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A Murder Is Announced, but No Corpse Can Be Found

Well, it pains Linux Girl to have to write these words, but it looks like the “Death of Desktop Linux” story is back for another round.

Yes, after countless debates and discussions of the topic ad nauseum over the years — the most recent being just a few short months ago, in fact — it recently reared its ugly head again, like a zombie that just won’t quit.

The culprit this time? None other than Miguel de Icaza, of GNOME and Mono fame.

The claim? Essentially, that Apple killed the Linux desktop.

Only problem is, FOSS fans can’t seem to find any evidence that the crime ever happened.

‘Then OS X Is on Life Support’

“Another one of these? Please,” exclaimed Google+ blogger Linux Rants. “Now Apple killed the Linux desktop? No. I’m afraid not.”

In fact, “the Mac OS in one form or another has been around since 1984, and in that time has managed to gain 6 to 7 percent market share,” Linux Rants pointed out. “Linux has been around since 1991, and has managed to gain at least 1 to 2 percent market share. Probably more. Possibly much more, depending on who you ask.

“If desktop Linux is dead — which I feel wholeheartedly that it is not — then OSX is on Life Support and it’s not looking good,” he asserted.

The reality is that “this is a very exciting time for desktop Linux, with Windows 8 threatening to popularize it like we’ve never seen before, and gaming companies committing to supporting it unprecedented numbers,” Linux Rants noted.

So “no, desktop Linux is not dead,” he concluded. “It’s had some difficulty gaining traction because it was a decade late to the Operating System market. Despite that, once it gets going it will be impossible to stop.”

‘It Seems to Be Working for Me’

Indeed, “if the Linux desktop is dead, why am I using it now?” asked Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien. “It seems to be working for me as well as anything.”

The real question, O’Brien suggested, “is what you want to accomplish. If it is total domination, with Linux having 100 percent of the desktop market, not only will that not happen, I wouldn’t want it to happen.

“Monoculture never works well,” he added. “So, I think de Icaza identifies some problems with development in Linux, but there’s problems in everything.”

‘Killed? No Way.’

Blogger Robert Pogson took a similar view.

“Apple killed nothing,” Pogson told Linux Girl.

Rather, “Apple’s fanbois just wish they had 1K+ retail stores pushing product in China and India like Canonical has Dell doing,” he explained. “They wish they were shipping more than 20 million PCs — GNU/Linux will ship on that many PCs with Ubuntu next year. That leaves hundreds of other distros being installed by individuals and organizations on a global scale.

“Walmart Brazil barely sells any Apple products,” Pogson added. “GNU/Linux and that other OS top them in popularity.”

In short, “killed? No way,” he concluded.

‘We Have an Opportunity’

“I don’t think Apple killed anything,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed. “‘Killed’ implies a permanent state, and I don’t think it’s actually permanent — I’m seeing more interest from my non-techie friends, and announcements such as the porting of Steam to Linux give me hope for the future.”

De Icaza “is correct that the constant breakage caused by people completely rearranging interfaces and breaking apps on a constant basis set the Linux desktop back by years,” Mack conceded. However, “he is completely out of line for blaming Linus for it.”

Looking ahead, meanwhile, “the sad thing is that we have an opportunity to take market share, since Microsoft seems to be going out of their way to get rid of their entire userbase with Windows 8, but I don’t think we will have a non Gnome 3/Unity distro ready in time to take advantage,” he concluded.

‘It’s the Devs’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took an even stronger view.

“It’s the devs,” hairyfeet charged. “The devs can’t stand bug fixing and instead would rather write something ‘New!’ even if it breaks compatibility, makes third party support impossible, and makes Linux drivers practically impossible to keep 100 percent functional past a single update.”

Meanwhile, “you have Apple giving you 5 years of support, making sure their ABI doesn’t break software so companies like AutoCAD and Photoshop can actually support them, in short they make it NICE for the user, what a concept!” he asserted. “And you still have the BSD underpinnings, so the old-school Unix heads can have their CLI and have a functional system too!”

‘Dead on Arrival’

In fact, “the desktop distribution Linux community really has no concern as to whether it gets widespread adoption,” opined Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor.

“In the past few months, maybe out of frustration, I have gone the same route,” Lim explained. “I love my Linux distro, I use it, I benefit from it, but I do not bother to promote it with anyone anymore. This was some time after I got into a ‘discussion’ in a Linux forum about the issue of the need for change for widespread adoption — the overwhelming response was, ‘who cares?'”

So, “how can it win, when it is not even trying to fight?” Lim concluded. “Excellent article by Mr. Miguel de Icaza. But he is wrong about his conclusion: Mac OS did not kill Linux; Linux on the desktop was dead on arrival. His own article explains why.”

‘They Just Want Their Problems Solved’

Linux on the desktop has had “a number of important successes, but these are still very much niche cases,” noted Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

Breaking into the mainstream, however, “has not happened and it isn’t about to happen,” Travers opined. “Linux makes a great desktop tailored at each and every user, but nobody has really figured out how to make users see why they should consider a switch.”

