Five reasons Linux desktop fails itself

I love the Linux desktop, but facts are facts. Linux only holds a niche of the greater desktop market. Part of the reason is Microsoft's monopoly, but it's not just the Evil Empire that's kept Linux down -- Linux has done a lot of self-damage.


I don't just write about the Linux desktop; I use it every day. At my desk, I tend to use MEPIS and Mint, while on the road, it's Ubuntu on my Dell netbook and openSUSE on my Lenovo ThinkPad. I do this because they work well and they're as safe as a desktop operating system can get. So why aren't more people using them?

Microsoft is the biggest reason. Microsoft is a jealous monopoly that doesn't want to share the desktop with anyone. Desktop Linux is just another target in a long list that has included OS/2, DR-DOS, and -- that eternal thorn in their side -- the Mac. It's no surprise, then, to see in the history of the Linux desktop that Microsoft has always tried to crush it.

The very first attempt at a mass-market Linux desktop, 1999's Corel Linux Desktop, lasted less than a year. Why? In 2000, Microsoft paid off debt-ridden Corel to kill it.

Much more recently, Microsoft, caught by surprise by the rise of Linux-powered netbooks, brought XP Home back from the dead and offered it to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) for next to nothing to stem Linux's rise on low-end netbooks.

It's hard to beat a monopoly that will do whatever it takes to make sure people don't see there's a better, cheaper alternative. I understand that. At the same time, Linux has shot itself in the foot quite often. How?

1) Lack of Linux vendor support

Every Linux distribution has a desktop version. But how many of them actively try to sell them? Not many. Red Hat is the number one Linux vendor, but makes its hundreds of millions from the server, not from the desktop. Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, has arguably the most popular Linux desktop, but if you look closely, you'll see its hopes for making significant profits lie in server and cloud-based services.

Only Novell, with SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop), tries to make a real business out of the desktop. For everyone else, the desktop gets a lot of lip service, but it's not really part of their core business plans.

2) Lack of Linux advertising and marketing

Companies like IBM and Oracle have made billions from Linux. Along the way, they've spent some advertising and marketing dollars on Linux. But neither they nor anyone else have spent more than pocket change on promoting the Linux desktop.

Think about it. If you use the Linux desktop, chances are you're a techie who deliberately sought it out. Even now, most people have never even heard of Ubuntu, never mind any of the rest.

3) Too much bad techie attitude

In 2009, any reasonably smart person can use any major Linux distribution without much trouble. You can run Linux without ever seeing a shell or manually tuning a conf file. But what if someone new does run into a problem with installing Adobe Flash and asks for help online?

If he or she is lucky, they'll get a considerable and informative answer from an Ubuntu forum or LinuxQuestions. But all too often, I've seen such questions answered with responses like "RTFM you noob! What are you doing running that trash distro anyway! It's GNU/Linux, not Linux!"

Yeah, that's going to encourage new users. If you don't have anything nice and informative to say to new Linux users, then don't say anything. Far too many Linux users seem to confuse acting superior and being rude with how people should act online. It's not.

4) Too much infighting

In a little over a week, Windows 7 is coming out. So, what are hardcore Linux users doing to get ready for the coming of the next major threat to the Linux desktop? A lot of them are fighting about whether Miguel de Icaza, founder of the GNOME and the Mono implementation of .NET on Linux, is "a traitor to the Free Software community."

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