April 9, 2014
In the last few years, there has been a surge of renewed interest in using Linux, in both the server and desktop spaces. Several factors are contributing to this surge, all happening at once. First, there is the trend from powerful desktops to smaller, but less powerful, devices. In addition, more user (and media) friendly Linux distributions such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint have hit the scene.
Linux is a highly developed, stable and advanced operating system – this, I will never question. It comes in every conceivable flavor – from server solutions to desktop releases with more software than anyone could possibly ever need. Largely, however, Linux has still been found wanting. Whether because of some inherent weakness of Linux, a preconceived advantage that doesn’t pan out, or the fact that users simply miss their familiar Windows functions, there are a number of reasons why Linux isn’t triumphing over Windows.
On the server side, Linux is kicking ass and taking names. Recent reports claim that Amazon alone is using as many as half a million Linux servers in data centers around the world to power its cloud services—a strong indicator of just how established Linux is. but on the desktop side of the fence Linux is a non-issue. Compared to Microsoft Windows, even Mac OS X has trivial desktop market share, but it’s enough to put it on the radar, and Mac OS X has been growing strong in recent years. Linux, on the other hand, has never really been more than a rounding error
Let’s face it: Whatever else you might say about Windows, it is easier to use. We love our Start menu and our Task Manager and our system tray. Some of us started to love the Windows Sidebar and gadgets, before they were taken away. Young adults today never had to use MS-DOS, even if they started using computers at an early age, so they aren’t going to be comfortable at a Linux command line.
Don’t get me wrong — Linux has come a long way. But remember how far back it has had to come from — where just managing to install the operating system for a non-expert (and sometimes experts too) was considered a major triumph. There are still too many things in the Linux world that are expected to be done manually, like program installation. A majority of users will say, “I might have to compile something myself? No thanks.”
There’s a reason IE is still a huge part of the browser market: people are scared of “breaking their computer”. Most people can’t fix computer problems themselves, and everyone knows that support these days consists of either “This isn’t our problem, it’s a problem with [insert application here]”, or “reformat and reinstall”. Sure, give someone Firefox and they generally like it more than IE, but most people will use IE because it’s what they’re used to.
Free open source software isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes it’s worth paying for a quality product. Take GIMP for example, which after experiencing it, you’re either going to love or hate. If you hate GIMP, be it the workflow, interface or just general shortcomings in comparison with Photoshop then you’ve not got much in the way of alternatives.
GIMP is about as good as it gets on Linux when it comes to imaging software, and even compared to the Windows-only solution Paint.NET it can feel outdated, messy and not particularly intuitive to the Adobe generation. There’s no Adobe line-up for Linux despite the community’s many pleas (Flash support is pretty horrendous at times too).
If you’re a musician used to Traktor, Cubase, Reason, FLStudio (I could go on) or even Garage Band then you’re out of luck there too. There are a few decent solutions, but there’s a reason most music is produced on a Mac or Windows machine.
Serious video editing is a no-go too. Despite the many capable solutions out there that are built for Linux, there’s still nothing that compares to industry standards like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier. Of course these are expensive software suites I’m mentioning, but they’re also widely used and bought for a reason. Linux software simply can’t compare when it comes to this level of professional software
Now of course much of our favorite Windows software can be run using an emulator such as Wine, or on a virtual machine running Windows — but if we find ourselves doing that all the time, why use Linux in the first place?
Linux advocates will tell anyone who listens that any Linux problem can be solved easily by the oh-so-supportive community of users. However, not everyone has access to either a second computer at home, or a work computer where they can spend idle time interacting with the community to find answers. It’s kind of hard to look up the answer online when your computer can’t connect to your wireless network. One can spend hours researching an issue with Linux and you do not dare start a new topic anywhere. Linux does have loyal, knowledgeable users willing to help guide you through the murky waters. Of course, it’s often difficult to find them through the sea of self-righteous flamers who berate you for not knowing what you’re doing.
People do not Like Change. Oh do they not like change. With Windows 8 change happened significantly mostly with the start menu and how programs were launched. This change was enough for people to write it off completely without actually just sitting down and just using it for a moment. Microsoft wanted to move into the mobile network and so they designed their OS to compete in the market and I think they did an okay job at doing it though it had a rough start, remember vista’s start?
What do we do?
I know there’s an army of dedicated Linux hobbyists who will no doubt unleash a barrage of flames and tirades. They’ll tell you all the ways Windows sucks, and all the reasons Apple is evil (Many know I hate Apple as a company, however, their hardware/software is fine. Even if it is overpriced), and make exalted claims about how wonderful their lives are since they made the switch, and how they’ll never go back (sounds familiar huh?).
Let me preemptively say, “That’s great. I’m happy for you.” It doesn’t change the fact that you’re part of a negligible market segment. It doesn’t change the reality that Linux is not as intuitive or user friendly as its rivals, or that it lacks the third-party hardware and software support of its rivals, or that using it requires a learning curve and the dedication to dive into forums and learn to tinker. It’s great for hobbyists and hackers, but not for an average user at a company.