Linux is well established in the server market, way ahead of its competitors in the supercomputers arena but when it comes to end user engagement, it is running way behind Windows or Apple OSX. Linux as an operating system is more secure, reliable and faster than Windows; GUI is now on a par with Windows, hardware and application support is now adequate but what is it that Linux still lacks in order to compete with Windows or even Apple OSX? Is it lack of interest or support from the big technology players? Absence of financial commitment? Or simply Linux not good enough?! I try to answer some of these questions below:
The confusion starts with the very first question of, which distribution? We have seen some commercial vendors putting their weight behind distributions like *buntu and SUSE, but there needs to be more commitment in terms of long term and active support by heavyweights, the likes of Google – this, in my opinion, could help Linux penetrate the desktop market very effectively. But for the sake of argument, let us assume we have a distribution to start with:
- Abundance of options: In theory more choices is a better option but in practice most computer users prefer simplicity and ease of use – one browser is enough, you only need a single tool for your computer chores unlike often various tools pre-installed for the same purpose in most distributions of Linux. Instead, a distribution should come with the best applications pre-installed and an option to customise for advanced users. Such customisation can easily be accomplished through tried and tested RPM package management.
- Flexibility: Equally, in the name of flexibility end users need not face questions on which X manager to use, and how many partitions are required to install Linux, which file system to use or because of a legacy reason your system will run slower if you do not create a ‘swap’ partition! Nor does one want to know the inner workings of mounted/unmounted devices, number of network tools available and the bootloader in use. Instead, installation should be seamless with the best options selected as defaults and offer full flexibility as an advanced install. All system tools should be hidden from view or visually less intrusive.
- In the shadow of Windows Irrespective of which distribution you choose, you see references to how to make Linux co-exist with Windows or how to dual boot etc. I can see the point in trial before ditching Windows but Linux needs to get out of the shadow of Windows in order to compete. More emphasis should be on how to migrate from Windows even if that means keeping Windows on the side in case the user wants to revert.
- Donations please! Linux code and the vast majority of applications running on Linux are open source and most of them run on contributions, what if contributions stop or updates to Linux code, or applications stop – not a comforting thought for someone trying to convert to Linux. Big technology players need to put their weight behind Linux and some kind of cost model may be used to benefit the vendors to secure a long term commitment.
- People mindset Windows solutions are generally considered the best option particularly in medium to large organisations - no one would blame the decision maker if one such solution fails to perform; however, if a Linux solution is used then even with a slight glitch the risk remains that the decision maker will be blamed for choosing Linux over ‘well-known’ Windows solutions. As long as the incentive is there, large organisation should take the initiative to promote open source within. In the long run the benefits are fruitful in terms of security, freedom from malicious attacks, reliability and low costs.