The problem with Linux

XKCD sums up the big problem with Linux, and every other open source/free project driven by enthusiasts. You tend to solve the cool things (in a nerdy way – like supporting 4096 processor cores), or the required things (once again, in the enthusiast world) first, and there is no real driving force in solving problems that regular consumers want. Thus, things like flash support, graphics software, games etc. takes years despite the huge open source programmer community working with Linux distributions.

This illustrates well why Linux never has taken off, despite being free, while Mac OS X is steadily eating into Windows market share. The core of the situation is that Apple is a company that would fail miserably if it wasn’t listening to its consumers. Many times, Apple’s manners upset consumers (like me), but even more often they tend to leverage ideas before everyone else, or in a better way than most other tech companies. Or simply at the right time. The iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and the portable Macs all prove that this strategy works. On the other hand, Apple TV have not taken off, probably because it does not have a big enough audience (which Apple acknowledged from the beginning, calling the whole project a “hobby”).

Open source is a great idea, and should be practiced in many situations. But free is not always the same as great, and a business strategy may just what is needed to create what consumers want. And the open source community lacks a such strategy, instead delivering what they need themselves, at the moment. Thus, Linux will never take off on its own. However, initiatives based on Linux, like the Google Chrome OS, targeted specifically at consumers have great chances in challenging both Mac OS X and Windows, because they are free, and supported by a huge company (Google), making its profits on something else. This situation is somewhat similar to the Apple–Mac OS X situation, where Apple is making OSX great to sell more computers, where their real revenue comes in. Probably this is the business model of the future, selling one thing cheap to have consumers buy something else. Drops have already realized this for knitting, giving patterns away for free, hoping that consumers buy their (relatively cheap) yarn. But this is another story I might go into another time. Thanks XKCD for summing it up!


6 responses to “The problem with Linux

  1. i think microsoft is being used mostly in desktops because, ms came into the market the first with the GUI and publicized and also a huge amount of people are used to with that os, and do not want to leave it. And even when you offer vista they insist to stick to XP. And if you offer windows 7 for free i will not install it, cause i am used to fedora. What is needed in my opinion is some advertisement and myth busting.

    • Thanks for your input. I think you have a point, and that familiarity is the key to keeping a user base. Microsoft suffered heavily from this when Vista was released. People would rather install a less secure product (XP) that was familiar to them and worked the way they expected, with the accessories they already had etc. The same way, familiarity is the main reason I stay with my Mac.

      Surely, any Linux distribution could take off, given the right conditions, good advertising, myth busting, and word-of-mouth. The questions is, however; how is willing to pay for this? Certainly, most of the open source community won’t. They haven’t become rich writing open code, and it’s most often not even their intention. Thus, I would place my bet on a Linux-based OS to take off on Chrome OS, which would be supported by a company that can:
      1) pay for advertising.
      2) bust the myths about Linux being nerdy or hard-to-use.
      3) sell the damn OS to computer manufacturers (especially netbooks would be a fantastic target for Chrome).
      4) still profit from their advertising business.

      Such competition, suggesting initially Chrome OS, and hopefully later other Linux distributions viable ad usable alternatives to Windows would be more than welcome. It is a shame that the OS market is dominated by one player, and that the second player in the field makes an OS as incompatible as possible with the first one. More interoperability between Win, OSX and Linux would be great in my bioinformatics work, which of course is (most often) carried out on a Linux server.

  2. The open source companies are mainly service oriented, that is they take a fee for the service and not the application. Now once can sell binaries of gnu+linux for a nominal fee. And in a large scale RedHat has shown what and how to do it, and so does Oracle.
    Actually in desktop market what the users want is the outer shell and the absolute output to them, they will not care what code base is there in the background. I can tell this because whenever a new version of Proprietary softwares releases they come with a new interface with some changes , fearures etc. In FOSS you can’t always see that polish and so people are not attracted.

    The normal desktop user would want 3 essential things:
    [1] Office Suite
    [2] Multimedia
    [3] Internet

    By default Office Word document means it has a .doc extension. Also note that after docx came a lot of people changed to docx instantly but never thought about changing odt. This is because they were forced to change to docx.
    Multimedia for a regular user means mp3, avi, flv . Never ogg, ogg video, or else, although ogg is far better. Cause: almost no mp3 player supports them, and people dont care.
    For the internet part, Firefox has a dominance in even Windows environment, now all the people i know use Firefox, or Opera, but not IE.

    For games, there is some options in gnu+linux, like the wine project.

    Now cant we get the three everyday essentials in gnu+linux?

    And yes, the mythbusting is very much needed, and word of mouth.

