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Why Linux Can't 'Sell' On the Desktop 1091 1091

New submitter VoyagerRadio writes "Recently I found myself struggling with a question I should easily have been able to answer: Why would anyone want to use Linux as their everyday desktop (or laptop) operating system? It's a fair question, and asked often of Linux, but I'm finding it to be a question I can no longer answer with the conviction necessary to 'sell' the platform. In fact, I kind of feel like a car salesman who realizes he no longer believes in the product he's been pitching. It's not that I don't find Linux worthy; I simply don't understand how it's ever going to succeed on the desktop with voluntary marketing efforts. What do Linux users need to do to replicate the marketing efforts of Apple and Microsoft and other corporate operating system vendors? To me, it seems you don't sell Linux at all because there isn't supposed to be one dominant distribution that stands out from the rest. Without a specific product to put on the shelf to sell, what in the world do you focus your efforts on selling? An idea?"
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Why Linux Can't 'Sell' On the Desktop

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  • heh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @06:31AM (#39424855) Homepage Journal

    What do Linux users need to do to replicate the marketing efforts of Apple and Microsoft and other corporate operating system vendors?
    Spend millions of dollars on advertising and even more in subsidies to hardware manufacturers (or like Apple make your own hardware.) But I have no idea why anyone would want to do that. Though I confess, I don't really care if Linux gets the kind of broad use that Windows has or even OSX. I used to worry about it, because I had a fear that if not enough people used Linux it might go away. But now Linux is so incredibly successful on the server and phone that I'm not worried about that any more.
    I really hate Apple - their whole approach but more and more I find myself telling people, "Hey, if you can afford it try out Apple." It seems to work well for normals. They appear to have less issues than the normals running Windows. Frankly, I don't get it, but then again - I don't care. I just want people to be able to do what they want so they can leave me alone so I can focus on doing what I want - which means using Linux. I'm glad I'm not dependent on winning over people that are willing pay extra for devices that are locked down physically and ideologically. (Nobody needs to get their panties in a bunch defending Apple to me. I've heard all the reason people like their stuff. It's not that I don't understand - I just don't agree. I find their products to be aesthetically pleasing as long as I don't actually have to use them.)
    And of course MS had to break the law to get the install numbers they had. I'm not willing to go that route either for Linux.

  • Wrong Approach (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Penguinshit (591885) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @06:39AM (#39424895) Homepage Journal
    You don't sell Linux as a product: You sell it as an idea.

    The idea is that you can do anything you want with it.
  • Re:Why not (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @06:40AM (#39424899)

    Why would anyone want to use Linux as their everyday desktop (or laptop) operating system?

    Why not? It simply works, I can do whatever I want.

    And you can do that without having to buy (or steal) 50 expensive software packages to get the complete functionality you expect of a desktop or laptop workstation.

    I only keep a Windows box around so I can play commercial games. For me, it's just a glorified game console.

  • by mikael_j (106439) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @06:46AM (#39424947)

    The biggest problem is, IMHO, inertia. In order for Linux to beat the others it has to be clearly superior

    And of course, Linux is still far from being trouble-free. I've been a Linux user since the mid-90s (although for a period I mainly used FreeBSD) but switched over to an iMac as my main workstation a few years ago. Was this because I couldn't get Linux to run right? No. Was it because Linux was "too hard"? No. Was is because of marketing? No. It was because it was UNIX and a turnkey solution. I know it's a tired phrase but it just works. I no longer fear software updates (apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade used to terrify me, had a few incidents where it ate its own package database or simply uninstalled necessary packages (like my X server) for no particular reason) and it stays out of my way.

    Now, obviously this isn't for everyone. I still have Linux desktops at home, they're just not my main workstation because I still can't quite shake that feeling of "well, it's stable now but it took two days of configuring and god knows what'll happen next time I update some software"...

    What about Ubuntu? Well, it's sometimes more user-friendly than Debian but it also breaks in new and exciting ways (for example, for the longest time I couldn't get it to accept the idea of an interface having a static IPv4 address and a dynamic IPv6 address using the GUI tools, and editing config files somehow broke the GUI tools so they would constantly assume that I had no internet connectivity at all).

  • by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @06:48AM (#39424957) Homepage Journal

    It will be interesting to see how Win 8 fares. I agree that Windows is not horrific for normal desktop usage at home. Windows 7 has progressed to be close enough to my Linux/KDE setup that I actually don't mind it too much, especially with power shell. But the changes in 8 are rather significant. I've been running the preview in a VM on my Fedora box and there are some huge changes. I think MS may continue pushing more customers to Apple with it. I don't see it being much of a boon for Linux because Linux just isn't on most people's radar.

  • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @06:49AM (#39424967)

    don't worry, Ballmer won't let you down. Metro is coming.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @06:53AM (#39424997)

    I've used Linux as my primary OS for 10 years now and wouldn't consider going back. The things 'people' want in a desktop/laptop PC (YMMV): Stability, reliability, security and speed. But there's another, less tangible aspect. When you're ahead of the curve (or even a little to the left); you're cool. You get that innate smugness when someone proclaims their new Windows x/OS y machine ePeen score that you're just a little bit more awesome than them.

    Collaboration and openness; it's the future. First software, then government & enterprise.

  • Re:heh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @07:08AM (#39425103)
    So, the first run of Linux adoption is don't talk about Linux adoption? ;-)
  • Re:Why not (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dskoll (99328) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @07:09AM (#39425115) Homepage

    My 80-yr-old mother uses Linux. It was not "grandma simple" to install and set up (I did that for her), but she certainly has no trouble using it.

  • Re:heh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by beelsebob (529313) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @07:14AM (#39425149)

    It's much much much more simple than that. Be usable, have a massive pile of good applications.

  • Wait wait wait (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ifwm (687373) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @07:32AM (#39425273) Journal

    If you get all panty-bunched about they have to be open, then you're just as bad as Apple is with their locked-down-only stuff.

    So, if I insist on using a driver that is free and open, that's as bad as "locked-down" Apple hardware? How much crack have you smoked to think that makes sense?

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @07:54AM (#39425421) Homepage

    Here are the reasons why my non techie wife loves linux over windows.

    1 - her computer just works. I dont need to take it and work on it for a weekend here and there. it Just works all the time.
    2 - backups and upgrades lose nothing at all. When I do a complete OS upgrade most of the time she never notices. Only the last Ubuntu change to the Unity desktop has she noticed that it is different. All her app settings and even the desktop wallpaper is effortless to backup and restore.
    3 - effortless free software. She installs a lot of her own software from the computer on her own. Apple recently did this as well and it is the future for the typical user.

    4 - No viruses. And yes this is a fact contrary to all you fanbois. She cant get any of the viruses or trojan horses and spyware that all her friends seem to get weekly on their windows machines. IT just does not happen.

    Drawbacks she does not like.

    Cant use itunes. This has become a moot point with icloud and her iphone and ipad. she could care less about itunes anymore.
    Print spooler still get's finicky at times. Honestly the linux print spooler is great until a printer screws up. For some reason still to this day the linux print spooler does not recover on it's own gracefully. I still have to re start the print spooler to get it to flush the waiting jobs. But we have had no problems at all with printers. In fact the brand new HP color laser we just bought was EASIER to install on her linux box than it was on the Windows 7 machine I have. Yes, Linux is EASIER to install hardware than Windows 7.

    Once in a while she complains that she cant install some cupon printer, until I point out that that "printer" is a trojan horse that causes many of the issues her friends have.

    She is a light user. Internet, and College masters classes. She understands that professors are not bright demanding "MS WORD ONLY" and turns in Libre office documents saved as word all the time and is acing her classes and never has had any complaints. This is her 5th year using linux for home and School. And yes she plays all those damned games on facebook without problems.

    Linux = zero problems desktop for free. You cant get that for a home PC vwithout paying for Apple hardware.

    And yes, we used her linux laptop for taxes this year.

  • Re:heh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by digitig (1056110) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @08:05AM (#39425505)
    First get a product that is as good as Microsoft's and Apple's for that particular job. I think Linux is the go-to OS of choice for back ends, but geeks tend to overlook just how hard it is to get Linux working. Every Linux installation I've done there have been problems getting it to work with the hardware that have involved typing arcane incantations into obscure configuration files. Geeks will do that; Joe User won't. And I still haven't got sound or wi-fi working properly on my current Ubuntu installation (nobody on the Ubuntu forums can work out the problems, and all the hardware is listed as supported and works fine when I boot Windows). Not an issue for a backend, but a killer on the desktop. It's not marketing that Linux needs for the desktop, at least not marketing to users -- marketing to hardware manufacturers to persuade them to support it would be a different matter.
  • by Kjella (173770) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @08:08AM (#39425535) Homepage

    I switched to Linux full time in 2007 after dabbling with it on and off since around 1999, I switched back to Win7 in 2011 after three and a half years and it wasn't because of Microsoft's marketing message. The reasons were complicated but one of them was that very often I got dragged into problems I didn't want. For example one classic was that I discover a new feature in an application I want. Is that version in my distro? No. Can I find a backport? No. Okay but I can upgrade my distro. Oh, new version has regressions. Oh, upgrade is buggy but problem goes away if I do a clean install - it's the "Why should you reinstall every 6 months" for Linux. One of the great reliefs I've had on Windows is that I can install the latest version and it won't end up hosing the base system.

