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Why Linux Doesn't Spread - the Curse of Being Free 1243

Vlad Dolezal tips us to a philosophical take on why Linux hasn't grown to challenge Windows as the most popular operating system. According to the author, the reason is simple; Linux is free, and humans tend not to equate free things with being valuable. "Here's what Compy McNewb sees. He can get both OS's for free. But one of them is worth over three hundred dollars, while the other one is worth nothing. 'That's not true!' I hear you scream. 'Linux is worth a lot! It's just being offered for free!' I know it's not true that Linux is worth less than Windows. It's far more valuable to the end user in terms of getting things done. But that's not what Average Joe Computer Newbie sees. He sees a free product versus a three-hundred-dollar product he can get free. It's all about the perception!"
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Why Linux Doesn't Spread - the Curse of Being Free

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  • by thedragon4453 ( 1236484 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @11:30PM (#22458486)
    I think the reason doesn't spread is because of the virtual monopoly windows has on the OS market. Linux is difficult to get on a system pre-installed, and its difficult to get a lot of mainstream software on Linux. Games are almost non-existent in any real way because developers just aren't producing for Linux. At the moment, it will take quite a bit for Linux to take hold of the OS market just because Windows has made it so hard to get in.
  • Here's why.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Computershack ( 1143409 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @11:38PM (#22458544)
    I've just installed Ubuntu on my laptop. Installing it was the easy part. I then had to go off and search how to add MP3 support, multimedia streaming and DVD playback. 3/4 hour later of enable this repository, apt-get this and a fair bit of sudo this and that and it's all done. OK, got MP3 support in Rythmbox and VLC is doing a tremendous job of playing DVDs. Firefox seems to be OK although Realplayer streaming on the BBC News website only works in standalone player.
    Fonts look crap so lets see how to install some decent ones..a quick google and after reading several different ways to do it, I'm copying them over from my Windows installation - another 20 minutes. Now, lets set up a shared folder so I can access it from my Vista desktop. Right click on folder, select Share Folder. Goes off and gets another raft of files. Refresh Windows and my laptop shows..all good. Click on the icon for the laptop, user/pass prompt. Try several including guest and the logon for ubuntu and no go. Off we go to Google again and there's a Howto. Only problem is it misses out a few IMPORTANT steps (like saying I have to add a SMB user WTF???) In the end, a post directs me to a Youtube link which shows exactly how to do it. Try to let it share without user/pass and in the end I give up. There's another 45 minutes wasted.

    So it's taken me 2 hours just to install BASIC multimedia functionality, some decent fonts and figure out how to share files over a windows network. What makes it worse is there's not just one way to do something but several ranging from completely ridiculous strings of CLI commands to a simple solution but you can bet which one tops the search results. OK, I know how to do it for next time but do you honestly think Average Joe on their first venture into Linux is going to persist as much as I did? Not a chance. Windows "Just works" so that's what they'll go back to. It'll be "Yeah I tried it once but it was just too damned complicated to do anything so I gave up."

    And that's why Linux isn't cutting it on the desktop.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 17, 2008 @11:39PM (#22458550)
    The local 'The Source' can't keep the Eee on the shelves. The minute they get them in, they sell out. Walmart had the same experience with its latest Linux box. For cheap computers, where the cost of Windows is significant, Linux has a measurable advantage. The advantage is amplified by the fact that Vista wants more expensive hardware than either Linux or XP.
  • by JoshHeitzman ( 1122379 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @11:40PM (#22458556) Homepage
    Why should anyone invest the time to learn a new product that doesn't do more for them then the product they are currently using? Personally, I'm still using Office 2000. I've used both Office XP and Office 2003 extensively at my prior job, but I really didn't notice the difference between 2000, XP, and 2003. I've also given OpenOffice a try. The thing that really annoyed me to no end with OpenOffice was that I could not grab the edge of my current selection in it's Excel equivalent and drag it in order do the equivalent of a cut and paste of the selection (i.e. move the selection to a new location on the spreadsheet). Apparently I do this a lot, but hadn't really noticed how frequently until I tried OpenOffice and couldn't do it. I use FireFox and Thunderbird for web and mail there so no problem there.
  • Re:Duh. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @11:52PM (#22458646) Journal
    This article [] makes a similar point. I kept looking around for it, but I never thought I'd find it on Microsoft's own site :-)
  • by Mongoose Disciple ( 722373 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:37AM (#22459046)
    Every business I've ever seen is running Microsoft Office.

