Friday, October 12, 2007

Why Linux is Ready, Not Ready for the Desktop and Why we Care in the Wrong Way.

Ok, for starters, I'm not going to enumerate on linux's weaknesses and strengths and talk about why it is or is not ready for the desktop. I know, I know my title would make it seem like that was going to be my focus, but it is not. Instead I'm going to talk about the community's idiotic (yeah you heard me bring the flames, go ahead my e-mail is treatment of this subject. Too many other people have talked about what the problems are, and why they do or do not matter, to discuss that would be a waste of my time. I'm going to discuss why those people are all focusing on the WRONG thing.

The Linux Isn't Ready Argument and the Flame Responses

We've all read these articles, and most of us have written angry responses. Listing flaws that either we all know about, or flaws we have no control over. These articles get it wrong because Linux is indeed ready for OUR desktops, and obviously ready for the desktops of certain professional developers, and public library and education stations. Well you know why it's ready for those desktops? Because either they are being maintained by someone who is doing hardware research and only purchasing hardware that will just work when plugged in, or it's in the hands of techies who care enough to look up tutorials and dig into the terminal and hack away at ndiswrapper to get things to work. I am one of those people. Linux is ready more or less for my desktop, and it is totally ready for many other people's desktop. Every time there is an improvement in a new release it becomes ready for a few more desktops. Now here is the point that all the responses miss. We should be leveraging Linux at these people. Do we see marketing campaigns? Well do we? NO, we don't. There is no bloody marketing, except for the occasional ad for major server linux products from IBM, and I haven't even seen that in a while. Because the one flaw we have very little control over, third party app development and hardware support is best changed through getting a larger audience. We should be pushing Linux hard at the people it's ready for. Which also means ACCEPTING WHO IT'S NOT READY FOR!

2 The Linux is Too Ready Articles and Flame Responses

Now come the responses that make me even more crazy that the ignorarant Linux isn't ready articles. They miss the point in an even more painful way because they are from people inside the community. Linux isn't perfect people. It has flaws, just like Windows and Mac. We need to be adult enough to look at those flaws and see what we can do to change them. We cannot stick our heads in the ground. Again I'm not going to waste my time listing those flaws many other people have done that for me. Linux is not ready for the desktop of your average facebook obsessed, web camming, newest version of Photoshop/Flash/proprietary Cannon printer using gaming consumer. The same way Windows isn't ready for our desktop. That's right Windows isn't READY for our desktop. If we can look at those flaws, and ask ourselves, what can we do to fix that. Can we push the big distributors towards collaborating more closely with the LSB to get a more stably API to make development easier. Can we really talk at these various distro developer conferences about usability issues, and working webcam support into Pidgin, and working on the JRE so it works more similarly to the Windows and Mac version. We need to stand up and work on making the product better. Accept our responsibility, while calling people to task who claim Linux is "Not Ready" instead of just writing off their criticism.

There are some good signs, GIMP is accepting major usability suggestions from the community for the next version (THANK GOD). Pidgin is finally moving forward after all that stupid legal bog down. Ubuntu is introducing all sorts of usability advancements. They could use some speed and performance help, but there is still good innovation happening there. We need to push those innovations forward, while taking criticism professionally. That is productive. If we can start doing that, we can begin to significantly increase how many desktops we are ready for. Linux will never be ready for everyone. We are a community that embraces choice, and choice means someone will want something different. That's OK, the joy of distros is we can have one distro for the hard core tech and one distro where you never see the terminal. I am all for this. I approve of it. We have gotten our choice, we got it a while ago. It's time to give the average consumer their choice, and that means making the desktop ready for them to help them. Not to shove Microsoft off their throne. Because when we start doing things for positive instead of negative reasons we will be a lot more willing to actually listen to the needs of the people who's desktop Linux isn't ready for.


Anonymous said...

I agree. Especially with that last paragraph.

Anonymous said...

I agree as well. Let's work together to come up with the consumer / mass-market version of Linux.

Anonymous said...

