Why hasn't Linux made it mainstream on the desktop?

Why hasn't Linux made it mainstream on the desktop?

Summary: Here's a question that I've been pondering for ages: If Linux is so much better than Windows, why hasn't it made it mainstream on the desktop?

SHARE:
662

A couple of weeks ago I asked the readers of this blog a question - What is it that makes the iPod so dominant?  I got some really good responses from a number of readers, some of which gave me new insights into iPod ownership.  Today I'm going to really play with fire and ask a question that If Linux is so much better than Windows, why hasn't it made it mainstream on the desktop?I've been pondering for ages:

"If Linux is so much better than Windows, why hasn't it made it mainstream on the desktop?"

There's not a day that goes by where I don't come across a website, blog post, forum post or comment that suggests that those who are unhappy with Windows should switch to Linux.  Download, burn to CD, install and away you go.  Sounds simple enough.

I'm going to switch sides for a moment and accept as fact many of the advantages that Linux fans claim that the operating system has over the Windows environment.  These include:

  • 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

These are some pretty massive upsides.  Remember too that we need to add to these the fact that Linux is free and that there is also a huge amount of free software available for the platform.  It's seems like Linux would be an all-round winner.  Vendors would win because they would be shipping a low-cost OS, breaking the bonds with Microsoft and delivering cheaper PCs.  There's no real technical reason why Linux can't be loaded onto most OEM systems.  The customers would win too (if all the claims made about Linux are true), by having an OS that's more stable, safer and easier to use than Windows.  With all those upsides it's hard to understand why, in these days of cutting cost and attempting to make everything as simple and easy to use as possible, Linux hasn't totally blown Windows out of the water.

But it hasn't.  Not by a long shot.  The idea that people go wherever easiest fulfils their needs breaks down when you consider Linux vs. Windows.  Plenty of people complain about the cost/stability/security of Windows, but they also seem unwilling to make the leap to a free OS. 

Speaking from personal experience, I haven't come across a single person that I would classify has an "average" user (a term that's open to a huge amount of interpretation) that uses Linux.  Out of those same pool of users, a high percentage of these users have an alternative browser installed on their system, a large number have customized their systems and many have installed a few third-party applications that duplicate or augment features that were already present in Windows.  This isn't a scientific study by any means and I don't want to pretend that it is, but I'm surprised that people who download free software from the Internet and complain about the high cost of Windows upgrades don't jump onto the Linux wave and surf off to computing heaven, where software is free, easy to install and even easier to use.

What am I missing here?  What's keeping Linux from being a Windows killer?  I've got a number of thoughts as to why this might be but I'll make another post in a week or so outlining my thoughts as to why (at the same time I'll pick up on any interesting points raised by this post).

You have the floor!

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

662 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Because nobody owns it

    For an OS that's been around as long as Linux has been - it's been around just about as long as Windows if I remember correctly - it's always languished as a desktop OS.

    I think it's because nobody owns it. There is absolutely no commercial reason to promote it.
    quietLee
    • Duh! You can't own something that's FREE, dipswitch!

      Linux is an open source OS, with many versions that are [i]freely[/i] available. About all they ask for is a small contribution to the community in terms of programming, testing, etc.

      Linux is used mostly by computer experts... "geeks" if you prefer. That alone gives it a negative connotation. Plus, it's based on Unix, which is another "geek" OS.
      Mr. Roboto
      • Could that...

        ...(the image of Linux being a "geek" OS) be the reason? Is it all just a matter of marketing?

        Or maybe could it be because many Linux users still refer to Windows users as "dipswitch" (among many other less complimentary epithets)? :)

        Carl Rapson
        rapson
        • Yes, it is...

          Yes. As you say and give examples.
          It's all about marketing. And that old staff in IT that is seeing there to not loose tere own jobs and not to the good of the company that hire them.
          Jxn
      • Eh, Who's the dipswitch?

        I believe he knows you can't own it. I believe he knows it's free.

        I read the post and got what he was saying. That wasn't his point at all.

        I think he means that since Linux is free, why would company "A" spend millions on advertising to inform the public about their Linux distro, only to have the public then just download it for free? Where's the logic in that?
        John Zern
        • Be vehrrry vehrrry quiet....

          Those whascally whindows people just don't get Linux. They don't uhnderstand that Free means Fhree!

          Uh, yo! Roboto! Got my first copy of Red Hat at Comdex back in 1999. Deal with HP-Unix day in and day out as a developer. But then, I guess since I forgot to give the secret handshake....
          quietLee
          • The secret handshake

            I've asked more than 14 times in the last six months on different blogs, sites, etc. for someone to assist me in setting up a PC with LINUX operating system. I received only one reply. I was pointed to a site to download the software. They wanted me to pay for it. That's not free.

            Yes, I'm a geek with over 22 years experience in the computer business. Windows from M$ costs but when I ask a question on Windows forum, I usually get an answer.

            So the response to this message is simple. Any Linux advocates want to change this Windows users mind? Tell me how to get Linux up and running. (FREE and within a 24-hour period).
            TheOtherITGuy
          • How to get linux running for free within 24 hours

            Visit http://www.ubuntu.com/. Go to the desktop download section. Choose a location near to you. Pick the right CD image for your computer (x86, Mac or AMD64). Download the image. Get a blank CD and use your CD burning sofware to burn the image on (if you don't have the software deepburner is good).