    I don't doubt that there are businesses out there running Open Office or something else, but over the length of my career and through engagements at probably three dozen or so companies in a wide variety of industries, I've never seen a business that didn't run MS Office. Even tech companies where I've been where the culture was very anti-Microsoft and open/free technology was used for everything else humanly possible were still running Microsoft Office.
  • by webmaster404 ( 1148909 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:47AM (#22459096)

    Or, it's not spreading because it's just not a very good general-purpose desktop system.

    How isn't it? It has as much as any basic user needs/wants. A decent word processor, spreadsheet, graphics program, a few generic games, several good media programs, excellent browsers, good hardware detection (and if it was OEM it would be better, compare a blank Windows install to a blank Ubuntu install and see the amount of hardware detected) and good support not to mention excellent security. While Linux lacks in a few specialty fields, I can't think of one program that is missing for an average user who doesn't try to think that Linux==Free Windows.
  • by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:49AM (#22459122)
    Linux is in fact the most popular OS out there. There are far more Linux machines in the world than Windows. Each year about 300 million Linux devices are produced, while the total number of Windows devices are only about 600 million. If we assume a 5 year life span for a Linux device, then there must be at least 1.5 billion Linux devices in the world. Granted, these things are mostly routers cell phones and telephone exchanges, but the fact that ordinary yokels cannot see the mountain of Linux devices in the field, doesn't mean that they aren't there.

    Desktop wise, the little Asus Eee PC alone will outsell Apple in 2008. Apple produces about 3 million Macs in a year, while Asus plans to sell 5 million of there little toys.

    So don't tell me Linux ain't popular, while it is in fact the biggest OS success story ever.
  • by e**(i pi)-1 ( 462311 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:51AM (#22459134) Homepage Journal
    I use linux over 10 years and still think it is the best operating system for me. If I had to single out one single reason why linux did not become main stream: shov in a DVD and expect it to run. This reason does not apply to most slashdot readers (as I learned a few years ago, when I mentioned it) but it does to Ma and Pa Kettle. Here is my current list of three top good-bad-ugly issues with linux:

    The good:
    1. rock solid stability if a system is well configured, no latency,
    2. solid office and graphics software: firefox, ooffice, latex, gimp, inkscape, etc
    3. peace of mind, being in control of all processes, own the machine
    The bad:
    1. presentation software. there is a long way towards something like Keynote on the mac.
    2. games. Will I ever see games like "crysis" be sold for linux?
    3. propriatary software like Flash, photoshop, dreamwaver, tax or business software
    The ugly:
    1. multimedia in linux: enter a DVD and the movie has to play. DeCSS as stumbling block
    2. video editing. Editing movie as in quicktime pro and allow to export it in any format.
    3. hardware: scanner, camera, printer, bluetooth for phone, handheld and keyboards, midi
  • by webmaster404 ( 1148909 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:54AM (#22459164)
    Thats mostly because it is Fedora, and therefore fully free. Have you tried Ubuntu? Things nearly always seem to work better from and end-user's standpoint. Fedora is one of the few big distros that is fully free and therefore requires more work to get simple things done such as install graphics drivers. Fedora is miles behind Ubuntu in terms in usability in my opinion.
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:56AM (#22459184) Homepage Journal
    Uh huh. Or maybe the spyware/malware people are just doing as shoddy a job at developing for Vista as the rest of us in the industry are.
  • by nick.ian.k ( 987094 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @12:58AM (#22459200)

    I don't understand the specifics of your OpenOffice example. To move a selection to a new location on a spreadsheet, you make your selection, then click the selection and drag it to the desired location. While the behavior may not be the same as in MS Office, it's not as though this is a completely counter-intuitive aspect of the interface; indeed, it probably makes more sense to click on the selection and drag to move it than the grab the edge. What am I missing about your example?

    I ask because I largely agree: investing time to learn a different interface for the sake of difference alone is a bit hard to justify. Unless I'm missing something here, I'd guess you could use a better example. But your overall point is spot-on.

  • by radimvice ( 762083 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @01:29AM (#22459420) Homepage
    Sounds like you've managed to steer completely clear of Ubuntu, which fulfills exactly the need you're describing here. Try it out, it will probably make you think twice about making a post like this again. I had also turned my back on desktop Linux distributions a handful of times, until Ubuntu finally gave me a user-friendly desktop to stick with.
  • by kjkeefe ( 581605 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @01:33AM (#22459452)
    Joe user != dumb. If someone is knowledgeable enough to have MP3's on their system to play, they are knowledgeable enough to google "play mp3 in ubuntu", hit I'm feeling lucky, and find their answer right there.

