Will Linux Remain the Desktop Whimp?


Linux UIs are pro-status

The question of why Linux is a whimp against Windows Vista even when several Linux distributions  has already been raised in this blog here. Then the IT and Linux blogosphere was searched for a better answer to why Linux whimps even  when several Linux versions  best Vista in 16 of 18 performance evaluations and only loses outright in 6 performance categories to Windows XP (by the way don’t go to Slashdot, they seem to be deep into navel gazing – try Linux Watch or Linux Journal for starters). There were some insights. Yet despite  clear performance advantages Linux has been unable to secure any notable marketshare gains against Vista. And in the Netbooks category which Linux dominated for the first year, all Microsoft had to do was resurrect Windows XP from “permanent retirement” and allow it to be used on Netbooks – and Redmond’s market share went from 0 to 80% in less then 3 months.
Talk about getting sand kicked in your face! Here is a summary of factors(excuses??) that the Linux community came up for their whimpy performance versus Windows:

1)Many buyers are still Microsoft brand loyalists despite the ill-treatment with Vista, IE, and Office;
2)Rough hacker edges remain in the Linux install and operational experience. Example: On some feature installs Linux users are expected to do  compiles and links or configuration file settings that Apple and Microsoft simply would not expose to their customer base;
3)The apps advantage on XP particularly strikes hard against Linux with citings of screen capture, BI analytics, and audio processing impossible to do on Linux – but a cinch in XP with the right software;
4)OEM PC suppliers are beholden to Microsoft such they don’t dare cutoff the marketing goodies, OEM pricing rates plus MS developed software device drivers and future fixes/enhancements despite the lower cost and better performance of Linux distros. Also many OEM vendors cited the quite variable response time by Linux distros and App vendors in incorporating the latest software and hardware innovations. Examples: multi-touch touchpad and screens
5)the only thing worse and more confusing to the consumer than 3 versions of XP and 6 of Vista is the dozens of Linux distributions including often 4-5 versions from one Linux vendor. For Linux aficionados, updating to the latest distro is an adventure and great fun, to everybody else it something akin to a visit to the dentist.
6)All the best Open Source software apps that were first developed on Linux are often available on Microsoft. Example: Gimp in screenshot above – so why switch ?
7)The Linux and Free Software community scorned Java such that many Linux distros still do not come with Java and its many tools fully installed. Example: just ask your Apache-based Web Hoster for Java JDK, Tomcat, JBoss, Spring and other tools – so a huge opportunity to draw away users from Microsoft desktop with Java apps has been squandered;
8)The competition between Linux distros and the competing UI and utility shops (think KDE, GNOME, Novell/Mono among others)leaves some Linux samplers wondering what to do – just go with “everything runs best in Windows” seems a rational out.

These are not trivial factors. And they need to be addressed given that Netbooks have been seen by this blog as a possible Apple and MS tipping point and potentially another great skirmish/battleground between Apple and  Microsoft.

The Netbook Factor

Netbooks have become the darling PC form factor for consumers. In a down economy Netbook sales are growing at 60% per year and already are projected to surpass 25million units this year as reported by Bloomberg. That same report also shows that a)Microsoft was caught off guard and b)is working hard to ensure that Windows 7, the Vista replacement, works on Netbooks. This will be a herculean task to fit in the 500 to 1 B of memory and slower Atom and ARM  processors that dominate Netbooks.

But Microsoft has another problem. In a market where margins are paper thin, XP adds $40 to $100 to the cost of a Netbook (see Bloomberg above). Meanwhile Linux distros come in at $3-5 dollars for a big cost advantage. Second, with Intel’s Moblin, Google’s Android, and Ubuntu’s Mobile Remix getting a lot of attention from OEMs, suddenly Linux objections/weakpoints 1, 2, and 5 get addressed. Particularly the brand name and assurance of Intel and Google.

But that is not all that suggests the Microsoft “victory on Netbooks” with the resurrection of XP may be more like a “Mission Accomplished” ceremony. Both OEMs like Dell, HP, Acer, and Asus among others and telecoms like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint want to add their own software and devices to their Netbooks for competitive advantage. Now  Linux being Open Source and having an App Store in the case of Google’s Android and other popular download websites in the case of Linux is literally much more open than Windows where being beholden to Microsoft for software and hardware integration has been OEM’s Achilles heel. So suddenly objection 4 gets addressed because OEMS and telecoms want to do more themselves rather than to wait and rely on Microsoft. This is a huge advantage to Linux.

Finally, if Netbooks do take off and Linux is a big part of the that success, look for the number of client side distributions of Linux to decline and consolidate – and so objection 8 will fall by the wayside naturally.  This does not mean the demise of Linux distros and vital innovation –  server side and embedded versions will continue to prosper as long as they meet significant customers needs.  But if my gut is right, Linux’s days as a desktop Whimp are numbered but also the Linux distribution  sprawl in the client space is set for a contraction.

3 thoughts on “Will Linux Remain the Desktop Whimp?”

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