TECH TALK: The Indianised Linux Desktop: The Linux Desktop – and why it has failed

The success of Linux so far has been primarily in the server market, and to a limited but growing extent, in the embedded space. Yet, Linux has been virtually non-existent in the desktop segment. This is where Microsoft products (legal and illegal copies) rule the roost. As long as piracy is easy and people have little qualm doing it, Microsoft products will continue to rule. But assuming that (a) people are not born robbers (b) there is a viable alternative available, Linux will have a chance.

But before we look at how Linux can become that alternative in the Indian context, let us first take a look some views on Linux on the desktop, and why it has not yet taken off.

Writes David Coursey of ZDnet’s AnchorDesk:

Linux will never become common as a desktop operating system, and no amount of believing will change that. It only makes adherents look stupid. Why? Because Linux is too complex, and there isn’t enough money to make it worth someone’s time to build a really great environment for desktop apps. And then software companies would need to build applications, but how large a market is there? Yes, chicken-and-egg, but that stops many things, not just desktop Linux.

Russ Mitchell, writing in Wired (October 2001), argues that Linux should give up on the desktop market and focus on the enterprise computing market (server-side) where it has done very well so far:

Desktop computer users care about what they can do on their machines. They want reliability, simplicity, access to popular software, and the ability to communicate easily with other usersLinux is highly reliable, but unfortunately that’s about all it offers the typical desktop user.

Linux has been on the industry’s radar screen since the mid-’90s, yet the vast majority of applications available for Windows and Mac don’t exist for Linux. Microsoft apps – Word, Excel, PowerPoint – don’t work on Linux because, of course, Bill Gates doesn’t want them to. Nor does Internet Explorer, which controls 87 percent of the browser market.

Adobe Photoshop on Linux? Nope. QuickBooks? No. Eudora email? Uh-uh. Sega games? Nyet. And on and on.

The Linux desktop offers very little that could be considered plug-and-play. Linux drivers, the software that connects a computer with peripherals like printers and CD burners, are in short supply.

Nontechnical users continue to have a hard time installing Linux. Every time a review appears in the press describing how damn hard it is to install Linux, and what few useful apps there are, it hurts Linux’s reputation among top executives who might be considering the OS for enterprise.

Microsoft and Apple ads are everywhere, but no one is funding major marketing campaigns for desktop Linux. No one with any clout is carrying the torch for desktop Linux. Who is Linux’s Bill Gates or Steve Jobs? Not Linus Torvalds.

Dennis Field, who failed in his efforts to get Linux working on a laptop:

Suppose you were looking for a car, and you heard about this great new sports car that got 50 Miles Per Gallon and only cost $5000! But when you went to buy one, you were told it didn’t have any tires, and there was no alternator (so you had to figure out some other way to keep the battery charged) and, oh also, don’t drive it too fast because the brakes don’t work. And if this car ever breaks, then you’ll need to find your own spare parts and try to fix it yourself, because the dealer that sells the cars refuses to work on them. Would you buy that car? More importantly, would you recommend that car to somebody that needs reliable transportation to get to work tomorrow? Does this sound far-fetched? Well, that’s exactly what many Linux vendors are telling the people who buy their softwareMaybe people are buying Windows because it works out of the box (well, mostly works, anyway), and Microsoft at least tries to offer support when it doesn’t work.

Kevin Reichard in LinuxPlanet:

As it stands Linux on the desktop is not an entity that is usable by the average PC user when it comes to accomplishing their daily work. This has nothing to do with the quality of the desktop environment, but has everything to do with how PCs are actually used: end users don’t use the environment, they use applications. And while someday we may evolve to a world where everyone’s work is done via the Web and a Web browser, we’re not there yet. Most computing work is done via third-party software tools independent of the operating system. The lack of usable software tools is really what will doom Linux on the desktop.

There are a lot of half-baked tools out there, and one of the problems in being a Linux user is the need to figure out exactly what tools are usable in their present release and which tools merely show a great amount of promise. Linux on the desktop is weak because it just doesn’t work well on the desktop yet for the work that the average people needs to accomplish. You cannot ask users to compromise when you want them to switch operating systems, and you need to be realistic about how things work. Let’s face it: at the present time there’s nothing under Linux that works as well as Microsoft Office. Period.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.