    As for the wireless, what would do if some piece of hardware didn't work in windows? Get one that does. I recommend Joe does the same, there certainly are plenty of wireless cards that just work in linux.
  • by BlueCollarCamel ( 884092 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @01:41AM (#22459512) Homepage
    You should run XP. I'm not running AV etc. Yes windows firewall is running... but in general thanks to limited user accounts... I really have no problems with web spam popup/install hijack stuff like your XP setup did.
  • by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <> on Monday February 18, 2008 @02:17AM (#22459748) Journal
    If everyone were installing the kitchen sink on Linux, it too, would have a dozen programs trying to run updates.

    You should actually try using Linux.

    You'll be amazed how trouble free updating ALL of your installed software is.

    It'd give you a bit more credibility here as well.

  • by troll ( 593289 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @02:20AM (#22459754) Journal

    That kind of thing just doesn't happen on Linux

    True, but unfortunately I'd say thats because of a combination of lack of software available and lack of standardization to exploit. Theres no common systray everything can target for example.

    So instead of installing AIM and getting their annoying browser hook, systray icon, quicklaunch shortcut, desktop shortcut, start menu shortcut, etc (a huge annoyance for sure), you get.. nothing. Well, okay, there is one official aim client for linux, but its fallen so far behind on features i'd be surprised if it even still works.

    You're stuck with almost primarily third party software for both apps and drivers. This isn't always a bad thing, but often they lack a lot of polish and features (again, look at all the IM clients out there official or third party, and then check out their ability to do things like voiecchat, webcams, direct connections, games, etc). You also miss out on a lot of useful tools and niche software not available for windows, whereas on windows you pretty much have access to any worth-while linux software as its almost all designed to be portable.

    Theres also still something to be said for hardware support, but I couldn't say too much about it as I havent ran linux on the desktop since back when ALSA vs OSS was still a legit decision to make while compiling.
  • Re:I call BS (Score:2, Informative)

    by mrbcs ( 737902 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @02:24AM (#22459780)
    Evidently you think the sun shines out of your ass.

    I'm in Canada, where small business makes up most of the jobs. Since they only have a few employees each, it take quite a few businesses to equal the amount of employees that the large companies have.

    Everyone of these businesses runs on ONE of these accounting programs. Linux will never fly on the desktop in Canada until these programs install NATIVELY on a linux machine. Then you have to make sure that their "program" works too. Each business I've seen has some program that's vital to the operation and only runs on windows. Wine will not fly with these people. They could give a shit about Linux, they want it to work and they don't want to learn anything else.

    Linux is never going to be accepted mainstream. This is what, the tenth year of Linux on the desktop? What are they at now 2%? Narrow minded zealots. FOAD.

  • by Malevolyn ( 776946 ) * <signedlongint@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Monday February 18, 2008 @03:02AM (#22459994) Homepage
    For some distros, this is true. But some people just stick to Ubuntu which does all that automatically. I can generally get a fully updated Ubuntu install done in maybe a couple hours, most of which is spent just automatically updating/installing everything.
  • by bhtooefr ( 649901 ) < minus punct> on Monday February 18, 2008 @03:22AM (#22460116) Homepage Journal
    Actually, both KDE and GNOME have systrays... I forget whether it's that KDE and GNOME use different protocols, but one understands the other's, or whether they're compatible protocols, but for all intents and purposes, they're common.

    And, install stuff on WINE that dumps stuff in the systray, and... you guessed it, WINE puts it in the KDE or GNOME systray.
  • by RiotingPacifist ( 1228016 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @04:30AM (#22460492)
    Actually i think he was complaining that if you search for that you get a quiz :s IMO its the best way to get people to the rigt distro (its just a shame they dont favor ubuntu as much as they should) [] [] []

    The main problem is the install, most people just cant be bother, until something like wubi becomes worthwhile. Or something like KDE4win gets people using linux apps the sameway itunes did for mac
  • by suckmysav ( 763172 ) < minus caffeine> on Monday February 18, 2008 @04:34AM (#22460520) Journal
    "there's no way to slipstream or download those for the other 3 computers I'm installing later..."

