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

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?

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!