A few weeks ago, the Linux Foundation chief Jim Zemlin openly said that bashing Microsoft is 'like kicking a puppy’, every Linux user saw some amount of truth to that. If some disagree, they can always look at Android, Amazon's Kindle, and a bucket load of Linux-based gadgets that have sprung up in the market recently. Also, when it comes to servers, Linux has managed to beat Microsoft hands down. The conformation came straight from the horse's mouth when Steve Ballmer admitted that Linux's server share is 60% as opposed to Microsoft's 40%. Having said all that, Linux desktop's market share stands at a meager .71 % in the United States, which is even less than Apple iPad's userbase. So, what are the reasons why the Linux desktop is still far behind its server counterpart? Why the Linux desktop still isn't winning? Let's take a deeper look at the problem.


1. Lack of Leadership and Direction

Think of Microsoft, the image of Bill Gates' lopsided smile comes to mind. Think of Apple, you see Steve Jobs giving an enthralling presentation to a bunch of rich people. Think of Linux, whom do you see? Linus Torvalds? Richard Stallman? Or Shuttleworth? The truth is no one. Since the beginning, Linux has always been a scattered effort and it still is. Whenever non-geeks think of technology, they need to see someone they can look up to, someone leading at the front. Instead, the name Linux has become synonymous with diet coke-guzzling nerds who can fix any computer in a minute.

Besides lacking a proper role model to look up to, Linux also lacks direction. People contribute, but they don't know how and where to contribute; hence they end up making distros like Hannah Montana Linux. The open-source community is really vast; however, it needs proper leadership to unify people and motivate them. For example, look at the work Android has done. Android was Linux before its inception, Google brought together all the devs, even gave them incentives, and finally came out with a mind-blowing product. The same can be said about Mozilla, but Linux on the other hand is too scattered. Developers make applications according to 'their needs' not the users' needs. It's time someone makes a stand and gives developers a sense of direction. Linux really needs a Steve Jobs, albeit a nicer one.


2. Lack of Advertising

Can't blame Linux on this one. Advertising is the prerequisite of getting a product noticed; however, Linux is not as rich as Apple or Microsoft. Instead, Linux relies on word of mouth publicity; which, to an extent works, but doesn't get the expected results. It's time individual distributions take notice of this problem and invest some cash in the area. If that's not possible, then why not launch a pledge drive and collect funds for marketing? Something less creepy than what Wikipedia did? Furthermore, Linux should not be promoted as a whole product much like IBM was doing (Remember the Linux is everywhere ad?). Instead, individual distros like Ubuntu and openSUSE should make quality adverts and put them out there, showing what features they offer and how they're better than Windows and Mac.


3. Too many choices, too many distributions

Enter the world of Linux. We've got Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, Mint, Slackware, Arch, Elementary OS, PCLinuxOS… we've got a lot of choices for you. Does Apple offer that many choices? No. Instead, Apple makes one Snow Leopard, and that's it. Linux and Microsoft on the other hand keep giving their users the much-overrated 'freedom of choice'. This is where the Paradox of Choice comes into play. What this means is, whenever the user/consumer is given too many choices, it leads to poor decision-making or failure to make any decision at all. The cause of this paradox is attributed to rational ignorance and more commonly analysis paralysis. The concept has been studied by many researchers including more prominent ones like Barry Shwartz, Sheena Iyengar and Mark R Lepper.

The analysis paralysis is more pronounced in cases where a particular user wants to start using Linux. She Googles a bit about Linux and comes across a concept called distributions. She gets excited about the amount of choices Linux offers. However, owing to the huge amount of distributions out there, she has a difficult time choosing the right one to start with. She then asks the question in a forum or Twitter, and gets 5 different responses from 5 different people, leaving her utterly confused.

Taking cue from this and many such situations, developers should simply stop making new distributions; especially the bad or bizarre ones. Instead, they should focus on contributing to existing and popular distributions like Ubuntu and Fedora. It is obvious that Linux needs some healthy competition from within, but looking at the sheer number of Linux distributions out there, the situation is anything but chaotic. This also reminds me of a hilarious article I came across the other day, which reports that the number of Linux-based distributions has surpassed the number of users. A joke of course, but it does remind developers that it's time to change their priorities. Usually it's crowded at the top; however, in the Linux world there's an ample amount of room.


4. Too many misconceptions

Fact: You can't watch Jersey Shore and be a Linux user at the same time.

