If you are a Linux protagonist who has been around as long as, or longer than, I have, you have seen responses like these over and over as to why Linux distributions will never go mainstream on the PC desktop:
- “Linux will always remain a niche platform because it does not have a native release of Adobe (Photoshop / Creative Suite / etcetera)!”
- “Linux does not have Microsoft Office and Microsoft Office power users require Microsoft Office!”
- “The web portal at (insert portal here) needs Internet Explorer. There is no native release of Internet Explorer for Linux, so no one will want to use Linux!”
- “Program X does not have a Linux version or equivalent!”
- Or other claims along the same lines …
Yes, these comments usually do have exclamation points to show how emphatic the claimant feels about the statement. I think these claimants have the equation backwards. All of these cases are what is known as a “niche market”. How many people using PC systems need to use Adobe Photoshop? How many Microsoft Office users are a “Microsoft Office power user”? How many end-users of a PC system need to go to a web portal that requires Microsoft Internet Explorer? (I will ignore the fact that many of these “IE only” web portals usually work just fine if one fakes the browser string with Firefox or Opera.) How many people need to use Program X on their PC? I am thinking, “Not that many.”, for all the above.
To me this suggests that the Microsoft platform is the niche platform:
- Do you “need” Adobe (Photoshop / Creative Suite / etcetera) for your job? Then you are a niche user.
- Do you “need” Microsoft Office because you are a “power user”? Then you are a niche user.
- Do you “need” access to an IE only web portal? Then you are a niche user.
- Do you “need” to run Program X on your PC? Then you are a niche user.
The vast majority of PC users do not need, or want, any of the programs that are often claimed to be the problem holding back adoption of Linux on the PC desktop in the mainstream. In my experience with the few end-users I have switched from Microsoft to Linux, some of them did have special needs that precluded using Linux on their desktop PC at this time. The others have zero problems using a Linux desktop PC.
These latter are people that do not try to solve PC problems themselves. They call a “computer guy” when they have problems. They would call a “computer guy” even if they ran Microsoft systems and had a problem. They have no “need” for any of the niche usage scenarios above. They are perfectly content that they can send and receive e-mail, access FaceBook, play Flash games, browse web sites, use personal finance software and make a simple spreadsheet with LibreOffice. All from their Linux based desktop PC.
One of these Linux desktop users is also a Skype user and there are “millions” of Skype users “out there”. Skype usage is less of a niche market than it used to be. That is going to be problematic once Microsoft kills Skype development for other platforms in favor of its own software now that Microsoft owns Skype. The “embrace, extend and extinguish” paradigm is still Microsoft’s bread and butter. But if Microsoft does what I suspect, Skype will end up being merged into some Microsoft based software. At that point our smart FOSS developers will likely figure out a way to inter-operate with the Microsoft software from FOSS programs. However, this “problem” would be non-existent if end-users were aware of and used FOSS communication projects like Ekiga.
So, that said, how do we get from where we are to the mainstream desktop?
The “problem” with adoption of Linux on the end-user desktop is not these niche usage scenarios. As I see it Linux adoption is a fourfold problem, apathy, education, marketing and pre-loading agreements.
- Apathy – Okay, there is not much we can do about this one. If an end-user is apathetic about what operating system is on his or her PC just let it go.
- Education – There are still many people who have no idea what Linux is or can do for them. I still meet people who have not even heard the term Linux. When I can, I give them a brief overview of what Linux is and then give them a Live CD distribution to play with. Those of us who are Linux professionals can take the opportunity to present Linux systems at local Chamber of Commerce gatherings and local technology shows.
- Marketing – There is no one company marketing Linux to the masses on a large scale. We will see no advertisement on television or in print from an “Apple” that offers an alternative to Microsoft. Most of the “Linux Big Boys” are only marketing to businesses. Actually I think this should be one of the jobs of The Linux Foundation. But until that organization takes on major advertising, we can use local media and continue to use positive “word of mouth advertising” to “market” Linux.
- Pre-loading Agreements – Microsoft has pretty much sewn up the pre-load venue with major PC manufacturers. Sure, some of these manufacturers give a slight nod to Linux and offer a few systems with Linux pre-loaded. But I am not content with the puny offerings from these major manufacturers. (Of course since my company builds custom systems with Linux pre-loaded this should come as no surprise to our regular readers.) I do not expect this to change any time soon. So, no consumers are likely to see a Linux based PC from HP, Dell, etcetera on the shelves at Best Buy. The only way I see to overcome this at this point is with education and marketing. If we can create a demand for Linux systems like Apple has done for Apple systems, the end result will be Linux systems on the shelves at major retail outlets.
There are people who should stick with Microsoft or Apple systems for their niche usage. For the rest of the PC user base, Linux on the desktop is ready to go.
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