    Without further ado I'll just state the next one simply: There's quite a few Windows applications that either have no counterpart in Linux, lacks features, is buggy or user-unfriendly and WINE/VirtualBox is not always a solution - in particular WINE constantly needs tweaks and has regressions. Saying "you got what you paid for" makes it sound like you had a choice when there is no choice to pay for commercial software, it's either find some way to live with it or ditch Linux altogether. There's many times I wish I could have put down $20 or $50 or $100 for a Linux port and not deal with the OSS abomination. The "all or nothing" approach tends to make people choose nothing, particularly since a lot of good OSS runs on Windows too.

    The only part I really miss in Windows is some kind of application update center, where software could register URLs to check for upgrades so you could do it all at once instead of every app running their own updater, not from mostly one repository like on Linux but still centrally managed. Overall though I can't really say I've missed Linux, it's okay enough if Windows turns to shit but it's not a very compelling value even though the cost is very low. But since some now live in the browser I suspect they'll be happy with Facebook, Facebook Chat, Webmail, YouTube etc. and the actual platform is irrelevant. OTOH "switch to Linux, you won't notice the difference" isn't that good a selling point...

  • Re:Why not (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JimmyVolatile (2440274) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @08:24AM (#39425677)
    This has sometimes been my experience too. I've been with Linux Mint the last 4 years at home, doing pretty much the same set of typical home PC tasks: Reading the paper, youtube, fb, gmail, banking, watching movies, managing photos, home videos the kid's homework etc. After doing it for 2 years, I felt I'd been through whatever Linux Mint could throw at me and I actually started recommending it to a few friends, touting it as a no-cost alternative that would be worth trying. Even the local kindergarten needed 2-3 better (and cheap) PC-system for the next 2-3 years for their occasional office computing needs. They were really impressed. Then it dawned on me. The people I know who are now on LM: 1. Are more willing (and expecting) to be able to pay for better applications can now maybe get 10% of their wishes granted that way. 2. Are willing to and expecting to call someone and give them $50 to fix stuff. (They can only call me as there are no other Linux guys) The point is that the money is there for you, it's just very hard (practically) for people to spend it. Take donations for instance: This is money that you give to the developer *after* you have downloaded and used some application. Only a small fraction of people even remembers to do this. In many cases you can only donate to some foundation and then only hope that this goes towards developing that one feature you need.
  • by unixisc (2429386) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @09:09AM (#39426127)
    There are 2 answers to this one:
    • The risk factor - the fact that for the users existing hardware, a Linux driver may not exist, or that future hardware that intrigues him may not have a Linux driver. More often than not, they'd have to buy more expensive hardware to be ensured of its support. In other words, Linux may be free or cheap, but the things that would support it or work well w/ it ain't, like sound. Also, if the networking doesn't work, the user is SOL, since s/he can't even download the correct drivers.
    • The choice ceiling - if someone is going there from Windows, then one has to make sacrifices during the move - it's like when one moves from a bigger house to an apartment. Few software titles in Windows have Linux counterparts. So it only makes sense if one knows what one wants to do under Linux, make a list of what one needs, and then go w/ it, knowing fully well that that fantastic game just released will probably not run under it

    I think Linux could be more successful if computer vendors bundled complete Linux solutions w/ their systems. Something like say a laptop or netbook preloaded w/ Linux, along w/ things like printer, wi-fi and so on, working right out of the box. But Linux needs to have as complete a driver model as Windows. Right now, since Windows is the default, if a peripheral doesn't work under Windows, its manufacturer knows that they have a problem. But if it doesn't work under Linux, it doesn't apply, since a manufacturer can credibly claim that they never claimed to support Linux.

    The other aspect is the risk factor for any PC vendor who might preload a PC w/ Linux and sell it. Problem being that if the customer buys something else to work w/ that PC, be it a new printer, stereo speaker or so on, and it doesn't work w/ the Linux PC, while it's not a problem for the vendor, the result is an unhappy customer. With Windows, this is never an issue, for what I said above, but for Linux, it very well is. That's why Apple limits what they claim will work w/ it, and explicitly tell their customers to buy only their stuff if they want it to work. Which PC manufacturer can do that, unless we have a re-incarnation of Sun or SGI?

    As a result, if a vendor decides to sell Linux, they inherit all the problems that come along w/ it. While Windows support is provided by PC vendors such as Dell, there is an organized chain of command to go to, if it doesn't work. Here, even if one ignores the gazillion distros, the fact remains that support for Linux when things don't work is limited, which is why the scalability is just not there. As a result, Linux continues to be a case of pull rather than push marketing.

  • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @09:26AM (#39426349)

    Problem being that if the customer buys something else to work w/ that PC, be it a new printer, stereo speaker or so on, and it doesn't work w/ the Linux PC, while it's not a problem for the vendor, the result is an unhappy customer. With Windows, this is never an issue

    Whereas I agree with most of what you said- the above quote I don't. Windows Vista is an example of that. I "upgraded" to Vista and none of my peripherals worked. I didn't blame the vendor- I blamed Microsoft.

