Dec 27, 2011

What will it take for Linux to ever become a truly mainstream OS?

There are questions here and on other forums about Linux on a fairly regular basis, and sometimes I find myself automatically thinking that Linux use is widespread. The reality is, when I talk to people outside of IT, it is very rare to find Linux users. I think Linux is great (mmmm, Mint), but in the current real world, very few "casual" users are going to ditch Windows X and install a new, unknown OS. What would change the current situation and increase Linux penetration?

The following issues prevent people from switching from other OS's. Once these are resolved then perhaps it would be easier to get people to begin using Linux based OSes.
-Inconsistent install procedures and configuration procedures.
-Misleading, outdated and incorrect configuration info on the internet
-Tools changing or removed from newer versions without obvious replacements.
-Insistence on command line to perform certain tasks.
This is all a mater of prospective. Linux is Mainstream on Mainframes, Servers, and even phones/pads (Android is linux based)

As was stated by others, users do not install an OS. They take what is pre-installed on their computer. As an example, my daughter has always had linux based systems. Every desktop and every laptop. I installed it and set it up, once every 6 months or so I would update it. It was all she used until recently where the college required a windows laptop.

In 15 years she never saw linux crash. In 12 months of running Windows it has crashed 3 times and in each instance has entered a loop of "Installing updates, an error has occurred, rebooting, back step one" In all 3 instances I had to revert it to factory defaults. It also reboots itself from time to time with a BSOD error. (AKA: Blue Screen Of Death Yes windows still blue screens though now it is a little gray box)

It will not be desktop mainstream for quite a while. For that to happen the general user needs to get more technical or a Linux distribution needs to come along that caters to the non-technical end user.
Hate to answer a question with a question:
Why would I want to?
Why should I care?
I regularly try using the various flavors of Linux from time to time but it never meets ALL my needs in one package. One of my major uses is recording TV off my Comcast cable. As far as I know XBMC can't access copy protected content where Microsoft has paid someone to allow Windows Media Center to do just that with PLAY READY. Whatever I pay for on Comcast I can access with WMC that came built in to Windows 7. Not only that, then I can use my son's old XBOX to do the same. I think the main point here is that just everything can not be free. I use freeware all the time but occasionally someone needs to be compensated for their intellectual property. I am sure that when Google decided to develop a lightweight OS for mobile devices they weighed the comparative merits of start from scratch vs. an existing kernel. Perhaps when Google has taken Android as far as it wants to they may decide to develop a mainstream desktop OS derived from a Linux kernel.

I use Linux in a variety of ways. I use it on my Android phone, Android is very mainstream. Android uses Linux. GNU Linux has too many restrictions to make working with GNU Linux distributions easy. Even if you only support Ubuntu, it is a hassle to get around the licensing. Not to mention getting any sort of applications you want to sell to make a living off of, in any usable repository is impossible. Let alone getting people who are used to everything being free to let go of their dollar bill.


I use Linux on my media machine for my TV. With XBMC it is nice enough. If all you want to do is listen to music, watch tv, use facebook, play older games via steam's very limited abysmal Linux library. All of it's potential gets squashed when the FOSS guys come screaming their heads off at you for being closed source, how dare I ask for money for my creation and hard work!


Next thing to consider is efficiancy. How efficiant is it to actually run and support even a secondary computer? Even without applications, Linux is still a pain to maintain. it has broken over the years, quite often for me, dropping me to terminal or crashing sound, or completely wiping my xorg.conf file, or messing up drivers, all with some little update. Regressions and loss of capabilities in the name of simplicity.Foss minded people seem to think less functionality == easier to use.


Good points. Many people have no idea that Android is Linux based. The difference is that it has, for the most part, removed the effort that "pure" Linux required from users. 


The simple answer is that Linux isn't simple to use. Sure, you can do most common things through easy to use point&click actions, like installing new applications and browsing the web. Unfortunately there are too many things which require you to use the terminal to get things up and running, like installing certain drivers and applications. Alot of this is caused by the fragmentation of the linux desktop. All the different distros do things a little bit different, like the fact that there isn't one standard package type. There are several, and any one of them can not always be used easily on a certain distro. Some distros use DEB packages, but if you find a package that uses RPM it isn't that easy to install, usually requiring you to do some work in the terminal with obscure commands and scripts to get it to work. A casual non-techie user isn't going to stand for that, it's just too complicated. Even a tech person who is using their desktop for production work won't stand for that. It takes too much time away from what you really was supposed to be doing. This is the main reason why Linux isn't doing that great on the desktop market. You can argue about the pre-installs all you want, very few manufacturers will pre-install an OS that isn't user friendly. All this is caused by fragmentation, which on the other hand also is the reason why linux is so versatile. Versatility is good when you want to setup your computer to run exactly as you need it to, but it takes alot of work to get it perfect. This is why linux is successful as servers, because the admins can have the server run exactly the way they want.


