What About Linux? 12/03/09
It’s been a while since I “seriously” posted on this blog, as I’ve been super busy. One of the things I do in my work is custom build desktop computers and servers for clients. There’s been a sudden demand for new desktop systems. While talking to clients, they’ve all danced around the issue of having Windows 7 installed on their systems, suffice it to say, every Windows user (I built systems for) opted to have WinXP Pro installed (no Vista and no Win7). Personally I found this an interesting trend. I know I’m supposed to be writing about Linux (primarily Ubuntu) in this blog, but please bear with me.
Side note: Given the recent FUD in the news about Win7 black screening and Apple’s “Trust me” marketing, among other things, it’s no wonder the average consumer feels unsure.
A couple of things prompted me to write a post about Linux adoption experiences; for the average consumer, as in many ways, this really is a sociopolitical issue.
First, I was talking to an old business partner the other day. Given the issues with Windows operating systems (he preferred to avoid) and the costs of Mac systems (he thought were to high), I suggested he give Ubuntu Linux a try. The response was somewhat dubious. As best I can recall here’s how the conversation played out (I have changed his name for the purposes of his post, let’s call him “Jake”):
Roger: “Why don’t you try Ubuntu?” If you don’t like it after a while, we can always move to another OS.
Jake: “No, Linux is difficult, I want a system that will just work”
Roger: “Well, Ubuntu has come a long way, it should be able to do what you need”
Jake: “I want to plug my camera in and have the photos copy to my system, I want to use Word. Linux is for geeks with technical knowledge, it’s not user friendly”
Roger: “It’s user friendly, I plug my camera in and Linux just uses it, and there’s all kinds of software, for free, that manages pictures. I use Open Office, my system just works! Besides, Linux adoption is increasing worldwide, we just don’t hear as much about that in the North American market”
Jake: “Not really, what about the kids in India for example? The schools all use Windows. Windows will always be the dominant system”
Roger: “Jake, the schools in India are encouraged to use Linux, and many of them do”.
Jake: “Well, I don’t have time to learn something new. Linux is tricky and difficult, I prefer a system that just works”.
Roger: “Have you actually tried using Linux?”
Jake: (Tone of voice seems very unsure) “Well… yes, I tried it”.
The conversation drew to a close. Personally I know he’s never tried it as I’ve been taking care of his PC technical issues for years. Every single system he’s had (and used at work) is Windows based. Don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with that (I have a Windows box on the network too).
The second motivation for this post was a CNet quote I saw on the DimDim site (I was looking for an Open Source Video Conferencing / Meeting solution):
“…solutions that remain islands, developed and deployed by one company, are much less interesting than open-source solutions that are developed and deployed by a community.”
Seems to me that Linux adoption’s primary barrier (in North America) is consumer perception (misguided or otherwise). Throughout other conversations with “Jake” as well as other clients, I found the focus of most people seemed to rest on the notion of OS superiority. Personally, I think that thought process is misplaced, particularly when it’s based on mistaken information or slick advertising. Having been in the IT arena for some years, and having had some not too nice experiences. It’s taken me some time and actually using multiple operating systems to realize some of the issues surrounding the relatively slow adoption of Linux. As one reader (Spode) mentioned in the post “Some Things Linux Can Do, That Windows Won’t “:
“…The problem is, people see Linux as a Windows “replacement”. It’s not. It’s an operating system in it’s own right – it’s like trying to compare a pick-up truck to a car. Close enough that you can try, but realistically – a pointless exercise”
Many have argued that the issue is related to the fact that Windows is the dominant desktop because it’s the easiest to use (“it just works”, is something I often hear).
Windows has always been good at locking competitors out of the OEMs using questionable methods, that (the news services inform us) have had them convicted of monopoly type abuse (by both the US and the EU) on more than one occasion.
Windows knows that Mac’s are mainly targeted to a niche market, thereby posing no real threat to their profit lines. Mac systems also don’t try to break into the OEMs. Linux on the other hand is already dominant in the Server market, it’s dominant in the “devices” market too, as such it could be perceived as a threat. It appears that Windows will do almost anything to retain the loyalty of OEMs.
Another reader comment on an earlier post was more pointed in saying:
“Linux = I can install my OS and apps on a USB stick and take them with me, boot any PC and go. It just works.
Windows = I have to buy another license for each PC I use my stick on, then I have to install all sorts of 3rd party stuff on each PC, then I have to…”
And another (with the handle “Barbarian”) saying:
“Technically, I suppose Microsoft *could* do a Windows live CD (except that *every time* you start the live system you’d also have to install all the required third-party drivers to make everything work — and how would you install them if the CD drive is already being used!).
But the point is that they don’t *want* to. They want you to buy a license for each machine you run Windows on. It’s their core business model and unlikely to change anytime soon.”
Given the above, it’s no wonder that many resist Linux as all they’ve ever used (really used) is Windows – As it almost always preinstalled on every prebuilt PC or laptop they purchase. Personally, moving to Linux was a big step, I remember that the hardest thing (for me) was to realize that it was not very much different from using Windows, strictly in terms of the default GUI. I had preconceived notions that it would be difficult and tough to use and that there’d be very few applications to use. I was stunned at the shear wealth of applications and of the robust quality of them!
The bottom line really is (in my opinion) that companies are able to unfairly control the market (such as the case with Windows). It has nothing to do with OS superiority. Different operating systems each have their good and bad points.
In my opinion, the one barrier to faster Linux desktop adoption is the Linux community itself, among them companies that develop Linux distributions.
I very rarely (maybe once every 10 years or so) see any advertising for Linux on Television (or on Radio).
I’ve never heard of “Linux” attempting to enter the OEM field (or develop their own).
The times I’ve seen Linux preinstalled (especially on Laptops), I found the cost was too high. (I could buy more powerful hardware for cheaper cost and install Linux myself).
I’ve seen no real incentives, Linux provides application developers to support Linux platforms.
On the flip side, North America it seems has groomed a PC consumer that:
Simply believes what they’re told in advertising (I’m talking about the general masses here, not about intelligent individuals).
Has little initiative to change, to learn, grow, try new things (OSs).
Is willing to pay a little more to conform with the general public perception.
Less motivated to try innovative solutions.
Granted the above are perceptions, but it seems to me the predominant issues surrounding the “What about Linux?” questions are best answered by those who build and support desktop and laptop hardware as well as those who develop software. Less short term thinking and more long term thinking, perhaps would be the best way to go.
Regardless of everything written above, it all boils down to the individual. How open minded are they, how adventurous, how tech savvy, how observant, and so on. Are they sheep or tigers? This issue smacks very much of “Eloi culture”.
Side note (from Wikipedia): Scottish social and cultural commentator Gordon P. Clarkson has termed contemporary Mass Culture “Eloi Culture” as he claims that it is creating a society of unthinking passive consumers of “meaningless trivia”.
Finally, I find the hardware support in Linux is actually better than in Windows. Having said that, I really think hardware developers and marketers need to reevaluate the sometimes excessive costing when selling preinstalled Linux systems. And… Software developers, like Steam, Adobe, etc. quite frankly should be aware enough to realize the long term growth of Linux (including the migration to it), and develop Linux based versions of their products. Again, the thinking needs to be LONG TERM, not a quick buck in the short term.