    It is possible Windows could do "another Vista" with Windows 8. Granted most hardware these days does get tested for compatibility with Windows- and usually gets "approved" for them- this doesn't always happen with Linux.

  • Re:Wait wait wait (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gbjbaanb (229885) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @09:27AM (#39426363)

    yep, that's pretty much what I'm getting at. Just because you insist on one extreme over the other (and therefore claim your view is good, while the opposing view is evil), the reality is that they're both extreme positions that attempt to impose your ideals on someone else.

    Sure, I like OSS, but there is still the argument that a closed environment allows a company more freedom (internally) to produce better products knowing that they can make more money from it, thus encouraging them to do so.

    The graphics driver issue is one anomaly in the OSS world though, I agree OSS is better than closed, but I'm quite happy to use a proprietary driver for a gfx card as I need to buy that card and the driver only works with that card. So it doesn't matter if its free and open or not. When I buy a new card, I expect the best driver there is to work with it, regardless of openness.
    If this means I have to 'suffer' a closed driver, then that makes no difference to me. It definitely makes a difference to me if the only driver available is poor though.

    Hence my position that the "only open" view is just as extreme as the "everything closed" view.

  • Re:heh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hawkinspeter (831501) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @09:55AM (#39426731)
    Granted, I'm not a typical desktop user. Maybe I should have gone for things like spreadsheet software, PDF reader etc. You can add them, but they don't come with Windows. Also, where's the software repository so that I can install software from a known "good" source and have updates to all my software applied with just a couple of clicks?

    I've actually found driver support in Windows to be extremely flaky. I've had old hardware refuse to work under Windows 7 as the only driver available is a 32bit WinXP one. I've heard stories of scanners and printers not working in Windows 7 - I don't know if they're true or not.

    My experience of loading WinXP onto laptops is typically painful - load the OS, then search the manufacturer website for the relevant network driver/AHCI storage driver. Put the drivers onto a usb storage key or DVD and then attempt to install them. Reboot, get a blue screen as I've forgotten to switch the BIOS back into AHCI mode etc.

    My experience of loading Ubuntu onto laptops is typically easy - boot from USB or CD, install the OS and everything is working. Sometimes (if the wireless chipset requires a proprietary driver) I've had to use a LAN cable to connect to the internet and run the "Additional Drivers" program to fix wireless, but that's easy enough.

    My view is that I don't care what OS other people run as long as we're all using standards that don't care what OS we run.
  • Re:heh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WaywardGeek (1480513) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @10:33AM (#39427243) Journal

    Now there's some good marketing.

    Actually, GNU/Linux is getting crusty and losing it's one time ability of fostering innovation and collaboration. Core pieces like GTK are outdated and a poor platform for building a desktop environment. If you try to contribute, you run into a buzz saw of red tape and gate keepers. If you want to write an app today and publish tomorrow, you need to be on Android or iOS. Debian is run like the Catholic Church, and only the priests have any say. We have no simple way for me to write a cool hack of a little game today, and share it with thousands of Linux enthusiasts tomorrow. That's total BS. LInux should be Linux, not GNU/Linux with all those managed Debian packages on top. We should then build a new distributed system for authoring packages, building them for various platforms, publishing and marketing them. As it is, Linux sucks.

  • Re:heh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ArhcAngel (247594) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @10:38AM (#39427311)

    Linux us NOT missing features.

    It IS missing two very crucial features...Convenience & Trendiness
    MAC & PC users in general do not care that they are using MAC OS X or Windows 7. They just care about getting what they want done AND how they look to their peers doing it.

    CAR ANALOGY - The average driver does not want a car where the engine or other mechanical parts are showing but the gear head who loves tweaking his ride will go to great lengths to ensure at least some part of his engine sticks out. Also, people will buy a PRIUS or a Smart4two to appear eco-friendly despite there being other makes and models with similar fuel efficiency but less visibility as a fuel efficient driver.

    I have used many different Linux distributions since 1985 ( I expect my compile of Gentoo to complete any day now ) and even Ubuntu hasn't really reached the ease of use factor I expect from a desktop OS. Is it more powerful than Windows? Absolutely! Does that matter one iota when I need to read my email or write a report on a word processor? Nope...Apple got it right IMO when they took BSD and tacked their own GUI on it to hide the power and flexibility of the underlying kernel. This is where choice has actually hurt the Linux on the desktop initiative. Add some peripheral support to Android and have it scale to the desktop and you have the killer Linux for the desktop distro. - This is tongue in cheek but not far from what I envision it will take to get Linux adopted as the desktop OS of choice.

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. -- Lazarus Long, "Time Enough for Love"