[Disclaimer: I've been using Linux (specifically Debian and Ubuntu) on my primary desktop since 2005 after using both Mac and Windows for as long as can remember.]
For some reason they all believe that Linux users want to play iTunes bought songs on their PC, want to sync iPods to their computer, use Microsoft Office, use Adobe’s creative software suite, and playback DRM-encumbered media. Uh, NO THEY DON’T. This may be true for potential “Switchers” from Mac OS X or Windows, but not for users who put computing freedom over convenience. And sadly, this is the point none of them get.
Aside: By not understanding the user, these analysts can’t fully understand the market. Like I said to a commenter: “It’s not that Linux isn’t ready for ‘joe user,’ it’s not ready for OS X and Windows users who want to run their proprietary technologies and services on Linux. And that’s fine by most Linux users. [...] that type of user wants something completely different than what he’s been getting under Windows and Mac OS X.”
Articles I’m referring to:
- Michael Gartenberg – Linux Still Doesn’t Make it On Desktop
- Walt Mossberg – Linux’s Free System Is Now Easier to Use, But Not for Everyone
- Rob Enderle – Why Linux May Never Be a True Desktop OS
Truth be told, long-time Linux users prefer to use open, patent-free formats (i.e. OGG Theora, OGG Vorbis, FLAC) and/or cross-platform industry standards (i.e. MPEG-2/4, MP3, AAC, WAV) that work on a great variety of PC or consumer electronic device, as well as, free open source software to replace proprietary applications like Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, etc. In fact, Linux on the Desktop is thriving and has picked up a lot momentum lately through distribution of pre-configured systems with Ubuntu Desktop Edition / SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop from top-tier OEMs like Lenovo, Dell, and HP to the enterprise and consumer markets.
To say that Linux on the Desktop is never going to work or take off is naïve and an embarrassment to other tech analysts that have taken the time to survey and interview actual Linux users – not to mention other governments and universities around the world that have said good-bye to proprietary operating systems and software. But for some reason many analysts, like the ones mentioned, take their Windows and Mac experience and want to replicate it with Linux. That’s the problem… Linux is NOT the same, Linux is different – and proudly so. Linux doesn’t want to be shackled, restricted, monitored, or told how to behave. It just wants to be free to do what it does.
Aside: I want to make it clear that I’m not against proprietary software being ported and used on Linux (I use VMware regularly). I just don’t believe that by not having apps like iTunes or Photoshop on Linux that it’s a death nail to the platform. If companies like Adobe, who’ve done great work porting their Flash Player to Linux, want to port their entire product line to the Linux Desktop, they should definitely do so. Many would probably agree that that would be a good thing, while others would be more than fine without them.
It’s true… Linux might not suite everyone’s taste or needs, but it’s another option that’s worth having around. Personally, I like Windows and Mac OS X. They both have their strengths, but it’s their weaknesses – according to the usage I’m after – that keeps me going back to Linux for my daily activities. I might not have all the toys and whiz-bang gadgets supported on my main system, but at least I have peace of mind and satisfaction with my chosen OS. What’s more, having a mixed PC environment is healthy.
Questions tech analysts and columnists SHOULD be asking when reviewing Linux Desktop/Notebook offerings (work-in-progress):
- Are all the PC hardware components operating correctly under Linux?
- Does power management (i.e. Suspend, Hibernate) work as expected?
- Does the system offer hardware components that make use of or support open source drivers?
- Does the OEM have a support team that tests PC systems against new OS point releases and distributes updates via their repository to correct any conflicts? (I know system76 prides themselves on doing this, which is AWESOME.)
* If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pass on the review requests or send back products for God’s sake.
[I would have rather just posted the thoughts above only, but I'm sure many of you would start asking me which points the analysts made that I found questionable.]
Alright, so lets address some of the concerns about media playback and legacy applications brought up in the linked articles.
Walt Mossberg: “My verdict: Even in the relatively slick Ubuntu variation, Linux is still too rough around the edges for the vast majority of computer users. While Ubuntu looks a lot like Windows or Mac OS X, it is full of little complications and hassles that will quickly frustrate most people who just want to use their computers, not maintain or tweak them.”
Totally untrue. Ubuntu (and most other popular distributions) comes with all the essential, best of breed applications pre-installed that will get you off and running on your first boot up. Examples: Instant Messaging (use multi-client Pidgin aka GAIM), Browsing (Firefox), Email Manager (Evolution or Thunderbird), Office Documents/Spreadsheets/Presentations (OpenOffice), Media Player (Totem). To say it’s a bit of a hassle to use an OS that your not familiar with goes without saying, really. Pick up one of the many wonderful beginner Ubuntu manuals to get you up to speed. As far as I know, there’s not a single OS that is so intuitive that a 7 or 8 year old can pick it up without asking a single question. What’s more, if you’re buying a pre-configured system from Dell, or any other OEM, there’s nothing to “tweak.” You don’t like particular a setting? Find out how to change it like you would in Windows or OS X. As for maintaining you system… if what Walt is referring to is clicking the update icon to to bring your OS and and all its installed software packages up to date for FREE, then that’s a maintenance action I’m more then happy to do.
Walt Mossberg: “When I tried to play common audio and video files, such as MP3 songs, I was told I had to first download special files called codecs that are built into Windows and Mac computers. I was warned that some of these codecs might be ‘bad’ or ‘ugly.’”