"Ready for the desktop" as a criterion is a moving target that anyone who doesn't wish Linux to gain momentum likes to whip out. I make almost six figures programming for Windows, so you'd think I'd be saying that about Linux. I don't, because it is ready. It's more ready than XP was the day it came out. There were people back then saying that XP was ready, but they said that with an expectation that hardware/drivers/users would eventually catch up to it--This is what they are saying about Vista now. Those same people don't like to have that expectation with Linux, but that does not mean it is not happening anyway.

Anonymous said...

I've had the pleasure and pain of coming from a mostly Windows background and working with various Linux distros over the past year or so. I've even converted all but one of my home systems to different Linux flavors.

Overall, I think Linux is fast approaching desktop readiness for the average user. However, I had to chuckle at the mention of ndis drivers... the one thing that slowed me down on my home conversions more than anything else was the fact that three of my systems use wireless. This is an incredible pain in the Linux world. Getting better, but painful nonetheless.

However, in the past few months, I've become a huge fan of PCLinuxOS. Of all the distros I've tried, this one probably comes closer to delivering on all fronts -- performance, core features, and ease of use -- than any other.

I just came back from a neighbor's house. A couple of weeks ago, she asked for help. It turned out her old Windows 2000 (!) computer was eaten up with virii and thoroughly root-kitted. I installed PCLOS with dual-boot, and it worked like a champ. She couldn't believe the speed and ease of use. However, as a seasoned citizen, she knows next to nothing about computers, so I went over to help her for about an hour.

During that time, I installed her printer, connected her camera and showed her how easy it was to work with her pictures, installed an account for her grandson, showed her how to to updates (one of PCLOS' few weaknesses, updated are not automatic yet), got Thunderbird set up (she had been using web mail, even in Windows), and installed pysol since she missed solitaire. Finally, I gave her a few security pointers. Not bad for an hour's work with someone in their seventies.

The bottom line is that she is thrilled. Her system is incredibly responsive, given its age, she can do everything she wants, and she doesn't have to worry so much about everyday activities on the web and in e-mail.

I think the combination of some tremendous advances in Linux distros and Microsoft's problems with Vista, this is a prime opportunity for Linux to win many, many new converts and advocates / participants in that community.

What if every experienced Linux user chose to voluntarily convert and support three people? By convert, I mean just offer to help them get started -- Live CD, dual boot, VM, whatever. Then help them with basic questions and teach them the best elements of the Linux community, including participation, mutual support, and professionalism.

I'm not so naive to suggest the world would change overnight and we'd sit around singing kum-ba-ya. But it could accelerate a movement already in progress.

Anonymous said...

One important fact! I and many others use Linux because we want and miss the control that Windows eventually took away from us. Having that control will make Linux a bad choice for many Windows users, i.e., the old joke about the woman who thought something was wrong with her email because it never said, "You've got mail" after having used AOL and switching to a local ISP. Because of this, some people will NEVER be ready for Linux, and I hope Linux is NEVER ready for them...

Anonymous said...

Oh no. Sorry. That last comment is off the mark and I do not think it is representative of "Linux" users by in large.

Stop worrying about user friendliness taking ANYTHING away from you. That is merely elitism and ignorance combined.

I think we should LISTEN to this blog.

The funny thing is, while trying not to site a negative, he mentions a web cam function for Pidgin(GAIM). GYachE is said to have web cam support. This is an example. Open software improves faster than one can write about it.

It's time for geeks to pull out a little compassion (and lots of patients) for the non-technical user. Help someone today or lose real standards tomorrow.

Remember, no one cares until the see their need.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, at least from my experience with ubuntu 7.04, linux is ready for desktop for the above average user, not power user.There are still some issues, or you google it or you'll get a hardtime time solving it or understanding it. I use ubuntu at work and at home, and soon 'll start to teach my son to use ubuntu. let's hope the transiction from xp to ubuntu is not painfull.

kozmcrae said...

Good article. When I first saw those "Is Linux Ready For the Desktop?" articles, I avoided them. Any headline that ends with a question mark is looking for cheap hits, and if you follow it you're bound to step in something warm and steamy. Anyway, it's nice to see someone making sense.

Anonymous said...

