Why Linux on the desktop is still struggling

Why Linux on the desktop is still struggling

Summary: The ubiquity of Microsoft's desktop office suite is one reason the company has remained a leader in the PC segment -- and that same Office ubiquity is the main reason Linux still struggles.


I have had my Linux laptop for several months now and I really like the platform. The performance is better, because the operating system has a smaller, more elegant footprint. Applications, available on the platform, are more easily controlled. And, to date, none have hung the laptop to where I needed to force the laptop to shutdown in order to regain control.

The tools required to succeed on today's enterprise desktop, however, are definitely not Linux friendly.

The ubiquity of Microsoft's desktop office suite is one of the reasons, if not the main reason, that Microsoft  has been able to maintain its position as the leader in this segment. And compatibility with the office suite is one of the key reasons that Apple has been able to penetrate the market, while Linux still struggles.

The applications that are used in the enterprise are simply not available on the Linux desktop.

The numbers vary slightly by site, but most who track the segment agree with Statowl's numbers shown below for 2012:

  • Microsoft: 84.49%
  • Apple: 14.42%
  • Linux: .86%
  • Other: .21%

What is not shown above is the iPad penetration numbers, which is disrupting the PC segment.

Today, many of my technology brethren are running Microsoft at the office, not by choice, but because that is what they were given by their employers. When it comes time to select a personal system, many today are choosing Apple. What is holding Apple's PC numbers back? The price.

So, why not Linux?

The applications that are used in the enterprise are simply not available on the Linux desktop. One workaround is to run the tools in a virtual machine (VM). This is the approach that I have taken for the past few months. I am running Red Hat on a workstation, with 2.6 GHz processor, and 8 GB of memory.

Running a virtual machine allows me to run the enterprise-level applications that are both required, and nice to have, for techie-types like myself (IT architect).

Microsoft tools such as, Word, Excel, Power Point, Visio, and Project (optionally) are must haves. Other examples of the core connectivity tools  missing from the Linux platform are WebEx and Goto Meeting.

Even applications like Netflix and Skype, nice to have when you travel as much as I do, are not available. That said, running any of these resource-hungry tools in a VM requires a good deal of patience. Every minute or so the screen will hiccup, slow, or freeze -- while the VM works out the cycles required.

The process to build a presentation takes a good deal longer in a VM than it would in Linux. And, honestly, it is frustrating to go back to the equivalent x386 speeds.

The good news: For the creation of documents and spreadsheets,  a good number of options are available that will allow you to save your work as a Microsoft Office-compatible document. OpenOffice, LibreOffice, and Google Docs are good alternatives to Microsoft Office tools.

The bad news: There are no good solutions for presentations, the creation of diagrams, or project plans.

The formatting is about 75% there for presentations, for example. If you like to work in layers, as I do, the presentation, when converted to the Microsoft format, simply stacks the layers, with transparent backgrounds typically being assigned to white (i.e., non-transparent).

This sort of functionality adds hours to an already long day, and leaves me wanting a different system.

Are you running Linux on your desktop? How have you gotten around the limitations noted above? Let me know.

See also:


Topic: Linux

Gery Menegaz

About Gery Menegaz

Gery Menegaz is a Chief Architect for IBM with more than 20 years supporting technologies in the financial, medical, pharmaceutical, insurance, legal and education sectors. My Full-Time Employer is IBM. I write as a freelancer for ZDNet.

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  • Skype?

    Check your crystal ball again - Skype has been around on Linux for a _long_ time. My wife and her friend found and installed it on Ubuntu without any interference from me.

    Ever heard of of LibreOffice? There are whole non-US government institutions around the world that _choose_ it over M$ products, you know. You would think you would at least give it a go.
    • RedHat

      Thanks for your comment.

      I am running RedHat and could not get it to work correctly.
      • Running Red Hat is NOT the way to judge Linux

        Using Red Hat and judging ALL Linux distros by that experience is downright STUPID!!!!
        • i think he has a point

          i suggest mint for desktop
          • Green32.com

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        • The Way

          Well, given I can not run multiple instances of Linux at the same time, on the same machine and be productive, what do you suggest?
          • if you want efficiency Mint 13 64 the mate version

            and if you like your desktop to be more pretty and you don't have an amd graphic-it is not stable for amd yet- download cinnamon (you can install and have both desktops simultinously later on as i do now)
            and then install the last version of wine:

            sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-wine/ppa
            sudo apt-get update
            sudo apt-get install wine1.5

            the last thing is DockBarX and MS office on wine, search and install them!
            This way you have a desktop way better than what you get from MS or any other distros IMHO!
          • THIS is linuxes problem..

