The Linux Desktop Debate: Setting Things Straight

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Over the weekend I wrote a post called “Why Linux on the Desktop Is Dead,” which seems to have sparked some controversy among the Linux crowd. One of my PCWorld peers felt compelled to put together a rebuttal piece in defense of Linux, and point out that the Linux desktop death knell has been heard before at PCWorld, but people are still using Linux on the desktop…so there.

After reading Katherine Noyes' response to my post, and sifting through the various comments on both posts, I felt compelled to set a few things straight. There are some issues I have with the arguments in favor of the vitality of Linux on the desktop, and a clarification that needs to be made related to my article.

I'm not knocking Linux itself--I'm just saying it will never be a mainstream desktop OS.
You’re Making My Point

What Noyes and many of the commenters seem to not understand is that their arguments make my case for me. Commenters who talk about how it can’t be dead because they use it, or Noyes arguing that its premature to call it dead because it’s in use by millions miss the point.

Just because you’re one of the one percent--the hackers and hobbyists who love the Linux OS--doesn’t mean that it has any realistic hope of ever seeing mainstream adoption. It won’t.

Most people would agree that the Commodore Amiga, or the Betamax video recorder, or the Sega Dreamcast gaming console are dead. Saying that Linux on the desktop can’t be dead because people still use it is like saying that these things aren’t dead because there are still hobbyists and user groups that hack, tweak, and find creative and innovative ways to use them still.

One Percent...Still

I had almost forgotten about the 2010 post by Robert Strohmeyer. Noyes pointed it out in an attempt to illustrate how he was wrong then, and reinforce that my declaration of Linux on the desktop must be wrong now. But, what it did for me was emphasize my point.

In October of 2010 when that article was written, Linux had 0.85 percent desktop OS market share according to Net Applications. 15 months later, Linux has 1.16 percent desktop OS market share.

Noyes puts forth a claim that the Linux stats aren’t accurate because it's an open source operating system downloaded for free—so we have no sales figures to go by. I would counter that sales figures are utterly meaningless, and that the methodology used by Net Applications is what really counts--how many actual people are actually using the OS to actually do things?

She also cites a ridiculously high Linux share stat from “The H”. I had to click the link because I’ve never heard of “The H” and had no idea what it was about. When I did, I discovered why it’s reporting an astronomical 25.36 percent share for Linux: It’s a site dedicated to open source, and it’s reporting share based on the operating systems people use to visit the site.

Counting Linux market share on a website dedicated to open source software is like declaring that Ford has 99 percent market share of the automobile industry by counting the number of Ford vehicles at a Ford dealership.

Now, if we want to start dicing up stats we can argue that Linux desktop market share has leaped by 35 percent since Strohmeyer wrote his article in October 2010. Of course, by that same math we would have to note that it also dropped precipitously by nearly 26 percent in one month just between January and February of this year.

But, all of that would be silly, really, because it’s still the same basic one percent it always has been.

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