Who are 'we'? The FOSS community is actually a loosely connected set of people around the world who are one or more of the following:

1) FOSS developers and other project maintainers
2) Companies selling FOSS products
3) System and network admins using FOSS products in production environments
4) Individual users maintaining their own FOSS environment
5) Individuals or organizations maintaining websites about FOSS
6) LUGs

In your opinion piece, you have used 'we' several times when you should have specified who is responsible for the activities you are promoting. In the case of advertising, 2) and 5), and possibly 6), are the only ones in a position to do much. As far as correcting flaws, 1) is primarily responsible with help from 2), 3), and 4). When you use 'we', it appears that you fit into all of these groups, and even have some degree of influence over them. If that is not the case, then your effort would be better spent promoting an organization that could leverage its influence to accomplish the goals you have stated.

As far as Linux/FOSS on the desktop, as well as other accomplishments, all things considered, it has been very successful. But to improve on that success will require less talk and a lot more action.

Later . . . Jim

RenaissanceCore IDS, check it out at:

Kevin said...

Linux is a grass-roots effort. By that, I mean passionate individuals trying to convince the masses that organizations of questionable purpose control something important and are taking that important thing in a direction that is detrimental to where the people want to and think they are going.
Computer desktops are something that geeks are passionate about, not the everyday individual. THAT is why Linux is loved by geeks and not seen as worth the effort to the rest of the world. Find the Microsoft equivalent of the Exxon Valdez and you may change the non-geek-public's perspective.
It not a question of merits, but convincing the rest of the world that the effort to learn Linux is necessary for their technological future.

maccam94 said...

I agree that the whole "Linux is/is not ready for the desktop" argument is stupid. However, it depends on how you define "the desktop". Right now it is shorter to list who Linux ISN'T ready for than for whom it is.

I consider Linux as ready for the desktops if the person and hardware meet these requirements:
-They don't use Broadcom wireless.
-They aren't into games that don't work in Linux.
-They don't have DRM'd music.
-They don't use Windows-only apps or services with no Linux equivalent or interoperability.

Those requirements may seem to exclude a large portion of computer users, but in reality they do not. Broadcom is not the only wireless chip manufacturer, for instance any Intel Centrino-based laptop should work flawlessly. There is also more Linux software that can replace or interoperate with Windows software than many people realize.

InTheLoop said...

I think you got it just about right. Linux is ready for some people's desktop but not others. I agree with your point that the
"Is Linux ready for the desktop?" question is pointless. Instead the question should be "Is Linux ready for my desktop?" or "Is Linux ready for some people's desktop?"

You also briefly mentioned another good point which is that as more people adopt Linux more companies will support it. In fact, I can see the argument that the tech-savy people are more likely to demand Linux support from companies.

blackbelt_jones said...

The problem isn't technical, it's cultural. Famously, children in third world countries are now running Linux on those little plastic laptops. What makes this possible is not that third world children are more tech savvy than our parents or spouses, it's because they get their linux preinstalled on a machine that was built to run it. In other words, they get it like most westerners get Windows... and that's really all it takes.

Just imagine if your aunt Ida had to download her Windows operating system off the internet, install it herself on a machine that wasn't manufactured with Windows in mind, and worry about whether she had all those drivers in place. Now imagine Aunt Ida bringing home her new preinstalled Ubuntu desktop. Imagine a world in which knowledge of how to use Linux is as widespread as knowledge of Windows is now. The guy at the computer store knows all about Linux. Everybody uses Linux at work.

See what I mean? It's not the technology that's holding Linux back; its the culture, including the economics.

But the culture is changing, a little at a time. A third world laptop, a preinstalled Dell Ubuntu computer, an underwhelming release like Windows' Vista. It's all going to add up. We just need to have fun, keep doing what we've been doing, and let nature take its course.

Besides, we don't need to take over the world, in my opinion. We just need to keep you-know-who from taking over the world... and that ball game is over. We've won. Freedom is the right to do what you want; it's not the right to make other people do what you think they should... and we're free.

When some clueless industry blogger/wanker talks about how Linux isn't ready for the desktop, just try to relax. Save your outrage for holocaust and global warning denyers, Republicans, and other people who really deserve it. And try to have the courage of your convictions, i.e., the faith that the better technology will win in the end, because it's going to have all the time it needs to win. Betamax went out of business, but Linux can't go out of business. It's not a business.

