The Obstacles to Linux Going Mainstream

It was almost one year ago when I switched my main home computer to Linux. Since then, I have been using my Ubuntu 8.04 installation daily and have not found the need to boot up Windows at all.

While personally I see Linux and other UNIX variants as strong candidates to have the possibility to eventually replace Windows in both the consumer domain and the enterprise domain, it seems that this sea change is not going to happen any time soon as predicted by some.

Today although Linux is widely used in the server market, in the consumer domain it remains a niche market, accounting for just around 2% of market shares. Even thought the current economic down turn had sped up Linux’s adoption, it is still too small to make any significant impact on the overall consumer OS landscape.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that Linux is an excellent operating systems and in fact I think that it is a perfect Windows replacement for all the technical folks and certainly geeks. But the following issues remain some of the big obstacles for the normal consumers.

Codec

This is not the problem of Linux per se. Due to the open source nature and the various legal reasons, most free Linux distributions (e.g. Ubuntu, openSUSE) do not come with popular codecs (e.g. the codecs for playing back MP3’s and WMV files) installed. While for geeks it might be quite trivial to dig around in the vast Linux application repositories and find the exact codecs needed in a matter of minutes, the average Joes might have a hard time figuring out why his favorite DVD won’t play on his Linux system.

Consumer Applications

This gap has been closing rapidly over the years. Now we have FireFox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice and many other productivity applications come as standard in almost all popular distros. And even some professional software suites have their alternatives in the Linux World. For example, GIMP is a capable replacement for Adobe Photoshop. However, many of the most popular consumer software products remains missing on the Linux platform. Computer game is one of them. While I do not play computer games, many people would like to use their PCs to play some popular games occasionally. And to some, because of these Windows only and no Linux equivalent applications, there is no alternative but to use Windows.

Drag and Drop

For those who are used to Windows, drag and drop seems to be a given. All most all applications in Windows support drag and drop, but on Linux such support is inconsistent at best.

Copy and Paste

This is another area frustrates a lot of Windows users. In Windows, copy and paste pretty much works among all the applications. In Linux however, it does not always work and sometimes

The Command Line

Most Linux distributions use BASH. For seasoned users, using the command line is just as convenient if not more so than using a GUI equivalent application. In fact I personally prefer the “terminal” as it gave me the most flexibility and none of the overhead. But we can not expect every user has the same level of comfort with the command line environment.

I just mentioned a few areas where I think are among some of the main obstacles to the broad adoption of Linux. And most of these are interoperability issues which are not going to be resolved anytime soon. To the advanced users, most of these issues are pretty minor and there are many ways to work around. But to the average users who have accustomed to the consistencies within the system, even minor incontinence can mean a show stopper.

With all that said, I have found Linux to be a very attractive platform. While Linux might not be able to replace the proprietary Windows anytime soon for the reasons I discussed above, it has seeded deeply inside many people who believe in the free software movement and I am hopeful that one day we will see the OS world dominated by open source software, be it Linux or something else.

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One Comment

  1. Chue says:

    I would add configuration. As someone who is looking at some server class applications (databases, LDAP, email server), I find that they are difficult to configure. Something that is really easy to do in Windows can take a bunch of time under Linux. For example, I’ve tried setting up an LDAP server and it’s taken about 6 hours and I’m nowhere near getting it configured. In Windows, I just have to run a wizard and it’s done in a few minutes.

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