            Make sure that the CD is in your drive and reboot the PC. Let the linux disc boot, it will not install, and it will load a live boot session (basically running the OS from a CD rather than a hard drive install). When the PC has booted you can play around or just double click the installer icon on the desktop which will lead yuo through the install process.

            This is of course just one of the many ditributions of linux available so you may want to look at some others (I heard Mepis was good). The only cost incurred is the price of a blank CD rom.
            quantumstate
          • How to get linux running for free within 24 hours

            Are you saying that it takes 24 HOURS to get Linux running?? Well, that could possibly be one reason it hasn't achieved much use!! Even a full re-install of XP takes, maybe, an nour. And it RUNS correctly right from the beginning!
            Jack Fuller
          • One word...

            Suse.

            I bought my copy, support the vendor and all that. The difference is, I bought it for $50 and have the right to install it on as many machines as I like. You can go to novell.com and find a link to download the free version - it is missing some commercial apps. As for getting it going, it is simple to install - boot the cd and follow the prompts. I suggest you get a book or two on Linux, at least 1 specific to the distro you're using (I *highly* recomend SUSE).

            -Mike
            Spikey_Mike
          • This is the answer to the article question...

            You write: I suggest you get a book or two on Linux...

            The people I support on Windows have a hard time figuring out Windows, which is dangerous because it is easy to use. People don't want to get a degree in computer science to read their email and Windows is intimidating enough.
            Uncle Buck
          • FREE Linux

            Easy! Just download Ubuntu, install in 30 minutes or less; easy even for an "average " user who can read simple instructions. Get the apps (16,000+-) you want; again easy to do because the download and install is point and click
            Best of all, it's FREE!
            TTGIT Guy
          • WINXP free

            buy dell and get WINXP free preinstalled :)
            hopefulcoder
          • NOT FREE WINXP

            the cost is included in the purchase price... nice try at FUD though!
            Linux User 147560
          • Simple

            Go out and buy a magazine called Linux User & Developer . Every month they come out with a new distribution on disc . All the instructions are on the cd and in the magazine . How much more simpler than that can it be . If anyone really needs help with Linux , send me an e-mail at ObeyMeIAR@Netzero.com and I will be more than happy to take a shot at your questions .
            I'm Ye, the MS SHILL .
          • Not For The Average User

            Linux is for Geeks, period. A couple of years ago I tried to set up a Red Hat Linux box on my home LAN with a iMac and an XP box. I used UNIX in the 80s and have been a software engineer since 1978. I've built and configured my own machines. But I'm afraid I just can't remember all the config files all over the UNIX/Linux system. So I got books, and tried my best. Then I asked help from my local LUG. I got a different answer from every respondee (about 22). Mostly what I got was a bunch of religious anti-Windows rhetoric. Then someone from the LUG volunteered to come over to my house to do it. After 2 hours of communing with the config file gods he couldn't make it work. So I turned that old computer into a Win2K box, plugged my printers to my XP box and everything just worked. Haven't touched Linux since. Why bother? I'm not motivated by hate. I just want things to work.
            harmoncodysmith
          • Not For The Average User

            >>...Linux is for Geeks, period...<<

            Nonsense! Linux, like Windows, can be installed
            and used by the functionally 'brain dead'. Nice
            little story about Red Hat. Was that your only
            foray into the Linux world?
            richdave
          • Two years ago?

            Two years ago is a lifetime in Linux years.

            Please don't discourage people from trying something because of your experience using an antique.
            libertyaikido
          • How to screw up

            Windows is faultless - period.

            I always wonder how people can crash the installation of Linux. My first try was with RedHat 8 on a Pentium2, and no problems at all. My present set-up is a Shuttle PC installed with Suse9, and now upgraded to 10. I put in the CD, select and deselect some apps, press enter and change CD's as required. Then I supply accounts and paswords for mail and newsgroups, and that's it. Printer works, ADSL works, video card and display is correct, and even my TV card worked right off, and I can play any multimedia without configuring ANYTHING.

            Please tell me how to screw up an install, because I have failed in it every time.

            My 78 year old mother uses Linux, and she's no geek. She doesn't even know what a geek is.
            pkrdk
          • Microsoft vs. Linux

            I've been it IT for 30 years. Started as a programmer on an IBM the 1400 series.
            Anyway, The reason Linux hasn't made it to the desktop. One reason is people really don't like change in computers. I'm not talking about anyone on this site. None of you can consider yourself normal.First, how many Linux boxes are in the grade schools, High schools, I'll grant you there are some in colleges. However, by that point you are backing on hell of a trend. Second, a lot of people work from home. How many of thier businesses have Linux (nada).Third, they have already invested in the software and guess what it comes free when they buy a new computer (remember normal people here). With microsoft you can log on and talk to the computer geek if you have a problem. You don't expect someone to remove XP or whatever to load Linux. If you do you are a certified Lunatic. Until they have a reason to change they won't.
            jmdever@...