In conclusion, for Linux to ever be mainstream succesful (comparable to windows/osx) on the desktop you would have to get rid of fragmentation and agree on some standards, so that all applications and drivers can be installed on every distro without the use of the terminal. You should never have to use the terminal for anything unless you want to do something REALLY specific, or you just like it. As a side note: Android (which is based on linux) is successful, in a large part, because there is no fragmentation, no terminal, and it's easy to use. (Not overlooking the Google backing)


I always wondered why someone "in charge" of linux didn't make a standards board or something and layed down some basic standards for different things that would ensure that all distros(which followed the standards) was 100% compatible. They could have like a Linux Validation Seal or something and if you followed the standards you could display the Seal on your product/website. This would ensure that you would never have to fiddle with terminals and scripts, since everything would work exactly the same behind the scenes. Every distro could still use whatever front-end(window manager) they wanted as long as the behind the scenes stuff followed the standards, like using the same package types and being compatible with the same drivers, etc... Now who could possibly create such a standards board? (Poke -> Linux Foundation) ;)


Now this is just the conclusion that I have come to as I really want to use Linux, but I can't because there are too many distractions and it's not streamlined enough, so it's not viable as a production quality desktop for me. I have better things to than fiddle with the terminal. Also I like games, which is another area that Linux suffers in (I could explain the reason here too, but I've ranted long enough). Let's hope SteamOS works out. ;)


Fantastic response. I agree with you that fragmentation is a big issue. It’s much like Android (which is of course Linux based). It’s great for people who are interested enough to learn how to take advantage of the flexability, but fragmentation makes development harder than it could be, and consumers just want something that works out of the box, not something that they have to make work.


Linux desktop,specially Ubuntu , is ready for the enterprise right now.

It is intuitive and bug free(A as many as windows at least),comes with several easy to install aplications,

like LibreOffice,Inkscape,GImp and many others.

LInux Servers are fast and easy to maintain ,we have replace our WIndows Servers for Suse ones,theyŕe fast and more reliable even when working this windows 7 desktop stations.

Thre real pain starts when you have to install no trivial applications,nothing is NNF(NEXT NEXT FINISH) in the Linux world,I dont mean really typying nnf withou reading the screen,but youǘe to follow a tutorial for every single instalation in Linux,it take five minutes to install POstgreSql in WIndows and a week in LInux,at least for me.


Linux IS mainstream. Mainstream isn't defined by how many "casual users" choose to install it. Those casual users don't INSTALL any OS, they use what comes on their PC, and that's Windows or OSX. They will start using Linux when it's preinstalled. I've met people who didn't even know they weren't using Windows when using a borrowed computer running Ubuntu; Ubuntu is that intuitive. You don't see Linuxes preinstalled because few distros worry about selling the OS to OEMs for preinstall. With some notable exceptions (Red Hat and Canonical come to mind), no one profits financially from pushing Linux so it's got better penetration in areas where it's flexibility and rock solid stability are most important, like the server market.


The one thing that must happen is for it to be preinstalled by desktop manufacturers, and until then it will remain something of a niche "product".  To be honest, I suspect that many existing Linux users don't want to see it go truly mainstream, as it is something of a techie badge of honor to run a Linux OS.  Let's face the facts, it just isn't as simple as an off the shelf OS from Apple or Microsoft for the average consumer, and if you don't know the right questions to ask on forums, good luck finding a solution to problems you might have.  If it ever gets to the point where a consumer can just walk in to Best Buy and pick up a machine with the choice of either Windows or Linux pre-installed, and with significant cost savings for the Linux machine accompanied by OEM tech support, I think that will be the day Linux has truly reached the mainstream.

Hmm. Well, at this point Linux really isn't "unknown" per se. The folks who really want to use it can find it and install whatever distro they want.

It is, however, hard for some users to completely leave Windows. Some of them are gamers, for example, and simply must have Windows to play the latest & greatest games. There's no good way around that. Sure, you can use wine and that sort of thing, but it's not a good substitute for Windows gaming.

Other users need to run Windows for various applications, though they do have the option of using VirtualBox in Linux. So that's a big help.

The bottom line is that Linux may never challenge Windows or even Mac OS X in terms of market share. That's fine. It's there for the people who want or need it. Just having an alternative helps put pressure on Microsoft to make Windows better than it would be otherwise.

So I wouldn't worry too much about Linux. It's already a mainstream OS in the sense of people being aware of it and more people than we probably know are running it on older machines, via dual boot, in virtual machines, etc.
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