli
        • Better than that...

          he is proposing a company (SUNW) with a market cap of
          $US12.0B buy out another company Apple (APPL) with a
          market cap of $US30.6B.

          Richard Flude
    • Why should they?

      Why should they spend their money to provide a better computing experience for jagoffs like you who are too cheap to buy their hardware? Somehow I think there are more deserving charities than whiners like you.
      Immanuel Tranz-Mischen
  • You are correct

    The only people talking about Linux, or even know what it is are computer hobbyists and those in the industry. I would even venture to say that most home user don't even know there is a difference between Windows and Mac. All they know is hardware brand names thats all. As far a Linux ever becoming a serious desktop alternative, don't hold your hands on your A** waiting for that to happen. Too complicated, not much software (even less then mac) and just plain user apathy. Mac could do it since they have enough software available that will let users transition with very little pain, but again, most user don't know, don't care and will continue to user whatever Dell, HP or Sony preinstalls on their new computer.
    • As Gartner recently published a report saying Linux sales > Mac

      I'm wondering on what scientific survey you're basing your opinion on.
      I'm a mac user at home, linux at work.
      • What Gartner actually said was that ...

        ... about 5% of computers sold in 2004 had Linux on them which is more then the 2.8% sold with OSX. What you fail to mention is they also said that only about 2% of the total sold stay running Linux. That would say that Apple still has a larger user base.
        • Wonder what that was based on

          That would be a very hard figure to dig out. I'll certainly acknowledge re-purposing. For example, all Linux installations I know of at present initially shipped with Windows - small wonder, since that's what comes bundled with computers - but how does Gartner measure this re-purposing? Nothing would show up in any sales statistics.
        • "2% of the total sold stay running Linux" wrong:

          Gartner said they 'expect' this to be the case, whereas the sales figure is not an expectation.

          As the other poster here says, many folks buy windows PCs (because it's hard to get a PC without windows, wipe windows, and install Linux).

          IDC believed Linux had exceeded mac sales in 2003:

          However, industry research firm IDC said it believes that this has already happened. ?Linux captured the No. 2 spot as desktop operating system in 2003,?

          • Good for Linux

            But it's impracticality on the desktop will prevent it from growing
            much more. It's growth potential is limited. The same cannot
            be said for OS X as it's user friendly and can be as geeky you
            want it to be.

            Last I heard, the Mac market grew by 16% the last quarter. If
            this can be sustained for even a short while I cannot see how
            Linux could stay ahead, if it in fact is.
          • I don't agree.

            Linux is very practical on the desktop. Have you tried it lately? I definitely prefer my Mac, but I'd much rather use Linux than Windows.

            The main thing I dislike about Linux is that it is too much like Windows. This is probably because they think they have to be like Windows to compete with it--kind of like the way the Democrats think the best way to compete with the Republicans is to emulate them.

            I wish Linux developers would grow a pair and try to be a little more original and not try to be like Windows OR Mac and start offering a real alternative. I'd really like to see more options out there, not just clones of the existing ones. I wish someone would revive BeOS, and that IBM would pour new life into OS2 and take it in a new direction.
            Immanuel Tranz-Mischen
  • Look at the user

    From my experience there are a lot of computer users in
    business that have a very limited understanding when it comes
    to computers. They are the ones that the KISS principle was
    created for and, I believe, they are the ones that would do better
    on a Mac.

    Apple also has the advantage in that MS offers an Office version
    for the Mac. The progress Apple is making in the server and
    storage areas is also an advantage.

    Linux, for me, is an exciting project that is advancing far faster
    than Windows. At some point it will reach the point where
    "Bubba" can buy a computer with Linux installed and have a safe
    computing experience that is as simple to use as a Mac. At that
    point Linux and Macs are going to be on equal footing - and
    better than the MS option.