            As soon as people start rambling in ackward not-making-any-sense terminal language like this:

            sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-wine/ppa
            sudo apt-get update
            sudo apt-get install wine1.5

            hey loose most of the windows audience... who on earth wants to go back to dos style learning curves ? Sure it might be faster to type than navigate a gui... but people do NOT want it..
          • no need to use the code i have written

            you can always use synaptice it is graphical and no need to learn anything!
            but i didn't want to go into that process step by step...just enter those commands and end of the story!
          • Different gui

            One advantage and disadvantage of Linux is the wide variety of GUIs. Therefore it is difficult to explain in GUI how to do, compared to give a more general solution
          • disadvantage for most users

            The vast majority of users are not tech savy,so it is a clead disadvantage for them.
          • [CTRL][C] - [CTRL][V]

            ...and for PPAs, you only do it once. From then on, the software auto-updates itself when the system does. I'm of course on Linux Mint, which is the "Windows User's Linux". Not sure why you chose RedHat... I'd go with something a bit less demanding first, write a review on *that*, then as your skills improve, go to a more complex OS flavour.
            It's like the difference between OpenShot and Lightworks: one is a casual user's video editing programme, plenty of grunt, but not industrial strength. Very easy to use. Lightworks? a lot more features, a LOT steeper learning curve.

            Ultimately, if I was just getting my feet wet in video editing, fired up Lightworks and found myself struggling, then wrote a review on Non-Linear Video Editors in general based on that experience, I'd be doing the same thing to NLEs as you just did to Linux.
          • DJK2 - You're a genuine moron

            It makes as much sense as 'dir c:/somefolder/''

            The fact that you can't copy paste a simple command into a terminal reflects more on you than it does on an OS you have clearly never used.
        • @lewmur wrote "Running Red Hat is NOT the way to judge Linux"

          From the article:
          "The tools required to succeed on today's enterprise desktop

          Note that the author specifically wrote "today's enterprise desktop". What are today's enterprise Linux distros?

          o Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) Desktop (and Workstation)
          o SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED)
          o Canonical's Ubuntu

          What makes these distros enterprise desktops is the support provided by Red Hat, SUSE and Canonical. Also, both Red Hat and SUSE are represented on The Document Foundation's Board of Directors and Advisory Board.

          Running the Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop *is a fine way* to judge Linux for enterprises.

          P.S. Both SLED and Ubuntu are fine alternatives for the enterprise. Google will vouch for Ubuntu as they use it in their own enterprise.
          Rabid Howler Monkey
          • Red Hat Enterprise Desktop

            In 2013? Where do I get it? Post the link please.
        • That's the problem

          The very fact that he has to consider which distro to run in order to get a normal program running is the biggest problem with Linux. People using Windows or iOS just install their software and it works. The vast majority of people don't have the knowledge or patience to spend hours on the web searching for programs and then searching for information about which Linux flavor will let them run all of the programs they want to use. Not only do they need to figure out which distro, but also which GUI will run the software. It's a hellishly fragmented mess.

          Personally, I recently gave up on Linux after many many years of trying to make it work in my life. It always came down to what I was willing to sacrifice in order to use it. Finally, I realized that I don't want to sacrifice ANYTHING. My time is worth far more than the many thousand dollar cost of the software I use on Windows. Linux is a major time sink. It's for people who have far more time than money. Whether it's command line configuration of obscure system settings, or time spent redoing a shared Word document because Libre Office or Open Office scrambled the formatting again. It comes down to whether you want to spend your time tweaking an OS or getting work done. Aside from Android on portable devices, Linux is still the hobbyist platform it was well over a decade ago. The lack of change in market share reflects that.
          • Installing Windows programs is not as easy as installing Linux programs.

            "People using Windows or iOS just install their software and it works."
            Absolutely not true. Don't think I don't know better. I've been using Windows since 3.0 and it isn't all that easy. Tell me which version I should download: 32-bit or 64-bit. Most people don't know which they have. Tell me how to install a large format hard drive on an older version of Windows. Can't do it any more. That's why I switched to Linux. Yes, I have paid $300 for a new copy of Windows, installed on my hard drive. I had to sit at the computer store (a local chain) for over an hour and help their techs install it. Linux installs and runs in much less time and I don't need to dig out all of my peripheral driver CDs to do it. Oh, and I don't have to have my computer connected to the internet 24/7/365 in order to allow Bill Gates to check whether I'm running legal copies of all the software on my computer. It just works. Oh, and I don't need to run an anti-virus program, an anti-spyware program and ANOTHER anti-virus program in order to keep from getting hacked.
          • if linux takes less of your time to do the things you want to do

            then that's great, you should keep using it. but I think BillDem has a good point- for 90% of people, windows will take them much less time to work with. I like linux a lot, but it does often take me more time to get things done. I use it a lot less now than I used to for only that reason.
          • I find

            I find that for common office tasks, Linux takes less time for me than Windows.

            Of course, a lot of that is familiarity. Libre Office, for instance still has the pull down menu system, and I know where the options that I use often are.

            MS Office has the Ribbon systems, which often gets in my way.

            There is one Application that I use on Linux that I can't get on Windows (LyX), and one Application that I use on Windows that I can't get on Linux (AutoCAD).

            Other than that, it pretty much a wash. Good working habits and a good antivirus will protect Windows, though, I still have to re-install a totally hosed Windows system roughly once a year. Linux I have never had to re-install because of malware, though Linux changes so rapidly that I do have to re-install the distribution I am using roughly once every two years, just to keep current.
          • You're an idiot.

            This post proves it. I could shred your idiotic comments, but why bother.