De Icaza’s article focuses primarily on technical problems with the attempts thus far to bring Linux to the desktop, but “in the end this doesn’t matter if you can’t convince users to switch, and you can’t do this by merely building a great desktop environment,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how great your desktop is, you have to find some way to sell the move to users, because moving operating systems is always a certain amount of trouble.

“If you don’t market it,” in other words, “you won’t sell it,” he added.

“People don’t care what is technically best,” Travers concluded. “They just want their problems solved.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

5 Comments

  • Linux is a technology. It is products that gain market share. For example, Red Hat holds a major portion of the server market, Android holds a majority share of the smartphone and a third of the tablet markets, and Canonical is aggressively targeting the desktop and consumer markets with Ubuntu.

    Ubuntu may well double their desktop installs next year, to 40 million, with a global focus, excellent vendor relationships for pre-installs, deep pockets, and some actual marketing savvy – and in a stagnant desktop market, that would represent actual market share growth.

    As touch comes to the desktop, Android may also gain traction based on its massive mobile fan base. It’s seeing a growing presence in smart TVs already, a market Canonical is also keen to win.

    Certainly, Windows 8’s underwhelming reception thus far indicates an opportunity in the marketplace for non-Windows systems – and don’t be surprised to see Windows 7 get a reprieve and marketing push when the other shoe begins to fall, as we saw with XP on netbooks.

    I hear no fat ladies singing for Linux, de Icaza’s usual bluster and the anti-Linux crowd’s increasingly worried bell-ringing notwithstanding. We’ll have to wait to see what 2013 brings.

    • Why AM I not surprised Pogson? You switched to Linux because you were a LOUSY Windows admin…wow, what a shock. Meanwhile I have 8 and 9 year old XP systems in the field, no bugs, and the AM ount of malware since everyone switched to 7 has been falling like a stone.

      Linux is DOA on the desktop because the devs REFUSE TO LISTEN and that goes for Torvalds on up. Quick, what do BSD, Solarios, Windows, OSX, iOS, and even OS/2 have in common? A stable ABI, which Linus says YOU can’t have! Does anyone here TRULY believe that Linus Torvalds is smarter than the combined OS devs of all of those companies?

      Its nothing but arrogance, an arrogance that frankly isn’t deserved nor earned. the ONLY reason Linux has gained on servers is because MSFT practically gave them the business, they made their license more confusing than a hedge maze and went insane on the prices. Companies sink millions of dollars constantly fixing drivers and cleaning up the messes Torvalds makes only because the MSFT licenses would cost triple that, that is all.

      On the desktop nobody is gonna spend those millions, because you are competing against a product that is only $80, so thing simply don’t get any better. Pick a distro pogson, ANY distro, and go to their bug tracker. How many bugs are over a year old? 2 years? Do I hear 3? In Ubuntu there are SIX YEAR OLD BUGS that still aren’t fixed!

      So don’t blame Windows because you are a lousy admin pogson, try reading a book on the subject.

      • Pick any operating system and go to their bug tracker (if they even have one). I’m sure you, too, will find bugs as old as 1/2/3/6/(arbitrary number here) years. In Powershell *alone* I’m seeing bugs from 2006 that are still "Active". Lots of them. I can’t imagine how many bugs there are in Windows itself from even further back in time.

        If you’re going to bash Linux like you always do, at least hold Windows to the same standard.

        • One BIG difference YellowApple, with Windows the old bugs are in NICHE PRODUCTS and while irritating are NOT show stoppers.

          I could provide several lists with huge lists of truly show stopping bugs, bugs that any for pay OS would NEVER allow out the door on a supposedly finished product. But I don’t have to, Dell gives us a perfect example. Just to have functional drivers on Linux they have to run their own repo and block the Canonical repos, why? Because if you use the actual repos…the drivers break! Great job guys, Dell has less than a dozen units being sold with Linux and you can’t keep from breaking the drivers.

          But in the end it ALL comes down to arrogance. We retailers have been pointing out for years the problems and have been ignored, so we ignore you, simple as that.

  • Chris Travers wrote, "in the end this doesn’t matter if you can’t convince users to switch, and you can’t do this by merely building a great desktop environment".

    Users are being convinced to switch to GNU/Linux every day. For me, more than a decade ago, it was the rare ability of that other OS to crash that made me switch. For others it was the waves of malware or stifling interoperability problems. For other it is cost. There are many reasons to switch and millions have found theirs.

    The last place I worked half the PCs would not boot. I re-imaged them but the mean lifetime in the work-place was a few months. XP was a make-work project for me and malware. It was a school and students seem to know how to find malware in spite of expensive anti-malware software. I got fed up, installed Debian GNU/Linux and never had another problem with software even while doubling the number of PCs. Users were damned pleased with the increase in reliability and the performance. They had a reason to switch. A few were reluctant but they in the end could not deny GNU/Linux was a step forward and easy to use.

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