    You could use apt-cacher to save re-downloading it. I've got 4 machines here and only have to d'load any given update once.
  • by BurnFEST ( 684400 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @05:14AM (#22460702)
    You've not heard of Bootcamp then?
  • by howlingmadhowie ( 943150 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @06:07AM (#22460938)
    i know you're just a troll, so i'm writing this to inform anybody who may not be aware of these facts.
    • you don't need to defrag ext2. it doesn't get fragmented
    • if you do not distribute software licensed under the gpl, you do not need to supply source code. this means, if you use gpl-ed software internally, you do not need to inform people of the fact and offer downloads on your website.
    • the license for the gnu compiler collection is even less restrictive. you do not need to release the source of programs compiled using the gnu compiler collection, even if you do distribute this software. this means you can use the gcc to compile proprietary software.
    • it's called the general public license
  • by todslash ( 1025980 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @06:16AM (#22460978)

    Windows update will randomly decide that it will restart the system that I've left running overnight to finish a compile.
    If you install Microsoft's PowerToys package then TweakUI will allow you to turn this off: []
  • by temcat ( 873475 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @06:18AM (#22460990)
    Most likely this is a troll, but just in case it's not:

    1) You should always research license issues before commencing work.
    2) GPL does not require you to publish changes that you do not distribute outside of your company.
    3) Ext2 has an offline defragmenter. Its successor ext3, which is most widely used now, does not require defragmentation in practice.
    4) Token Ring is supported in Linux, search Google.
    5) The gcc compiler has a GPL exception that allows you to compile proprietary software with it.
  • by Hannes2000 ( 1113397 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @06:49AM (#22461172) Homepage
    I for one get each web-layout I have to implement as a Photoshop .psd-file from our designers. Gimp is already pretty good in displaying .psds, but doesn't support criticals features like layer sets.
  • by blackest_k ( 761565 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @07:33AM (#22461432) Homepage Journal
    12 months is quite a long time for linux, ubuntu would have been on edgy then and there has been two more releases since then and hardy the next release is due in a couple of months. I am pleased to say I've been using ubuntu since dapper. It was the first linux distro that I felt comfortable with. However suse7 I couldnt get on with suse8 was better but not that much better. So I can relate to the difficulty of using a different operating system.

      Ubuntu gains more polish with each release. The difficult things have become easy to deal with. Graphics card drivers largely a choice of selecting the one you want from a drop down list.

    awkward command line interfaces like vi thats still around but nano is easy to use, and for simple editing or reading a text file you can't beat it. I initially prefered gedit, but nano loads faster.

    The KDE, Gnome arguement isn't that important its only a choice to look and feel similar to the choice windows offers with its classic and standard desktops.

    Gnome i like, but I do like some kde apps, but kde apps will run on gnome so its no big deal, there are other light weight desktops and running them will make a pc desktop more responsive at the cost of a few flashy effects

    The three common methods of running ubuntu are through a live Cd, virtual box or you know, actually installing it.
    virtual box is an interesting way of running ubuntu, virtual hardware just works no driver issues at all, and the vast array of linux software is open for you to use or ignore. Installing ubuntu to the Hard drive gets you the fastest ubuntu for a given set of hardware.

    Ubuntu is basically a tool set in the same way that windows is however installing ubuntu doesn't stop windows working, your tool chest just got bigger much bigger.

    It's a strange thing all these tried linux it couldnt do xyz so i uninstalled it crew, sure xyz may not work but abc probably work and you can still do xyz in windows. for 4 gb maybe of hard drive space you get more from your pc, thats less than a dvd's worth an sd cards worth of space most laptops have 80gb minimum so 5% of a drive

    So why not keep it ?

    And one more thing whats with the Switch to linux thats bull, most people who use linux will have windows as well probably on the same PC.
    (Windows usage will vary)
  • by phillips321 ( 955784 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @07:36AM (#22461452)
    amsn has webcam capabilities.
    research has never caused problems for anyone, maybe you should try it sometimes?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 18, 2008 @07:41AM (#22461488)
    My Linux installation is case-insensitive, if you use JFS you can enable "OS/2 compatibility" with the -O option to jfs_mkfs, which will make it case insensitive. Then you can enable case insensitive matching in bash etc by editing your ~/.inputrc.
  • by clang_jangle ( 975789 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @08:15AM (#22461668) Journal
    That one' s easy -- GTKpod []. True no iTunes access yet, but then there are so many sources for mp3s now...
  • by doktorjayd ( 469473 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @08:26AM (#22461738) Homepage Journal

    and there's no way to slipstream or download those for the other 3 computers I'm installing later...
    off the top of my head, i can think of a couple of ways:

