The Linux desktop market

The Linux desktop market

Summary: the invincible ignorance of the non technical decision maker who considers computers nerdish and therefore socially untouchable while treating people like Bill Gates and Michael Dell as heros of American business acumen

As regular readers know, there's been a lot of discussion in the talkbacks to this blog lately about two issues: PC style security on MacOS X and outsourcing. One unanticipated result of all this has been to give me a bit of what I like to think of as insight into why desktop Linux hasn't been more of a success.

Some people, of course, claim that desktop Linux is a stealth success, The invincible ignorance of the non-technical decision maker... but two years ago Wal-Mart offered a sub $500 PC with Linux pre-installed, now they have a Microsoft Store and offer Windows NT 4.0 Professional on refurbished 900Mhz P3 Thinkpads for $482.

The most commonly stated reason for not pursuing a Linux desktop strategy in business or government organizations is that key open source applications don't measure up to Microsoft's proprietary ones on functionality and ease of. I think, however, that this is something everybody says and nobody knows. In fact, if it were actually possible to do an objective evaluation, I think it would show that the differences go both ways and are essentially negligible as decision factors.

Beyond that, the reasons you hear or see cited most often for the apparent failure of desktop Linux to achieve significant market share are:


  1. That the people who sell and support desktops at the local level make more short term money on a Windows/XP installation than on Linux and have better long term social and economic prospects supporting Windows than Linux;


  2. That the Linux community focuses on Linux, not business desktop users;


  3. That business users tend to seek social conformity in Windows; and,


  4. That each Windows upgrade has strengthened the customer's natural tendency to fear, and therefore resist, change.

I believe that each of these explanations for market behaviour has validity, but even taken all together I don't think they add up to a sufficient explanation.

So what else is there?

I think the outsourcing discussion shows that there's an elephant in the room: something everybody knows and nobody wants to talk about. Specifically: the invincible ignorance of the non-technical decision maker who considers computers nerdish and therefore socially untouchable, while treating people like Bill Gates and Michael Dell as heroes of American business acumen. Talk to these people --whether they're involved with a small business, a professional firm, or government -- about desktop Linux and you'll be immediately categorized as on the wrong side of a social divide -and it's not because you're talking Linux, it's because you're challenging their self-image by talking about computers at all.

These are the people who treat Wintel as a given and thereby make it possible for those who sell or support IT to make money selling what they're buying, and thereby incidentally block what they're not buying: desktop Linux.

So what will it take to break past that barrier? I don't think better software or increased compatibility will have any effect: playing follow the leader, anoints the other guy as leader. More importantly, client-server is client-server, and whether you implement that idea with Windows desktops or Linux ones fundamentally doesn't make a lot of difference.

Sure, the Linux deployment will be cheaper, and generally somewhat faster and more reliable on the same hardware, but telling that to people who pigeon hole you as from the wrong side of the social register the instant you mention computing is a mugs game: one you can't win.

What's needed is an end to client-server, a revolution they can't ignore: Sun Ray.

Topic: Linux

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  • Sun Rays

    I'm not giving up my laptop. Period. End of story. Maybe someday I'll be fortunate enough to run Linux or Solaris on it, but I'm not giving it up.

    The advantages of purely centralized processing power are a result of a failure to develop a good model for distributed security.

    Poor security persists because no one has figured out how to make it not look like a bug to the user. (bug == computer doing something unexpected or unwanted, or failing to do something wanted)

    Someone needs to stop trading security against usability and come up with a way to let the user, no matter how stupid, be free without giving him the power to bring down half the internet.
  • Windows NT 4.0 Professional?

    I don't know what is worse: Walmart writing 'Windows NT Professional' when they presumably meant 'Windows XP Professional', or a respected tech journalist not realizing that there is no 'Windows NT 4.0 Professional'. I really hope you meant 'Windows NT 4.0 Workstation' Paul.
    Real World
    • Blogger vs Journalist

      No offense to Paul, but I wouldn't consider him a journalist. I'd consider him a paid blogger (assuming he doesn't do this for free).