The target audience for Linux has always been geeks, nerds and hackers. Ubuntu however, has managed to expand Linux desktop's outreach, and has been somewhat successful so far. However, whenever a Windows user is told about Linux, he always gives you that weird puzzled look. And forget asking a Mac user about Linux, he's way too intoxicated to ever return from Steve's Apple factory. People come up with all sorts of reasons why the products 'they use' are the best. Arguing with them is futile, unless you are a debate expert like Christopher Hitchens. Being a Linux user makes u look like a 3-eyed monster in a crowded bus. Never mind, it's no use tackling morons. Do share your experiences in the comments section if you've met people like these.


5. Specific requirements

Windows has been around for a really long time. Long enough to make people completely dependent on applications developed for their platform alone. There are FOSS alternatives to almost any proprietary software out there, but most of the users want the official stuff and not the 'clones'. Quite ironically, many newbies also hold a misconception that Wine is an emulator. What can I say? Go suck on your stupid software!


6. Support

Even though last week, we wrote an irritably long article on getting support on Linux, there are still a lot of Linux users who throw in the towel when faced with the slightest of glitches. A sizable amount of people just aren't comfortable using forums and IRC. They want some guy on the telephone who can magically 'fix' their computer. And reading the manual... who does that these days?


7. Piracy

If you think piracy is just Microsoft's problem then think again. Piracy is probably the biggest problem Linux is facing right now. Don't believe me? There are practically millions of people in the world, especially in third world nations, who cannot afford a Microsoft license. So, for them, paying 2-4 Dollars for a pirated copy of the latest and greatest version of Windows is nothing new. Many of them even get it for free, off the Internet. If you ask these people about Linux, they've a better excuse for not switching – “If I can get a copy of the latest version of Windows, for practically no cost, why should I go for Linux?” Can't blame them either. It's curious how Microsoft, a company that has invented so many restrictive technologies, has fallen flat on its face when it comes to curbing piracy.


8. Too many changes

[2009]
GNOME fan to a KDE user: I really love GNOME; it's incredibly snappy, clean, minimalistic... much better than the half-baked KDE4 interface.
KDE fan smirks and walks away
[2011]
GNOME fan to KDE user: Wow look! There's my new GNOME 3! *click click* Here's the new shell, *click click* here's the new menu *click click* Oh wait... where's the minimize button? Why is there so much padding? Why did they do this? Why? ...

Moral of the story: Too many changes = pissing off loyal friends.

I'm sure there's a chunk of Ubuntu loyalists who are switching to Mint, once the next version comes out. Although these changes are moving the desktop forward, there are many people who are never willing to accept any radical changes. Try this: make a seasoned IE6 user try out Firefox 4 for a while... he won't ever be convinced that Firefox is better and instead he'll revert back to IE6.


9. Hardware Issues

Despite the best efforts of Canonical, Red Hat and Novell, Linux desktop isn't as user-friendly as Windows or Mac. Most of the problems come from hardware rather than the software itself. There's nothing the Linux desktop can do about this situation except work hard on reverse-engineering proprietary drivers and come up with their open-source alternatives. Besides the hardware problem, there are many areas Linux can improve upon. Many of these improvements are needed in the User Interface (UI). Also, apart from becoming noob friendly, Ubuntu has to give people strong reasons to make a switch. The general mentality amongst neophytes is – Why fix if it isn't broken?


10. Microsoft

Are you in the mood for some Microsoft bashing? Here we go. To be really honest, Microsoft is Linux's biggest problem. Almost every shortcoming the Linux desktop faces, one can easily blame Microsoft for that. It's no Wikileaks-worthy secret that Microsoft lobbies hard with governments to keep their no 1 spot intact. Furthermore, Microsoft makes sure no open-source software gets in its way by coming up with propaganda ads like this. Then, they set up a shiny new web page showcasing their 'dedication' towards open-source. The heading on the page says - “We value openness as a company”. Their C.E.O Steve Ballmer on the other hand, calls Linux a cancer. How much more hypocritical and phony can u get Microsoft? Stop it already. If you're a Microsoft fanatic and a staunch believer in their “We're not evil, they are” Billosophy, do take a look at this article: A Brief History of Microsoft FUD


Conclusion:

Though Linux desktop faces so many challenges, it is still giving Microsoft a tough time. Redmond has already admitted Linux's growing dominance over the desktops and they've started taking the penguins pretty seriously. However, there's a lot of work to be done to ensure Linux overcomes the aforementioned hurdles. A proper game plan is needed to tackle these problems one by one, not leaving a single chink in the armor. This will make Linux ready for even bigger challenges. Furthermore, as the tabletmania is gaining heat, Linux ought to be readying itself to capitalize on the market before anyone else (apart from Apple) does.


Contributed by: MJA, a Slackware Linux user and TechSource fan

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