Why desktop Linux really hasn't (yet) succeeded

Why desktop Linux really hasn't (yet) succeeded

Summary: And because people always want "the real thing," the bottom line on desktop Linux is simply that followers are always followers, never winners.

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The most important reason you don't see Linux desktops everywhere you look is that Linux desktop applications aren't generally compelling.

OpenOffice has a better underlying technical design than Microsoft Office but is neither significantly different nor obviously better on net in the hands of users - and just as good doesn't cut it: Office on the Mac defends the installed base but never drove growth even though it used to be a generation or so ahead of the PC product.

People who use OpenOffice or most other desktop Linux applications generally do so because the apps run on their OS of choice - in other words the apps get selected by people who value the OS decision above the application decision, and that's just backwards.

In contrast, look at Apache. People choose Apache or Apache applications like Cocoon, because they're both significantly different from, and better than, any of their commercial competitors - and having picked Apache, they look for a cheap and effective server/OS combination to run it.

What's going on is that user level decision makers focus on applications, not operating systems. Apache drives Linux adoption because Apache offers world leading technology - a positive reason. In contrast, Linux drives OpenOffice adoption, not because it's better than Microsoft Office, but because it runs on Linux, or because it isn't from Microsoft, or because it doesn't cost anything - all negative reasons; all ultimately based on seeing OpenOffice, or whatever desktop app you care about, as a good enough substitute for the real thing.

And because people always want "the real thing," the bottom line on desktop Linux is simply that followers are always followers, never winners.

Too negative? here's a positive: if Microsoft and Intel don't succeed in killing the (now $200) $100 laptop, that interface - a variation on Lifestreams already running on Linux, could eventually become the Windows killer the Linux community needs to get behind.

Topics: Linux, Apps, Hardware, Intel, Laptops, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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108 comments
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  • I hate to admit it Murph, but for once I agree with you 100%

    The OS really doesn't matter, providing it is a stable, secure base from which the applications (the real dealbreakers) can run.

    Applications are the key to the OS success. Look at Mac OSX. The iLife package is great for home users, and for video Final Cut Pro has little competition on the PC.

    This is the key problem with Linux. The OS keeps getting improved, but the applications are often just cheap copies of their commercial equivalent. Windows proves that the OS does not need to be all powerful and conquering, but the apps on Windows are always the dealbreaker to switching.

    FOSS advocates need to stop imitating other software and come up with new, innovative ideas. Make sure that there are apps that are only available for Linux, and make sure that they are so appealing that it is worth the switch.

    Until someone comes up with a [insert_killer_app_here] for Linux, it will always fall down. Apache is the server app, but where is the workstation app?
    Scrat
    • Open Office

      When I was involved in porting Oo to HP-UX a few years back, the code I saw was pretty nightmarish. A bunch of different software programs wrapped up into a blob. Sun had promised to make the whole thing Java - but years later it hasn't done so. I can see exactly why Oo is slow, and why it isn't portable - so why do people think this thing can take on M$ Office?
      Roger Ramjet
      • portability

        I have lately been trying to get OpenOffice.org and Java to build on Linux/MIPS and
        Linux/SPARC but without too much success. For various reasons different modules break on
        the various architectures, particularly now that GCC 4 is standard on most current
        distributions.

        OpenOffice.org should just use system libraries by default on Linux systems so the
        amount of code to maintain gets a lot smaller. This one and Java are two portability
        nightmares that should be either cleaned up or filed away somewhere never to be released
        anymore. Carrying obsolete libraries along with the main sources doesn't help much
        either.
        psychicist
    • Final Cut Pro has little competition on the PC?

      Sorry to tell you Scrat, but there are quite a few programs out there on the PC that can indeed compete with Final Cut Pro.

      I liked Pinnacle Liquid much better then Final Cut Pro, also The professional version of Ulead is pretty sweet. I have not fully tested it, but from what I see WOW.

      Then Sony has there own line of Video programs, I cannot remember the name of them, I have never used them, but from what I see is pretty impressive.

      Now what I like about Pinnacle Liquid is that you can broadcast live tv if you have the equipment.

      Now do not get me wrong Final Cut Pro is really good as well, my point was simply that there are programs out there that can compete with Final Cut Pro, then problem is that all the programs I mentioned were written for windows, and Final Cut Pro is wrriten for the Mac.

      So the correct thing to say would be, Final Cut Pro has little competition on the Mac?
      BroGnorik
      • Sony's app..

        [b]Then Sony has there own line of Video programs, I cannot remember the name of them, I have never used them, but from what I see is pretty impressive.[/b]

        It's called VEGAS - as in Las Vegas
        Wolfie2K3
    • You been reading World Domination 201?

      The hard deadline will be end of 2008 when it's predicted that the big 64Bit OS switchover will really happen (due to high demand for >4GB RAM).

      Off the top of my head, HD video editing, usable free 3D software, free 3D CAD, a vastly improved GIMP with HDRI and GoboLinux capabilities combined with Debian based package management.

      I may or may not have the time to contribute to any of these.
      odubtaig
    • "and for video Final Cut Pro has little competition on the PC"?

      Wrong...Adobe Premier is just as good. I've used both, and they are both excellent.
      IT_Guy_z
      • Still laughing

        It seems when you have little choice, your app is obviously the best.

        I use Ulead's products especially MediaStudio Pro for my editing and I've produced documentaries for both cinema and televsion. I've also tried a number of others including Premiere.