      For journalists, it's assumed that both the journalist and publisher will take measures to ensure the factual integrity of the material. (this is one of those highly questionable assumptions)

      For bloggers, it's assumed that the "blogosphere" will somehow correct the blogger when he is wrong. (this, of course, assumes that the voices of truth and reason will be heard over all the idiotic rants - another flawed assumption)

      Of course, in this case you corrected Paul (I think, we'll see if he comes back with "No, it really is NT" and provides evidence).

      So I would consider Paul a respected blogger, mostly because I respect him and most of the posters on ZDNet who I respect seem to respect him.
    • Funny you should mention that

      I had to doublecheck walmart's listing to believe it, but it really is NT and really did list it as
      "professional" - so I sent them a note.....
    • Full listing (as of Mar 08/06)

      * 900 MHz Pentium III processor
      * 256 MB SDRAM
      * 32 GB hard drive
      * CD/DVD-ROM drive
      * 14.1" TFT screen (1024 x 768 max. resolution)
      * Windows NT Professional OS
      * Integrated Sound Blaster 16/Pro-compatible audio card
      * Connectivity and expansion slots: 1 USB 1.1 port; 1 VGA monitor port; 1 Serial port; 1 Parallel port; 1 infrared port; 1 S-Video out; 2 PCMCIA (or PC Card) slot (Type I/II); 1 headphone jack; 1 microphone jack
      * Integrated 56K modem (V.90)
      * RJ-45 LAN network port (for a 10/100 Gigabit Ethernet connection to networks and DSL/cable modems)
      * No users manual included
      • I'll give them the

        benefit of the doubt and assume they meant XP instead of NT, but I'm always wary of buying goods from someone who can't get the basics right.
        Real World
        • Fly on the wall

          I'd love to be a fly on the wall of Walmart tech support if its really NT 4.0 and people call about getting the USB ports to work. Or did a post-W2K NT service pak add USB support?

          • Well, there are third party (shareware?) add-ons for USB support


            or, perhaps Wal-Mart is trying to re-energize the shareware community. Right.
      • NT professional

        Very confusing. could be nt 5.0 professional 2Kpro or nt 5.1 xp pro. I would not buy w/o confirming that.
        April May
        • RE: NT Professional

          I think this thread speaks for itself. The subject was; Linux, why it is not on more desktops, why it doesn't seem to be able to overtake Windows. What are we discussing? The minutiae of whether Walmart offers Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, Professional or if Professional actually exists. For Walmart's marketing program, it exists. Linux's problem is not Linux's problem, it is our blindness. Linux can do all Windows does but as things are we are all accustomed to Windows doing what we want it to do in a certain way. We are comfortable. We probably won't change without very good reasons, probably revolutionary vs evolutionary reasons.
          • Well, I'll give you this much

            Most modern Linux Distros kick the crap out of Windows NT 4.0.
            Real World
  • Cocktail Parties

    When an IT professional 'decision maker' (no name calling) hears 'cocktail' conversation regarding the success his/her peer is having with Linux, there will be a reflexive response:

    [b][i]"Yeh, I know that..I am looking at Linux myself."[/b][/i]

    That will influence perception--and that even applies to SUN Solaris and SUN RAY Murph.

    Regarding your last paragraph: [i][b]

    "What's needed is an end to client-server, a revolution they can't ignore: Sun Ray."[/i][/b]

    As for Linux, What's needed is:

    [b]NX ([/b]

    NX effectively enables [i]thin client[/i] X11 Linux sessions [i]anywhere[/i] in the world with local connectivity speed. NX supports, NX, rdp, and VNC protocols.

    [b]FreeNX[/b] is the GPL version of NX and works beautifally with the [b]FREE[/b] NoMachine Client found at the NX website for Windows, Linux, Solaris.

