Is Linux Finally Ready for the Desktop?

It is one of life’s truisms that people hate change. It seems to me, in order for people to change from using what they have, someone has to prove that there is an alternative that is not only as good as what they use, but clearly better (otherwise, why spend the time learning a new way of doing things just to stay even). In my opinion, Linux has not made this case, yet.

As a GNU/Linux (hereinafter “Linux”) desktop user for several years now (Caldera, Red Hat, SUSE, Gentoo, Kubuntu, Xandros, etc.), I have looked with amusement over the debate on whether Linux is ready for the desktop (as opposed to
being used to run servers, where it is in many ways superior to Windows).

It seemed, every so often, a Linux supporter would declare that this year would be the year that Linux became ready for most computer users (i.e., for the most part, those who use Windows and the desktop applications like Word, Excel, etc. that run on it).

But year after year, he or she would be wrong. Most people were not switching from Windows to Linux. If anything, they were switching to OS X or not switching at all.

Perhaps in frustration, some Linux supporters would come up with all kinds of explanations about how Microsoft was cheating/lying/using Fear Uncertainty and Doubt to keep the masses from seeing the obvious superiority of Linux (some of which may even have been true). But the great majority of Windows users just shrugged and ignored them.

Although I don’t consider myself to be a Linux expert, I can do most of what I need to do in Linux. But I’m not sure that the majority of Windows users can because Linux (and the applications running on it), even at its best, are still too fragmented, unstable, and user unfriendly. Going further, contrary to most Linux supporters, I don’t think things will change much, in the near future, to address these problems.

Along those lines, Fake Steve Jobs has a rant that makes some good points. But, I think, Asa Dotzler has a well reasoned post that is closer to hitting the mark on what needs to occur for Linux to move forward. Based on his experience with Firefox, where he is instrumental in its development,
he breaks it down into: migration, stability, simplicity, and comfort.

Obviously, some of these are higher level constructs but the point is, until these are addressed, the majority of Windows users are making the rational/logical decision to stay with what they know. Until more Linux users and especially developers accept these are problems and fix them, Linux will always be just one year away from being ready for the desktop.



4 responses to “Is Linux Finally Ready for the Desktop?

  1. I personally think that Linux has been ready for the Desktop for a while. However: just because it’s ready, doesn’t mean people are going to switch sides. A huge amount of money is poured into marketing any new product (just look at Vista or the iPod as an example). Ultimately a free product has no chance of being able to compete on the marketing side of things.

    That said: as long as I don’t have to deal with windows, I remain happy and sane (people complain that I start swearing a lot more when I’m put in front of a Windows machine). 😛

  2. Linux, and has been ready for the desktop for a long time, at least 8 years in my experience, and less than a month in the experience of the latest person I’ve upgraded to Linux.

    I’ve been upgrading people to Linux over the last 4 years now, in every case Linux on the desktop was ready for them.

    Most of those people are what I refer to as my “Little Old Ladies”, women between late 50s and early 70s, the oldest is 74. None of them want to know anything about the technology, they just want a computer that works, they have no interest in learning about how to secure their computer, or how to keep it secure. Linux doesn’t require that they do any of this, as it’s secure by design and by default.

    In many cases these women, by virtue of the fact that they neither know about, nor care to know about managing anti virus software, or security in general, have been bitten by viruses and Trojans and all manner of problems that infest the operating system they used to use, before I upgraded them to Linux.

    The best part of this, for me, is that I don’t have to spend much time with them, a few hours getting up to speed with different UIs than they had become used to, and that’s pretty much it.

    Linux is definitely well and truly ready for the desktop, and more importantly it’s ready and waiting for that class of computer user who is not at all interested in having to learn how to make their computer safe for use on the internet. It’s no more than an upgrade away.

  3. I’ve been using GNU+Linux for approximately 10 years. GNU+Linux was ready for teh desktop back then, and it is even more ready for the desktop, today.

    However, the real question should be, “are some users ready for GNU+Linux?”

    GNU+Linux is a completely difefrent entity than Windows or OSX. I assert that when one asks “is GNU+Linux ready for the desktop?” they mean to say “has GNU+Linux become Windows or OSX, yet?”

    The answer will always be “No!” GNU+Linux is what it is, and it will never become anything other than what it naturally evolves into. And that will not be a Windows/OSX replacement.

  4. I was a big fun of Windows since 1990 until Vista arrived, I’ve been using Linux for the last 10 years, FreeBSD for the past couple of years and recently Mac OS X. I’ve been also writing firmware for telecom devices for the past 9 years in some real time OSs so I can say that I have some experience on how the hardware works… Depending on what a user wants to do with his/her’s hardware, there is an OS that will do it faster, better and/or easier than the others or it won’t do it at all. The problem is that users usually want to do many different things that each one of them may be done better on a different OS. Hence there is a conflict. Not everyone can afford or even would want more than one computer and of course not everyone has the time to learn more than one OS. Another thing that the users and amongst them me too dislike, is spending time fixing their computers instead of using them to do their everyday jobs. In the last case I think that Linux and Mac OS X win against Windows. With Linux the feeling that I get is that I own the computer that I’m using in a way that it doesn’t feel like a property of the maker of the OS. I have better control over it but it requires more deep knowledge of how a computer works to use it. With Mac OS X everything looks very easy and it simply works as it happens with Linux too of course (I mean the second part, that it simply works, not that everything is easy) because they’re both unix flavors and they have the right sets of permissions for the everyday user in their dna.
    Mac OS X has a better way of hiding them than Linux. With Windows though it’s a totally different case. There’s probably the largest collection of software in the planet for that OS. Of course most of them isn’t free and some of the companies that build it think that you own IBM’s BlueGene to run their software. Linux seems to win on that area since most of the programs I’ve seen would run on an average computer and Mac OS X too runs fast because they control the hardware on which a program will run. Windows developers most of the times don’t care if you don’t have a supercomputer and they tend to write programs that need such one (mostly games but not necessarily only games). Also, they many of them think that they own your computer (Microsoft amongst them too) and they tend to change the entire universe to make their programs run resulting sometimes in braking other programs or the OS itself and then (not only then) you have to spend time fixing the OS or reinstalling it. In my opinion there will never be a winner amongst the Desktop OSs because there is a reason for each one of them to exist and of course there will always be people deffending those reasons on each side.

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