We're not going away.

Victor J Kinzer said...

It seems many people got what I was saying, and many people did not. In some cases it is obviously because I did not express myself precisely enough.

When I say "we" I am referring to the members of the community when are involved in the development of various projects who insist that "it's ready". Many of us are involved, or have the ear of someone who is involved. It is important to take criticism professionally. It's cool if there are multiple distros to fill different needs. We SHOULD have a linux distro that is painfully easy to use. While still having Enterpirse distros, and Slackware distros and puppy linuxes and so on and so forth.

What is important is focusing on improving what we have instead of flaming the people who don't get it.

DNA The Splice of Life said...

First time reader, linked from Linux Today (Congrats by the way).

I am one of those I hate windows but don't have the time to learn linux fence sitters. I have installed 8-10 different distributions over the last 4-5 years on old boxes, dual boots, CD based and each time I'm more and more impressed. It is getting easier to install and use. For someone like myself Suse or yellowdog will never be the distro for me but kudos and thanks for those that you it and use it well.

As a relatively informed power user of windows I'm not too frightened by getting my finger tips dirty with software settings and tweaking but my wife is a pure user. A "tell me what I need to do to get X done". Ubuntu and distros like it are for them. There does not need to be a best distro or best OS.

I am so glad someone finally talked about the elephant in the room. Linux's strength are the huge variety of distros! find the one you like and support it. As you get better move to a new one. Linux is not scary to me any more and I am diving in and letting other M$ users know.
They may not dual boot or use linux at work but they do try it at home and are now "getting things done". Yeah!

Great post and you are now in my RSS reader :)

Anonymous said...

Honestly I think a lot of people are standing too close to the trees to notice the forest. To MOST average users, the OS itself is largely irrelevant. The OS to the average user is nothing more than the platform to run their applications, and most often the applications they are familiar with.

Walk around the typical office building and look at peoples desktops. By far, the vast majority of users don’t do anything to “customize” their desktop (not even the desktop background). Why? Because the desktop and OS really don’t matter to them. What matters is being able to run the applications they need to run. To them the “computer” is nothing more than a tool to accomplish some type of task with as little resistance and “issues” along the way.

I’ve read my share of “not ready” articles, and while the poster is usually doing a little venting out of frustration and using some generalities to prove the point, almost all of the responders blast the original poster for not being at “their level” of Linux savvy. How, honestly, does that type of response really do any good? It’s usually pretty rare to see a responder actually try to dissect what the real issue the poster was having and trying to help resolve it.

For me, I’ve been working with PCs since DOS 1.0, and pretty much Windows all my professional life. I still run Windows both at work and at home. However, I’ve been keeping an eye on how Linux distributions have been evolving over the years and have tried/used many of them in a VMware environment. I absolutely agree with the original poster of this thread that as Linux distros evolve so does its user base. For me, however, the big issue is the applications. There are some applications that I’m just not willing to give up, or change to a lesser useful/feature rich version that runs under Linux.

For those applications, I have repeatedly tried requesting that the vendors add support for Linux (or be able to work successfully under Wine). However, it’s a “chicken or the egg” argument as software vendors aren’t willing to invest the time/resources to significantly change their code base to support Linux if they don’t see enough of a market to help recoup that investment expense. And conversely, Linux simply won’t draw the masses of users w/o those applications being supported on that platform.

One thing is for sure. A lot of Windows users have no interest in migrating to Vista (myself included). For those folks, they basically have two choices: Linux or OS X. For some, the expensive nature of Apple’s hardware will either drive them to Linux or to stick with Vista, but if you look at what’s really going on, people are moving to Apple despite the pricy hardware. You can’t help wonder why that is. Well, as my friends like to beat over my head, it’s because “stuff just works” and Vendors do produce familiar applications for that platform.

So where does that leave Linux? I don’t know. I certainly believe Linux will exist for a long time to come, and most likely continue to increase in the server space. However, until something happens to make it easier for the typical user to run that favorite/familiar application under Linux, it will be hard to the masses flocking to Linux distributions anytime soon.