    I did an experiment, a friend of mine used a very little computer, after he got into the college, he bough a computer and i installed him fedora 8 . He started using it, also he installed Win XP. But now he only uses fedora. When i ask why not XP he says he feels better in fedora.

    I think it is also necessary to introduce to gnu+linux and other alternatives when one starts with computer.

    Bundling gnu+linux with a computer or a laptop won’t do the job, because what one will do is format the drive and install XP. There should be an education about this matter, like some LUGs can work to educate people about this.

    There are some government programs to make the older employees computer literate to cope up with the new updates in the office. At that time too they are trained with Windows.

    At last the hardware companies will also have to come up, also develop gnu+linux drivers so that they are easily available.

    • The “official” (governments, institutions, schools etc.) fixation with Microsoft products is a real problem in the operative systems market, as many people will not come into contact with the alternatives. The problem would be the same regardless of who had the monopoly on OS:s. Thus, the only rational solution would be to teach all new computer users how to use open software, like OpenOffice, VLC, Firefox etc.

      It is puzzling that the media player makers have not accepted OGG, Flac or any other open format for audio and video. I also can’t see why Apple is not implementing Flac support in iTunes. However, I guess that most of these manufacturers are involved in different consortia promoting their own standards instead of the open ones. In many respects, the world would be a much better place if everyone supported the open initiatives, and promoted development on such platforms. However, I sincerely believe that there has to be a market pressure for this to happen, otherwise open source projects will linger on the edge, only supported and used by enthusiasts and very computer-savvy people. Which is, of course, a sad realisation.

  3. The general computer users are not aware and do not want to now what is going behind the hood, so they do not care if it is free or not. The proprietary companies are wrapping some features under some eye-candy and using the internet and television and some magazines to spring them to the users. These things are only taken by the general users. Propritary software means some thing like, i have made a box and i have the key if you pay me a lump sum monthly (or so) i will let you use this key under some conditions, if you share this key with someone else or make a duplicate then you will be caught, as every customer is a potential criminal.
    Now because only they have the key to the box, we do not what is there so we cannot make a key just by looking at the box, so we cannot make the same thing.
    Like the top picture in this post shows, full screen flash support. Now if Adobe does not tell how to decode it properly and give the proper support now how can one know ? Reverse engineering applications is a very difficult job and often do not work as good as the original.
    So the FOSS will need support, and needs awareness.
    Last time i met a man in the news stand trying to find a tech mag which has the klm codecs. When i said why not use GNU+Linux he told “As we know linux is not so user friendly and we need to work with commands, i am not a geek so i use Windows” . Now you can see where is the problem. There is another problem which is :
    Even some people work in GNU+Linux, they get into some issues with the propritary stuffs, like the musics, games, and movies, some distros needs to make them install manually because they are not permitted to supply those codecs. They say that “Linux cannot play mp3 and avi” and uninstalls it. Even if one time some component is not working as it should , he/she would point out “see it’s not working , linux is not ready for use, windows is better” and removes it from the computer and uses windows (with the freezes, BSoDs, error messages and nags) .
    I am not against proprietary stuff, what i am against is the mentality of it. because no proprietary software company is told that you cannot use the FOSS stuff, so they can make the FOSS components in their software when ever they want, so why not the reverse?
    Two things reflect:
    [1] Meanness
    [2] Lesser capability of proprietary apps, because they fear to show codes (inferior).

    Now if they do not want to share codes, thats okay, but they should support their products to run in other platforms!

  4. Indeed the big problem with software support on Linux is not (for the most part) the fault of the community of open source programmers, but rather dependent on large software companies like Adobe, Microsoft, EA, etc. Many things, like fullscreen flash support is really not up to the community to fix. In addition, often there are patent and propriety code licensing problems involved.

    Linux not being user-friendly is a lie, and we both know that. It is different, in some respect, but if people can manage the shift from XP to Vista (or Win 7), they certainly can manage to shift to Linux. But once again, the problem with Linux lies within the total experience. Macs had the same problem during the bad years of Mac OS 8 and 9, especially regarding the delivering of web content. Windows simply was ahead when it came to delivering a complete experience to the user. As you say, part of this experience is eye-candy. But this is what users react to, whether we like it or not. When you run into driver problems, and is not a computer savvy guy, this certainly makes the OS look bad. And many people are about as hopeless as you describe, switching back at first sight of a problem.

    We should not moan about this. I hope, instead, that an initiative like Chrome OS will make Linux take off as a whole, and not just benefit Google. But that is a different story that I hope I will have time to tell in the near future.

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