Why Nobody Cares About Linux

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penguin_shI realize this post will earn me some hate mail, but I also take comfort that only two percent of you actually care about Linux at all. I love Linux (especially Ubuntu), and more importantly I love Linux users. But the future of Linux on the desktop is a decidedly murky one. Let me set the stage. In late 2007 it looked like Linux was headed for a resurgence, thanks almost exclusively to netbooks, those low-cost mini-notebooks that are all the rage these days. ASUS started it by putting Linux on the original Eee PC, and everyone else who jumped into the pool followed suit. After all, what better way to cut costs on a price-focused computer than to ditch Windows? In 2008, Linux would finally arrive. But last year a funny thing happened: All those guys who started off crowing the virtues of Linux began backpedaling furiously. Vendors started offering Windows XP as an option or—in some cases—dropping Linux altogether in favor of XP. U.K. netbook maker Apricot dropped Linux’ SuSE OS, saying in an interview it wanted “to ensure customers have a smooth installation of their operating system” and that Linux was “too complicated with initial testers.” And MSI said that Linux specifically was responsible for its Wind netbook return rates, which were four times higher than those for its Windows-loaded machines. And finally, in what must be a deadening blow, even the ultra-crunchy One Laptop Per Child put Windows XP on its device as an option. The jury’s still out on which version children prefer, but considering the homegrown OLPC OS was specifically designed for use by kids, the fact that there’s any wavering at all is cause for alarm. What’s the takeaway here? Even in 2009, eighteen years after Linus Torvalds began working on the Linux kernel, it’s still too geek-focused and unfriendly for mainstream use. The complaints are exactly what you’d expect: It’s too confusing. I don’t know where to find this or that. It’s not compatible with my Windows apps. It doesn’t have any good games. My printer doesn’t work with it. In a sense, netbooks were exactly the wrong market for Linux to attack. Although Linux does carry 24 percent of the worldwide netbook market (according to IDC analyst Richard Shim), generally it’s more-sophisticated users who adapt a different OS more readily than the noobs, as they’re more apt to put in the time it takes to learn the system. Beginners just want to use at home what they use at the office so they can get to Pogo.com faster. In some ways, Linux is getting as bad a rep as Windows Vista, only Linux doesn’t have a $300 million marketing campaign to overcome the complaints. Instead, Linux claimed a milestone market share of a whopping 2.1 percent according to the Web user stats at W3Counter in October 2008, which put it in striking distance of that phenomenally popular and modern OS: Windows 2000. Some analysts believe that number could rise to as high as 10 percent by 2011, if the netbook phenomenon continues, and if netbook manufacturers continue to try and offer Linux operating systems. But even they admit that’s not a certainty. The best chance Linux has to succeed? Hide it. HP’s new Mini 1000, for example, offers a refreshing user interface called the Mobile Internet Experience. It’s basically a home screen that offers quick access to your e-mail inbox, Web favorites, photos, and music. And HP doesn’t really want buyers of this machine to know that it runs Ubuntu. It wants to put the Web front and center, a tactic that Acer, ASUS, and Dell have all attempted. Will it work? Maybe, but assuming Windows 7 is as lightweight and resource-friendly as Microsoft claims—and that Redmond continues to keep the cost for OEMs too good to pass up—there’s nothing to stop HP or any other vendor from simply slapping a more user-friendly UI on top of Windows. In other words, the Penguin might want to stick to smart phones like the T-Mobile G1. Christopher Null is a veteran technology journalist. He writes about tech daily at tech.yahoo.com/blogs/null.
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  • John S Says:

    Mac OS a decedent of Unix which closely relates to Linux did things right years ago. It produced a OS that rivals Windows in user simplicity and stability. This should be the model example of what Linux needs to be for desktop users and its not even close.

  • meshak Says:

    Well theres this idiot called James Roy and he says linux users live in their mum's basement. So most people hate linux...

