Why Linux on the Desktop Is Dead

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Linux is awesome. It’s a powerful, capable, flexible operating system with tremendous potential. But, it’s never going to be a factor on the desktop, so don’t even waste your time considering it.

On the server side, Linux is kicking ass and taking names. An IDC report from 2010 claims that Linux made up more than 20 percent of the server market. I’ve seen some estimates claiming it could be significantly higher than that today. Recent reports claim that Amazon alone is using as many as half a million Linux servers in data centers around the world to power its cloud services—a strong indicator of just how established Linux is.

Ubuntu is one of the best desktop variants of Linux, but it's no Windows or Mac OS X.
That’s great, but on the desktop side of the fence Linux is a non-issue. Compared to Microsoft Windows, even Mac OS X has trivial desktop market share, but it’s enough to put it on the radar, and Mac OS X has been growing strong in recent years. Linux, on the other hand, has never really been more than a rounding error.

This isn't really news. One of my PCWorld peers wrote an article in October of 2010 lamenting the failure of Linux to capture any mainstream success as a desktop OS. At that time, another of my PCWorld peers responded to spell out all the ways it wasn't dying. I'll admit it hasnt dropped off the map entirely, but a year and a half later it is up only slightly, and still generally makes up about one percent of the desktop OS market.

I spent a month experiencing Linux as a desktop OS. What I learned from the 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux experiment is that Linux is, in fact, capable of being a desktop OS. But, the whole 30 days felt like I was swimming upstream--constantly tinkering and finding workarounds to get everyday tasks done. Using Linux as a replacement for Windows takes more effort than it’s worth, and in the end I was still left with a poor substitute lacking tools I rely on like Microsoft Office, or native syncing for my iPhone and iPad.

Granted, there is much more to Linux than just Ubuntu (and many would argue Ubuntu is a poor ambassador for Linux in the first place), and Linux is not entirely to blame. Microsoft or Apple could certainly step up and make products available and that would solve the problem to an extent. But, they haven’t, and they won’t because Linux is not a big enough player in the desktop market to warrant the attention.

To its credit, Linux has a phenomenal support system, and loyal, knowledgeable users willing to help guide you through the murky waters. Of course, it’s often difficult to find them through the sea of self-righteous flamers who berate you for not knowing what you’re doing.

My month with Ubuntu Linux was more effort and struggle than it was worth.
Linux is an awesome server OS. If you’re replacing or adding servers at your company I highly suggest you look closely at Linux as an option and consider the benefits of Linux servers. But, if you’re in the market to refresh or replace your desktop OS, stick with Windows and Mac OS X. Linux will be more headache than it’s worth.

I know there’s an army of dedicated Linux hobbyists who will no doubt unleash a barrage of flames and tirades as a result of this article. They’ll tell me all the ways Windows sucks, and all the reasons Apple is evil, and make exalted claims about how wonderful their lives are since they made the switch, and how they’ll never go back.

Let me preemptively say, “That’s great. I’m happy for you.” It doesn’t change the fact that you’re part of a negligible market segment. It doesn’t change the reality that Linux is not as intuitive or user friendly as its rivals, or that it lacks the third-party hardware and software support of its rivals, or that using it requires a learning curve and the dedication to dive into forums and learn to tinker. It’s great for hobbyists and hackers, but not for an average user at a company.

So, move on. There’s nothing to see here. The dream of Linux becoming relevant in the desktop market will never be realized. If you're looking to refresh or replace the desktop OS at your company, the desktop OS market is a two horse race between Windows and Mac OS X.

Besides, we live in a post-PC era where even Windows and Mac OS X are being supplanted by mobile platforms like iOS and Android. Android is a Linux variant so Linux fans can claim that as a consolation prize for the lack of success on the desktop.

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