The Linux Desktop Debate: Setting Things Straight

I Wasn’t Talking To You

If you’re part of the one percent who uses and loves Linux as a desktop OS, I wasn’t really talking to you. Obviously, you’re using Linux just fine. I even went out of my way to preemptively single out and congratulate you.

The article was written with businesses and IT admins in mind. Linux may be a great desktop OS for you, but for the vast majority of businesses out there--virtually all of them--deploying Linux as the mainstream desktop OS would be a tragically horrible idea.

First, it takes a fair amount of reconditioning if you’re already used to Microsoft Windows--which almost everyone is. I’m not saying Windows is better or worse, but right, wrong, or indifferent, there would be a learning curve during which productivity would decrease and support calls would increase.

Second, Linux is a poor desktop OS choice for business for many of the same reasons that Mac OS X is a poor desktop OS choice for business: It lacks the tools that businesses and IT admins need. I’m sure there’s some duct tape and chewing gum solution out there, or someone can argue that you could just develop tools in-house, but all of that is like swimming upstream when you’re used to having endless options.

Why Linux on the Desktop Is Dead

In the discussion that ensued on my Google+ page as a result of my article, one commenter made the point that Linux must be simple because his grandfather uses Ubuntu Linux as a desktop OS just fine. If he can do it, anyone can.

Linux is a capable OS, but too much effort for most businesses to adopt as the mainstream desktop OS.
When I dug a little deeper, though, I discovered it wasn’t quite that simple. I asked how his grandfather researched the diverse array of Linux distributions to choose the one that would best meet his needs, and whether it was truly easy enough for him to download, install, and configure the OS, and install the software he needed to make the system functional.

The answer was that the commenter--part of the one percent crowd of Linux hackers and hobbyists who love the OS and know their way around it--did all the dirty work and set up the system for him. In fairness, he pointed out that when you buy a Windows or Mac OS X system it comes with the OS pre-installed and probably some tools and apps ready to go out of the box.

I agree with that point. But, not everyone has a grandson who is part of the one percent to wade through the Linux distro chaos and choose one, then choose a specific release that’s deemed stable enough, then install it and configure it.

Even if they did, at that point it sort of becomes its own little “walled garden”. You can use the software and tools that have been provided for you, but to really use it as a PC, and make it do what you want you have to call your grandson back, or go through the learning curve to figure it out yourself.

If you try to seek out help on Linux forums, good luck. There are many Linux users who are patient with newer users, and generous with their time and knowledge. Unfortunately, they’re outnumbered five to one by indignant, self-righteous jerks who’d rather belittle you for not being a Linux guru.

Do you know what works? Buying a mainstream operating system that works with all of the mainstream hardware, connects with all of the mainstream services, and uses all of the mainstream software.

I realize that is a bit circular: Linux can’t be a mainstream desktop operating system because its not a mainstream desktop operating system. But, that is the harsh reality.

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