Hello. Windows and Mac PCs don’t have those codecs “built-in” to their operating systems either. They’re licensed and bundled with the OS. Ever try to play a DVD on a new Windows system that doesn’t come with a DVD player that provides a license for playback? As for Bad or Ugly, these are references to how the particular codec is licensed and the rules/restrictions for installing them. If you want to purchase codec support legally, you can buy them through Fluendo [Press Release]. I’ve suggested in the past that Dell and other OEMs should offer customers the option to buy these licenses – as a media suite – legally through their site at the time of purchase.
Rob Enderle: “With Linux, the customer often expects to get the product for free and wants the retail price of Windows deducted from his/her purchase price. There are no funds passed back to the vendor and, because Linux is different, customers tend to place more service calls — at $85 a call. As a result, the vendor generally ends up losing money on average with Linux.”
Uh, no – or at least not always. If you have a commercial version of Linux installed on your system like Novell SUSE or Red Hat Enterprise, those companies handle any software related issues. In fact, that’s how the commercial Linux vendors stay in the black. However, sometimes OEMs offer in-house support services, again for a fee if it’s software related. In the case of Ubuntu and Dell, Ubuntu’s project sponsor Canonical offers Dell customers a pay-for support service or free support through its community resources like the Ubuntu Forum and Ubuntu Documentation Wiki (both excellent, from my experience).
Michael Gartenberg: “Unfortunately, despite major strides in recent years — notably the Ubuntu release — Linux still isn’t viable for most end users or organizations. Take a look, for example, at the Dell offering. When it was first announced, I asked company officials whether it was a mainstream product with full support. No, they said. The Linux machines were meant for enthusiasts who wanted a “no Windows” option. Users would still have to pay for the operating system — about US$50 less than Windows, which was hardly a major savings — and significant features would be missing because of a lack of driver support.”
Excuse me? “User would still have to pay for the operating system.” Sounds like a misunderstanding to me. Ubuntu is free to download and distribute – it costs the company nothing to acquire it, ever.
Michael Gartenberg: “The latest and greatest hardware still arrives without Linux driver support. Until a vendor is willing to take a gamble and build fully optimized Linux systems, most IT shops simply won’t bother to make the costly transition.”
That’s odd. Just about every motherboard on the market is capable of running Linux along with graphics cards from NVIDIA, ATI and Intel which have either proprietary software drivers for Linux or free open source drivers, in the the case of Intel (same goes for their wireless chipsets). In fact, Intel has widespread support for Linux in the majority of their product lines. As for peripherals, that’s a different story. Many do work right off the shelf, but others need specialized drivers. However, there’s a new program available that will get talented Linux developers to create drivers for companies at no charge. It doesn’t get any better than that. You can read more about it here and here. There’s also a good article from Linux.com that provides links to hardware compatibility databases according to peripheral type.
Michael Gartenberg: “Finally, there’s the lack of critical application support. Most notable for businesses is the lack of support for Microsoft Office. Yes, there are office suites available for Linux, but the reality is that most organizations are dependent on Microsoft’s applications. Anything with less than 100 percent interoperability and compatibility isn’t going to make it in the business world. And does anyone believe that Microsoft will ship a Linux version of Office anytime soon? Or ever?
And it’s not just business users who are affected. Sorry, consumers, but there’s no version of iTunes for Linux.“
Oh, boo-hoo. No iTunes on Linux. You can keep that DRM-inspired mess on your Mac. Linux users don’t want it. As for opening Microsoft Office apps, OpenOffice does a fine job opening and creating Word/Excel/PowerPoint compatible documents. Personally, I prefer the Open Document Format like many other institutions are switching to. The only format that doesn’t work 100% is Microsoft’s Open XML format, but the partnership with Novell has enabled that feature as well in OpenOffice. Exchange Connector support for Microsoft Exchange Server on Evolution has been around since 2004.
And lastly, Michael Gartenberg’s plug for his favorite PC company: “For now and the foreseeable future, it’s going to remain a Microsoft world. Linux still isn’t the answer. And of course, there is always that other Unix-based operating system that has gained popularity over the past few years. It’s called Mac OS X, and it comes from Apple.”
RESOURCE – Alternative Applications (full list)
Office [Microsoft] – OpenOffice
Quicken [Intuit] – GNUCash
PhotoShop [Adobe] – GIMP
Illustrator [Adobe] – Inkscape
InDesign [Adobe] – Scribus
iPhoto [Apple] – F-Spot
iTunes [Apple] – Amarok, Banshee
Trillian – Pidgin aka GAIM
Internet Explorer [Microsoft] – Firefox
GoToMyPC – VNC
Outlook [Microsoft] – Evolution, Thunderbird
MCE [Microsoft] – MythTV, LinuxMCE
UPDATE 1: I just discovered someone else tackled some of the same issues about a year ago that’s worth linking to. The post is entitled, “Linux is NOT Windows.“
UPDATE 2 (11/26/07): DesktopLinux.com – Desktop Linux on the rise, Linux Foundation reports. Excellent summary write-up of what Linux users want from their PCs and how much of its new growth is being seen in the SOHO market.
Filed in: Industry Buzz