  • Gary Reaves Says:

    Linux will never, ever be THE OS on every consumer's desktop. End of story. Have the average computer user sit down at a fresh install of Ubuntu Linux and tell them they need to update the system. They wouldn't know where to start. People don't have time for that kind of thing. They are busy living their lives. Linux requires that computers BECOME your life. If you don't spend hours a day studying the hellish complexities of Linux, you will never be able to truly understand it. Or even do basic things with it, for that matter. Hardcore Linux users are stuck in a legacy state of mind. Bazza was spot on when he suggested that Microsoft should scrap their OS and start again with a UNIX core. People want functionality and ease of use. Anything else is unacceptable. Period. Stability should be a given. So should security. A 'new' OS with those concepts in mind, built on a UNIX core is the way to go, in my humble opinion. How would you like to own a toaster that requires you to design a timing circuit switch every time you want a piece of toast? Try marketing that to consumers. That's basically what Linux Distros are all about, and that is why they will never, ever make it to the big time.

  • Benfrank Says:

    " it’s still too geek-focused and unfriendly for mainstream use. "
    "The best chance Linux has to succeed? Hide it. "

    Do you even read your own words? How will hiding Linux make it friendlier?
    Dumb post.

  • Bazza Says:

    Jeez, Linux users are almost as touchy about their OS as are MacOS users...


    Linux is still largely an OS built by / for computer hobbyists, as the author notes, and has no place as a default installation on a consumer netbook. It's GUI might familiar or made to look pretty, but the moment the user wishes to deviate from the pre-installed products, it can prove more difficult than any average computer user has a right to expect in 2009. While some of this might be considered the fault of peripheral manufacturers who don't have Linux drivers, the rest falls to the actual OS and those who designed it - for themselves.
    The method of acquiring and installing patches, upgrades and new software (or uninstalling same) is often dodgy at best, while no average consumer should ever, ever expect to need to go into a Terminal to do general maintenance, properly complete an install / uninstall or worse, actually physically tweak the OS for it to work as expected. While all of this sort of thing is the stuff that computer hobbyists, IT specialists and geeks get moist over, its not a consumer OS.

    That said, Microsoft, after the technical and media debacle of Vista, should have learned its lesson: bite the bullet and do 'An Apple'. That is, scrap entirely their legacy OS - so bloated with lines of patch code after decades of programmers have had their go - and start afresh based on a stable core OS. Apple did that with OSX (using UNIX) and so should Microsoft. There's plenty of excellent virtualization software out there (including MS's own) to handle the legacy programs if absolutely required, so that can't be the argument..

    And, for all the gushing about Win7, it is still, as confirmed by Microsoft, a patched and re-worked Vista - which is a patched and reworked Windows 2000, which is a ...well, you get the idea. Win7 is the SP Vista will never get. But you can't - as they've shown time and time again - make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Especially if its Frankenpatch OS.

    Win7's GUI might look pretty, but its the same grim WinOS under all that. XP is currently popular on netbooks because a) it's an OS many are familiar with - including its many 'challenges', and b) its had some 8 years for Microsoft to issue enough patches to make it stable ('ish). But those are hardly good reasons to find it acceptable. Remember, XP was once roundly reviled - now its a retro improvement over Vista.

    But that still doesn't Linux the better alternative for most computer users.

  • Alex Whiteside Says:

    This just got a lot more complicated with the announcement of the Windows 7 editions. MS is pushing the two conventional Win7 editions (Home Premium and Professional) for netbooks at full price, but is providing the unspeakably awful, hobbled Windows 7 Starter as an alternative for really stingy system manufacturers. It appears that Starter is being positioned to take over from XP Home as their netbook OS and frankly it couldn't compete with Workbench 1.3 in the modern marketplace, let alone Ubuntu.

    I think if MS is to make a go of it, it'll have to offer some sort of cut-price licencing agreement on Home Prem for netbook manufacturers, with spec restrictions like we see with XP Home ULCPC.

  • wagasalleh Says:

    For starters, you have made some good observations though they are laden with opinion.

    I wouldn't rush to make some of the conclusions you have made as to choice of OS for a device as you never know what boardroom dealings go on between the hardware vendor and the OS vendor. Case in point the OLPC issue. It reminds me of a case in Nigeria where the government had decided to adopt Mandriva, but some rather interesting discussions with Microsoft led them to ditch this plan.

    However, this doesn't excuse the Linux Distro vendors from the responsibility for their current state of affairs. To actively compete with an OS that has been used worldwide for years, One needs to fully focus on developing their product to flow at par with that competition. Many users today are loading Linux Distros on their laptops only to have problems with various device drivers(WIFI), file formats etc. I assisted one user set up their OpenOffice to always save doc's in Office97 format (.doc, .xls, etc). Something this simple had the user ready to fully forget about the Distro.

