Why Linux on the desktop is still struggling

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.
Written by Gery Menegaz, Contributor

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.

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