    - set up a http proxy/cache like squid and configure all the machines network settins to use it
    - set up a local mirror to sync up overnight, and tweak your machines to go there for updates instead of the public servers

    dont know about ubuntu, but i do knwo one of the big steps fedora has taken in the last year or so has been a new 'spin' system, which makes it a lot easier to push out 'rollup' distributions ( and allows anyone to easily produce custom spins to their hearts content. see [] for starters, google 'fedora spins' for the rest )
  • by 0123456789 ( 467085 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @09:08AM (#22461964)
    The JFS bit is unnecessary. If you just put: set completion-ignore-case on In your .inputrc, you'll have case insensitive completion in bash and anything else that uses readline (GnuPlot etc). No re-compilation required.
  • by FireFury03 ( 653718 ) <> on Monday February 18, 2008 @09:09AM (#22461970) Homepage
    # you don't need to defrag ext2. it doesn't get fragmented

    This is misinformation. ext2 (And ext3) _do_ get fragmented. They just don't fragment as badly as other more simplistic filesystems such as FAT.
  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Monday February 18, 2008 @04:04PM (#22466862) Journal
    Yes, graphics professional do use CMYK before preprint, to check for color reproduction accuracy. They also use other modes that Photoshop supports but GIMP doesn't, such as duo and tri-tone. You are aware that there are many colors that RGB can create which are not in the printed CMYK color space, right? And I am aware of both the existence of that plugin, and its limitations. It's not an anti-Linux rant (GIMP is not Linux, for one thing) it's a realistic assessment of the situation.

    I've done preprint work as a professional (Megachrome large format four color printing), as well as working in graphic design and dealing with printers (the profession, not the machine) getting color advertisements printed. What's your background in graphics?
  • by Pfhorrest ( 545131 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @06:22PM (#22468340) Homepage Journal

    I'm doing a Computer Science degree in Cambridge (world ranking university, partnered with MIT). I'm getting top grades. That didn't mean terribly much to me, either - I understood the second sentence, but not the first.
    Here's a contrary anecdatum* to yours: I'm not a CS major, have used almost nothing but Macs my entire life, have never used Linux or any other *nix (besides OSX, and then only the GUI) even once, and everything I know about *nixes I learned from reading comments here on Slashdot; and I understood the first sentence you refer to there. Probably not enough to actually do what he's saying to do, but I think I grok what he's saying to do. Actual Linux users, please correct me if I'm wrong:

    My Linux installation is case-insensitive, if you use JFS you can enable "OS/2 compatibility" with the -O option to jfs_mkfs, which will make it case insensitive.
    This says that if you set the -O flag while running the command jfs_mkfs (which I infer is the command to make a JFS volume), it will enable "OS/2 compatibility" on the newly-created JFS volume, which makes it case-insensitive. Now I don't know what exactly JFS is (my guess would be Journalled File System), and I suspect that there is more to running jfs_mkfs than just typing "jfs_mkfs" in a terminal (like say, specifying a device on which to create such a file system). So I doubt I could just sit down at a Linux box and format a new HD with JFS in "OS/2 compatibility mode"... but I understand that that's what he was saying to do.

    (*Anecdatum: new word for 2008! They say that the plural of anecdote is not data, but now with new Anecdata 2008, it can be! Just group your anecdotes together and convert them into convenient data points for graphing, statistical analysis, or any other use with our handy-dandy Anecdata Converter Utility.)
  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Monday February 18, 2008 @06:42PM (#22468530) Journal
    Well, you've inadvertantly answered my question, "What is your graphic design background?" question. It is obvious: none. There is software to match screen to print, color meters, special viewing booths with calibrated lighting, all kinds of stuff that any graphics professional knows all about.

    Look, fanboi, I'm not coming down on GIMP. There are things GIMP does better than Photoshop. I've never had a problem with the interface. I like GIMP and have used it extensively, okay? But take it from someone who has worked in the industry and knows more than you, okay? The CMYK thing IS a big deal, the plugin DOES NOT do everything that graphics professionals need, and even the developers acknowledge that. And conversion between RGB and CMYK is NOT easy. Do you know why? Here's a hint, Cyan is the opposite of red, magenta is the opposite of green, and blue is the opposite of yellow. So, what's the K for? And how much do you put in? And what do you do with the other colors to compensate?

    This is Slashdot. Do not pontificate on things which you know nothing about here. Because, I guarantee, there is someone here who knows WAY more than you on the subject, and will be only too happy to fact-slap you down.

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