    Check out NX folks! It Rocks!
    D T Schmitz
    • Agreed -

      I'm a big fan of dedicated X-terms like NCDs used
      to be - but not at all a fan of using old PCs in
      lieu of X-terms because they don't have the graphics resolution, performance, or screen sizes needed.

      The Sun Ray isn't an X-term; but it is a smart display and has advantages of its own.

      As for your cocktail comment: you bet, the most trusted adviser is always the guy on the next bar stool.
    • Bad dialogue.

      Let's be more realistic.

      When an IT professional 'decision maker' (no name calling) hears 'cocktail' conversation regarding the success his/her peer is having with Linux, there will be a reflexive response:

      "Oh." [Turns head in other direction.]

      Or even more realistic reference to Linux by someone put in charge of IT:

      ... Yes, they're strange people. ... But I'll be out of there soon enough. ...

      To make your point, you have to be believeable.
      Anton Philidor
      • Fortunately, many IT people are more

        pragmatic than you are and don't dismiss Linux out of hand. As an IT manager I was always interested in any successes/failures that my peers had regardless of what software that they used.

        Here's a real-life counterpoint to your post. At my last job as an IT Manager for a large gov project, I used linux extensively in our infrastructure. I had several of the IT admins from other organizations ask us to show them how we implemented linux so that they could implement it in their networks as well.

        Windows is a tool. Linux is a tool. Use each as appropriate.
        • Different context.

          The situation concerns the group Mr. Murphy described:

          ... the invincible ignorance of the non-technical decision maker who considers computers nerdish and therefore socially untouchable, while treating people like Bill Gates and Michael Dell as heroes of American business acumen.

          Would this group welcome discussion of Linux at a cocktail party?
          Anton Philidor
          • I think we responded to different contexts

            I responded in the context of Deitrich's message "Cocktail parties" in which he referred to IT professional 'decision makers'. I don't see those as the same people referred to by Mr. Murphy.

            In the context you present, I would agree with your post. That group would not welcome discussion about Linux and probably not Windows either.
          • ...unless, of course, the person who brought it up...

   beautiful, well dressed, and known to be making more money than anyone else in the room. Oh, and good hair...that always makes an opinion on anything more believable. If the person has the qualities they admire, then they can enjoy sucking up to and being seen with them, and gain status by being an inner circle power twit.

            To rephrase what the original post which started this string said, there will be no acceptance of desktop Linux because the people who make the decisions do not care about, understand, tolerate discussion of, nor respect or allow in their presence people who do understand, discuss and care about technical issues. They are the company, we are the equipment.
          • Grokking Awk Over Cosmpolitans

            Of course, Linux makes an excellent cocktail party topic. Right
            as the zest of the World Cup soccer talk fades (my fellow US-
            ians are adamantly apathetic to what we call soccer) then out
            come the cigars, a new round of martinis, and witty rejoinders as
            the Gnome and KDE partisans argue libraries.

            Given yesterday's (Jun 24) reporting that US-ians have smaller
            numbers of people with whom to discuss important (and trivial, I
            suppose) issues when compared to 20 years ago, perhaps the
            problem is there aren't enough cocktail parties.

            But, nearly seriously now, I agree with the main point is there's
            no one reason. I suspect that if the Linux Desktop goes big, it
            wil start at entrepeneurial small businesses on the verge of
            going big. These are the people who have to innovate and
            rethink or go home. Established enterprises will adopt in order
            to defend their prices and margins and employees will pick up
            their usage for convenience.

            If, and this is a big if, the everywhere Linux desktop happens,
            our awareness that it has happened will seem as though it was
            suddenly accomplished; I don't think this revolution will be
      • I don't know

        Say it Anton,

        [i]"Maybe there is something to this Linux thing. I am going to once and for all install it on my PC and see what it is all about."[/i]

        Correct me if I am wrong Anton, but I have the impression that you haven't as much as touched Linux with 'a barge pole'.

        D T Schmitz