        There are lots of video editing programs for the PC high-end, middle and low and you can choose by features and how much money you want to spend. Final Cut Pro, due to its lack of Mac competition, seems to be what Mac users are stuck with - not a bad app, but not my choice obviously.
        tonymcs1
  • OpenOffice.org and applications

    I agree that OpenOffice.org doesn't do many things better than Microsoft
    Office but for me the main attraction is its ODF format support and its
    cross-platform and cross-architecture nature, not to say that it is indeed
    a lot more stable and reliable than Microsoft's suite.

    OpenOffice.org needs a lot more development but there is enough time to
    polish it by fixing bugs and including more features that people have come
    to get used to. But there is also a lot to say for the argument that there
    isn't that much left to do in office suite development in general.

    Now what I think is lacking in the Linux/Solaris/BSD world is the
    availability of high-quality business and multimedia applications. Each of
    these operating systems is absolutely great but a lack of applications
    makes one still choose inferior operating systems such as Windows and Mac
    OS X (mostly because of its relatively unstable and ancient Mach/BSD
    heritage).

    The free and open source operating system landscape is still very young so
    you can't expect to have that many developed and user-friendly applications
    at hand. That is something that will have to be worked on, but at least the
    basics are mostly covered nowadays. Be patient and every gap will be
    covered, not today nor tomorrow but maybe next year!
    psychicist
    • needs to be today

      that is why open source fails to compete. It can't compete in the "next year" it needs to compete now and to do so, means changing it's mode of operation into a revenue generating and proprietary format.

      In the long run, Open Source may be a good thing to learn from other's mistakes and create a solid product, but the product takes too long to get there. Sure MS has bugs, but they get their products on the market with some regularity to generate revenue and keep people employed to fix the bugs afterwards. It's not an excuse for shotty software, but it's a business need to keep your market share and revenue up. Hopefully you learn from past bugs and take those into consideration on future revisions.
      Khyron
      • Good point...but Office 2007 is not buggy so

        far and the interface is great but that's must my opinion like all of the other comments including the article. I have been using it since January, and it's pretty robust. Which based on the argument above, is just another nail int he coffin. On top of that for a 140$ US you can have most of Office features (word, Excel, PP)... and be compatible with everyone else. With noone pushing OpenOffice, there isn't any real need to jump. I plan on downloading OpenOffice and just trying to see what all of the hubub is about, but I will not switch. O2007 works and is stable and is compatible with 90% of the world.
        ItsTheBottomLine
  • Never?

    It is unlikely that desktop Linux will ever catch up with Windows or Mac
    Developers just don't care about the level of detail that goes into XP, OSX or Vista not to mention the apps
    you have to pay them to get that kind of work done

    A
    andycher
  • Expressed as a Catch-22

    To be accepted, Linux and applications running on it must be as much like their Windows-based counterparts as possible. But when the alternatives seem bland imitations, there's no reason to change.


    The problem can be re-expressed as: Why change from Windows and applications that run on Windows when the functionality provided works well enough at an acceptable price?

    The need to imitate is an acknowledgement that the competition is sufficient.
    Anton Philidor
    • Accurate vs. Precise?

      Windoze applications are accurate - they hit the nail on the head in terms of customer needs. They are not so precise as Windoze itself will stumble and cough enough to ruin uptimes.

      Linux applications are precise - they do exactly what the developers wanted - and Linux is rock-solid in delivering them. But the apps may just miss the mark entirely with the customers.

      This (very simplified) contrast seems to add some insight into the different camps . . .
      Roger Ramjet
      • Default assumption

        I think most people expect that software is going to work as intended, before they purchase it. After purchase, they respond to the software's eccentricities with as much patience as they can manage, with the expectation that they have to conform themselves to the product.

        Evaluation is based on degree of aggravation felt and the perceived availability and quality of alternatives.

        As so often, it's not about the software, it's about people's response to interacting with the software, and the impressions they form about what happens to them.

        The idea that other software is more reliable, if they've heard of the other software at all, need not be a reason to change if inconvenience is not intolerable.
        (It's possible to confuse irritation with dissatisfaction. As my daughter said, Human society exists so there's someone to complain to. Complaining about software is... sociable.)

        So the day that I read a review of XP in which the jaundiced reviewer said apprximately "It's okay" was a watershed in computing.

        Tolerable works.

        Me, I like to say The normal condition of software is broken. Reduces surprise and other wasted emotions.
        Anton Philidor
      • Generous

        "Windoze applications are accurate - they hit the nail on the head in terms of customer needs."

        I'd like to know where these applications are. I'm pretty sure if this claim is true I can get very large checks written to the vendors.
        Erik Engbrecht
      • uptime?

        It's been at least 10 days since I had to reboot my vista system and the reboot I did do was not because of a system crash. In fact Vista hasn't crashed once in the 5 months that I've had it installed. That's some pretty good uptime wouldn't ya say?
        Khyron
        • 10 days! oh wow...

          10:42am up 1378 day(s), 2:15, 1 users, load average: 0.28, 0.18, 0.16

          Sybase server - Solaris 2.7 on SPARC
          murph_z
          • Solaris 2.7?

            You like to enunciate the virtues of Solaris 10 in your column. What's with the ancient OS (a stopgap measure between Solaris 2.6 and Solaris 8)?
            Roger Ramjet
          • Hey, it was brand new then

            and has been running error free since installation - on an (equally obsolete) pair of 450s yet!
            murph_z