Written by David M. Williams for iTWire, Mr. Williams spends three long web pages excoriating the "hoi polloi" for rejecting Linux and selecting Windows on netbooks such as the ASUS Eee. But to really put this in perspective we need to go back over a year and a half to May 2007.
That was when Adrian Kingsley-Hughes of ZDNet published two posts questioning the viability of Linux in the marketplace. They were "Five crucial things the Linux community doesn’t understand about the average computer user" and "Three more things that the Linux community doesn’t get." Both posts drew a tremendous number of responses (1160 and 600 respectively).
Adrian's points, quickly summarized, are:
- On the whole, users aren’t all that dissatisfied with Windows
- Too many distros
- People want certainty that hardware and software will work
- As far as most people are concerned, the command line has gone the way of the dinosaur
- Linux is still too geeky
- The Mac effect
- Who provides the free tech support?
- Chill out, it’s just an operating system!
First, most people really are happy with Windows. Specifically, Windows XP. Even mighty Microsoft is not immune to that fundamental truth; witness the widespread critical backlash against Vista simply because it was too different from Windows XP. And instead of switching to Linux as many Linux cognoscenti had hoped and predicted, the majority of those Windows users dissatisfied with Vista hunkered down and stuck it out with Windows XP. Another inconvenient choice I'm sure confounded and enraged many of those Linux cognoscenti such as the aforementioned Mr. Williams.
And that's the same attitude that many who purchased all those new netbooks hold; they expected the same (or very similar) Windows experience. After all, those netbooks had a screen, a keyboard (however cramped and crappy), networking (wireless), and promised to provide the ability to surf the web and read web email just like a regular notebook or desktop, except more cheaply. They failed to pick up the finer nuances with regards to netbooks vs notebooks; they just expected that if looked like a notebook and mechanically operated like a notebook then it should behave like notebooks they've used in the past, only smaller and cheaper.
For all intents and purposes netbooks are cheap-as-dirt notebooks with lower performing x86 chips whose primary task is to shore up the low end of the notebook market and keep those margins on Intel's higher-end chips as healthy as possible. This isn't about low-power enabling technology, or even a response to ARM-based devices; it's about creating a new profitable lowest tier using older CPU designs repurposed for the "hoi polloi" who really can't afford Intel's higher powered offerings any more. And so we get Atom, and then we bundle Linux or Windows (your choice!) which are both too bloated to run efficiently on the new chips, and so people make the reasonable decision that if it's going to be slow, then it might as well be something slow I already know rather than something slow I know little about. Because there's nothing more infuriating than trying multiple times to perform a relatively straightforward task on an unfamiliar and aggravatingly slow system.
Second, people don't care about the OS, and they care even less about those that do care about the OS (cue Mr. Williams). I guess the old saying that "You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar" has been forgotten by the Linux evangelists and apologists, or else it was never learned, because you'll never win any attention, let alone converts, by insulting their choices. Adrian summed it up best when he wrote:
Here’s another reason why the Linux market share has been flatlined for years while the Mac share is increasing - Mac communities are on the whole friendlier than Linux communities.In light of the fact that Barac Obama will be sworn in January 20th as our 44th president, I think that it can now be said that negative campaigning doesn't work for political parties either. Just ask John McCain.
I’m not sure if it’s just a case that there’s a small subset of the Linux community which is both aggressive and vocal or whether the problem is much broader, but this is a major turn off for people considering making the transition to a Linux OS. Even back when Mac communities were considered by many to be pretty hostile and unfriendly places Steve Jobs was clever enough to make sure that this kind of fanatical nonsense didn’t make it onto the Apple site and sales literature (although Apple is perfectly capable of coming up with their own fanatical nonsense, at least it’s not that aggressive). Negative campaigning seems to work for political parties but it doesn’t work for Linux - and the numbers prove this.
Finally, I find it highly hypocritical that Linux apologists have for years cried out about lack of choice in the personal computer marketplace, referring ad nauseum to the Microsoft tax (and yes, as have I). It is indeed sad then when given an unfettered opportunity as the one afforded by the introduction of the netbook that the buying public chose Windows, but that's what choice is all about. And if you want it to be fair, then you have to respect it and live with those choices whether you personally like them or not. It's an important lesson one gets to learn when raising children to be adults.
Those millions of consumer's choices cast Linux in a harsh and unflattering light. It isn't Microsoft being evil that's the problem here, it's Linux behaving badly, specifically when you attempt to sell it as a viable Windows alternative to the general consumer. For them it isn't. And until such time as enough Linux hackers climb down out of their ivory towers and come to the startling revelation they need to write for someone else other than a clone of themselves, it never will be. So get over your bitching about being rejected and fix up Linux for them or else STFU. If you can't give consumers what they want then they'll find someone who will. It's ruthless and Darwinian, but that's the real power of choice in action.