    As and when the vendors take charge of making sure applications are available to give the user an experience that isn't any different from whatever they have, then we shall see less and less of these blogs that spell doom for an otherwise good product.

  • Jacob Says:

    Windows 7 will remain slower than XP until CPU combos with more than 16 cores hits the users. In short: Hardcore gamers will still prefer XP. Same goes with anyone else who needs the HWresources they are paying for. What they have done is to empty the bag in the vacuumcleaner - they didn't even replace the filter bag. W7 appears quicker but heavy apps will continue to be 2component glue as it is in Vista.

    HP provides Mini MI - Gnu/Linux without terminal available. Unfortunately some OEM's have sold machines with a Linux version that sucks.

    Linux is a nightmare for Microsoft and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. That means that every single Microsoft customer should praise whoever they praise for Linux being there. Linux is the only driving force making Microsoft improve products and lowering insane licencing costs.

    Apple is no threat to Microsoft whatsoever. I'm convinced that OSX would grasp more than 50% of the market if separated from the hard merchandise, but that will be a spectacular harakiri.

  • Alex Whiteside Says:

    An OS where I don't have to use the command line to make things work. That's a huge, intimidating barrier to entry for non-technical users, who are the main Netbook target market. They're used to XP, so one way or another they want an entirely GUI-driven OS.

  • animatio Says:

    like many said : it is totally foolish to compare "linux" with "windows" because especially "the linux" does not exist, but a whole bunch of linux os'es, called distros.
    primo: a user fiendly distro, like one out of the ubuntu familiy actually IS as userfriendly as any windows. but neither the producers of netbooks nor the communitiy tells people how to do it.
    secondo: every windows (xp/vista/7) has big troubles to install on 4-8 MB. none of the modern linux distros has this.
    terzo: all this rubbish about a "xp-alike expierence". tell me first what this is or means.

  • jorge davila Says:

    Linux it is great!! you should try opensuse 11.1 and you will discover how easy and powerful is (by far more than Vista). At the begining looks like hard to use but when you discover the one click install in opensuse.org and pacman.org, life is beutiful.

    By the way, I think that Linux is more stable than Vista, and there is no need to update virus def. everyday. and even compete with Apple Mac OS X in many aspects, like the facility to customize the interface in many ways or the ability to use great effects in the desktop.

    it is worth the try

  • Alex Whiteside Says:

    I think distro makes a huge difference. SuSE, as has been pointed out, can be a complete pain in the arse. HP still don't provide either a recovery partition or recovery disks for the OS AFAIK, and the wireless hardware didn't play very nicely with it on the Mini 2133. Ubuntu on the other hand has been making leaps and strides in usability. So many netbooks hit on a good instant-on OS but fail to provide a properly XP-alike experience for real work.

  • Part True... CrunchBang Linux rocks... Says:

    What is happening is that HP is using Novell SuSE on 2133 and 2140 (too hard to use and no repositories with any software available (and to THICK an OS for a net book that needs QUICK to be fun).

    Enter: CrunchBang LINUX (based on Ubuntu with access to Ubuntu repositories) it is fast, and easy to use. Fast means good on battery life too. The only other thing to be good on battery for Netbooks is for Pixel Qi's screens that allow for an increase in battery use time by 5 fold (from web site).

    However, users left to get into Linux are left to swim without instruction. Some don't make it, others do, and each one that does, then they are a Linux user for life after they learn to swim.

    Tools are needed to be installed to make it easier to make the move (windows to Linux and to migrate what they got on their WIndows Desktop to Linux. Here is a place to start ... and it has to do with email, and other stuff done on the desktop that you want to be in your pocket too. So, to round out their packages, the Netbook running LINUX needs a way to Synch up with everything going on at the desktop too...so, the apps need to be the same on both where communications is concerned... so:

    If you have a mobile device that can load and run Thunderbird, you can get the add-on called Synch Kolab that allows you to use an IMAP server to store contacts and calander stuff too... of course we all know that Google is doing a IMAP service too (question next is if you can use Synch Kolab with their IMAP... and there is also a Thunderbird add-on that will let you do more with GMail and IMAP too... see these links:

    Google these and read the articles (how tos):
    Geek to Live: Sync your address book via IMAP
    Geek to Live: Sync Google Calendar and Gmail contacts to your desktop

  • Steve Paine Says:

    I believe you are mixing up Linux with Linux-based distributions and user interfaces here.
    Linux is a core kernel and libararies, always 'hidden' behind a UI. Ubuntu is a distribution.
    Many many people care about Linux but don't care for distributions. Its the distributions that need to be fixed.

