Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Desktop Linux for general use will never succeed

There's a post on OSNews titled "Five Things the Linux Community Doesn't Get About Joe User", which is itself a link to another blog post "Five crucial things the Linux community doesn’t understand about the average computer user". I find it illuminating to read the comments from the OSNews link first, then go and read the original post.

Most of the comments divide into two camps; the "spot on" camp and the "we don't want no stinkin' Window's users" camp. The commenter's that don't want the unwashed Windows users are poorly written; I've discovered over time that the really vociferous Linux defenders are functionally illiterate and can barely communicate a defense (logical or otherwise) of their One True Love.

I'm now watching Dell getting ready to ship some of their machines with Ubuntu 7.04. The Dell blog entry has two bullet points at the tail end that are worth repeating here:
Software and Hardware Not Offered
  • For hardware options not offered with this release, we are working with the vendors of those devices to improve the maturity and stability of their associated Linux drivers. While this may not happen overnight, we do expect to have a broader range of hardware support with Linux over time.
  • At this time, we are not including any support for proprietary audio or video codecs that are not already distributed with Ubuntu 7.04. These include MPEG 1/2/3/4, WMA, WMV, DVD, Quicktime, etc. We are evaluating options for providing this support in the future.
These last two points from Dell underscore why Linux for the general user has been and continues to be a failure. Linux has never Just Worked after the install. A package manager has to be invoked, the bits have to be downloaded and installed, and after being warned about possible DMCA violations, you might (and I stress might) have the ability to play back audio and video content. And that's if you're lucky enough to download the correct bits. Make the mistake of getting the wrong ones or not enough of the right ones and you go through the same process again. Contrast that with Windows and Apple. People don't have to do that. They expect that when they buy the machine it's already set up to view and listen to digital content. They're not going to put up with it. Couple that with the sour attitude from too many elite Linux users and you've got an environment ripe for continued failure. The general user doesn't care about the OS any more. What they care about is what can they do with the hardware. The general user wants to use visual capabilities such as DVD playback, video streaming, and still image viewing and manipulation from digital cameras. The audio portion has pretty much been swallowed up by portable MP3 players that don't run Linux. They want appliances that just work, not free software politics that ironically limit their choices in the name of free and open source.

Linux is going to continue to remain a very small niche on the PC. Dell will make the grand effort to sell Ubuntu (and Suse on servers, which may turn out to be more sucessful), then drop it within the year due to very poor sales and high support costs. Then we'll have the vocal Linux zealots blogging and posting on forums about how Dell caved in and wasn't really serious about selling Linux, or how Dell chose the wrong distribution, or some other reason that doesn't focus on the real fact that Linux, as it's currently being designed and written, is inappropriate for the general desktop. It always has been, and it always will be.

1 comment:

  1. Ok. So, you think Linux will fail. I say...fine. Use whatever rocks your boat. The thing is, Dell sees an opportunity to offer something that enough people asked for that they figured it was worth a try.

    If, as so many propose, it was all a small but very vocal number of people that skewed Dell's perception...so be it. At least they will have given it a fair try and "we" will finally know for sure.

    BUT. I'm not one to try to scream to convince anyone. Really, I like Linux, I also support Windows in my workplace, whatever works. But please, PLEASE, stop using issues that were fixed years ago to support your position. Ok?

    For example, I use Fedora. I'm just more familiar with it. I've had 4 MP3 players in the last 3 years...all of them I just connected, copied and pasted my music into them. All of them worked out of the box. Most user targeted distributions do the same.

    Then, Drivers...Yeah...sure. I've seen some really exotic hardware not work properly under Linux. I've seen the same on Windows too though. And I've had 4 laptops and 2 PC's in 3 years, never had any hardware issue with any of them. I'm not saying it never happens, but it not bad enough to justify every single "article" mentionning this as a major problem towards Linux Adoption. Just doesn't fly.

    Now the media thing.
    Well...yeah. It is somewhat annoying to have to manually install things because some Distros refuse to include them for reasons of liability. But hey...that's the state of the market today. And it's not fair to blame Linux, that's not where the threats come from. But I'll give you that one. And I know some will say that you only have to go with a distro that includes all this stuff. There are some. One doesn't even have to look very hard. Just not the one I like to use. Although I got everything running just fine.

    Oh and finally, about the sour attitude...well...you don't like Linux zealots (honestly I dont either), well I don't like Microsoft shills, propaganda and fanboys either. Tit for tat on that one.

    Like I said, whatever rocks your boat and gets the job done.


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