    Best chance for Linux on netbooks is to get a unified core, app suite and app store. Moblin is a great chance for that to happen and im glad that many netbook distributors have signed up to use it.

  • misGnomer Says:

    I've helped many people migrate to using Firefox and OpenOffice on that virus-ridden beyond sell-by-date XP platform and after seeing SUSE or Ubuntu in action number of them have welcomed Linux onto their PCs. It's free, it supports open standards (many people still don't realize how important that really is), secure and very easily installed and maintained up to date, both OS and apps.

    Recently the preloading of Linux onto laptops and netbooks has made switching even easier and that has naturally alarmed certain north-western corporation, therefore the resurgence of astroturfing and massive "preview" campaign about their upcoming OS.

    (Meanwhile customized netbook versions of Linux are growing up organically and without huge promotional campaigns)

    I recently found this site while I was looking for information about Linux-preloaded netbooks and if I find the reviews and opinions biased I'll just skip it just as easily. I'm sure there are number of totally MS-centric sites with MS-fans busy reassuring each other how "nobody cares about Linux". Still, I'd expect a laptop site to be exploring solutions for their visitors instead of just looking for problems. You can either report about the advances in netbook-centric Linux distros or you can just slam the whole segment down and pretend that it's still the 1990s.

  • Feral Urchin Says:

    As it happens, I don't care about Linux either. I just use it. It's just there, I don't think about it, and it doesn't get in the way of my doing what I want to do. Neither do I especially care about the questions of how much I pay, nor about viruses and malware, because the answers are little and next to none. If netbook manufacturers want to continue offering Linux, it must be that they believe their bottom lines will be improved by doing so. Their hope is not difficult to understand: "Linux" means a free OS and a ton of free software, including OpenOffice. "Windows" means paying for the OS and paying for MSOffice--unless you're smart enough to download OpenOffice for Windows, and in which case you're smart enough to obtain a copy of Linux.

  • Mikey Says:

    No one should be upset with the comments in this blog. A blog is nothing more than someones opinion. Blogs have nothing to do with facts and certainly nothing to do with journalism.

  • Bob Says:

    While having some possibly valid points, he makes the entire article invalid at the very beginning. He states "Why nobody cares about Linux." then he states "I love Ubuntu." Well, apparently YOU care about Linux.

    Sadly, 9 in 10 statistics are wrong. It's far more difficult to measure how many Linux users there are compared to Mac or Windows users. MSI also never said that Linux was specifically at fault for all their returns. The same sentence you claim that, is the same sentence that you say "four times higher than those for its Windows-loaded machines." Which of course means that they were getting returns for the Windows ones as well. Just not as many. Let's face it, when you order something online, and you can't tell what it's running, if you wanted a Windows based Netbook and ended up with a Linux one, you'd probably return it too, without even giving it a try.

    As far as Apricot goes.... well dropping a KDE based distribution for a Gnome based one would have helped a lot. Gnome is a lot less confusing / complicated than KDE is.

    After having used Windows 7 beta for a short time, my impressions were 'cool new task bar' and 'I can't tell, does it move faster than Vista. I think so, but then again, it's a fresh install...' in other words, no I was not terribly impressed. Yay, they did finally allow theme packs... oh wait, they're just a collection of wallpapers that cycle and you can select a single color for the theme... no different widgets, no mouse cursors, etc.... And here I tried it out because someone said it was more "Linux" like...

  • JLM Says:

    Great Articule.
    Hey, what about "griding" Linux Developer?
    Those guys that never help Negroponte (OLPC) and show the Dark Side of Linux (in fact the developer dark side, darker than Windows, Palm OS, Symbian and others OS, all together).

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