Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why Linux Won't Be A Popular OS Any Time Soon

Yesterday, I went out with a few friends for some billiards. Of course, since we're all nerds, we got to talking about open source software for 3 hours at Tim Hortons. This happens pretty much every time I'm in Toronto and hang out with these people. I love it. We play pool, drink coffee, and talk about technology. I enjoy having a group of friends that I can have these conversations with. :)

Anyway, yesterday we touched on the topic of Linux becoming a popular operating system for the masses. One friend thought that Linux was on it's way to become a popular OS for the average computer user. I disagree. Linux still has the image of an operating system made for experienced computer users. Until  they break this image, they will never be accessible to the average user. For example, look at troubleshooting in Linux. Google any common problem you might have in Linux, and the first page of results will all be cryptic command line tricks to get something to work. The language used is often way over the head of a lot of computer users. The average computer user will be intimidated by this. Until Linux changes this culture of just encouraging people to use command line to solve any problem, they're never going to become popular with average users.

So is this command line culture ever going to change? Maybe. But not anytime soon. A lot of members in the Linux community probably don't consider making GUIs on top of a few simple commands. Even though this is exactly what it would take to get people to use Linux more. I would argue that this community is not thinking about usability as much as they should be.

What do you guys think? Do you see this as a problem for Linux? Do you see it being solve any time soon?


  1. It may be a while before it's popular among average users, but it's already the best available development environment. At least when it comes to developing cross platform applications.

  2. Remember that time I installed OpenSuse for fun? Me too. Remember that time I actually used OpenSuse? Me neither.

    Here's the thing, it's not just an image problem, it's a REAL problem. I would consider myself to be more knowledgeable than the average computer user and I don't have the patience to get things working on Linux. You know what I need to do to get make sure all my Mac hardware is working? Nothing, it just works. Same with Windows. Linux? Chances are overwhelming that SOMETHING is not going to want to play ball with you. And this is not solely a matter of experience, you could be a seasoned Linux user and something like a random soundcard driver could easily kick your ass for hours. Do I think I could get it working? Yeah! I'm sure I could eventually. Do I care enough to? No fuck that, I want to watch my children's cartoons with ponies.

    Also you know the problem with Macs where all these applications don't work on it? Multiply that by A GADJILLION. Don't talk about this open source stuff either, OpenOffice? Terrible. Gimp? Terrible. Inkscape? Terrible. They can't keep up with the quality of commercial software released a DECADE ago much less today's iterations. If you want to say it's good enough and deal with it, that's your prerogative but personally I don't want to and I don't know why a majority of people would want to either.

    And all this for what? What's in it for the average user? Nothing. That's why it'll never be for the masses.

  3. Okay, that was more of a rant than I intended. Words just started coming out and kept coming!

    So forget all that.

    Here's the simple fact, Microsoft and Apple invest tons of resources into making their operating systems user friendly. They have legions of developers and designers on hire with this as their sole goal. They have focus groups. They do studies.

    Can your random Linux distro compete with that? Realistically, not a chance. The sheer amount of resources invested is not proportional. Not even close. It's like trying to fend off a mechanized brigade with crossbows and slingshots here.

  4. Hell, even OS X is starting to eat away at development share.

    Guess what? User friendliness isn't just something for Dumb People, it's something _everyone_ can appreciate.

  5. Everyone's going to suspect I own an Apple solely by my blog comments. <_<

  6. Yeah, I agree with you. Theres definitely a disparity in available resources between Linux and Windows/Mac, and I think that's a source of a lot of these issues.

  7. Unfortunately, running a Mac development shop turns out to cost quite a lot of money.

  8. Okay, so you know how in Sengoku Rance, Rance saves nations from terror and destruction but rapes many women in the process?

    Steve Jobs = Rance

    Saves nations from terror and destruction = Gives me pretty looking things

    Women = Developers

  9. Well that's certainly in the lead for worst analogy I've heard in a while.

  10. I made an observation among my friends and family (average users) that is actually quite different than yours. First of all, I installed Linux (Ubuntu) on all the computers in this house (because I was sick of helping them with their Windows problems) and everybody loves it. They find it much more user friendly than any Windows system. Secondly, they do not really want an user-friendly system. They just want a system they know. Microsoft could produce the most user-friendly Office suite seen by mankind, if it is different, they will hate it. They do not want to spend any more time with a computer than necessary. But if something changes, they have to learn it all over again, however intuitive it might be. The slightest changes can lead to the biggest frustrations.
    Those are just my 2 cents but every time someone (mostly nerds) discusses this topic I feel that they neglect a realistic point of view. But maybe I am just surrounded by people who really hate computers.

  11. This is your premise:

    1) "I installed Linux (Ubuntu) on all the computers in this house."
    2) "They find it much more user friendly than any Windows system."
    3) "They do not really want an user-friendly system. They just want a system they know."

    Non sequitor.

    Also, I want to point out that getting Linux working with all your hardware is the hardest part and that's the part you did for them. Wait until they find out a new digital camera doesn't want to play nice with their kit. If this doesn't happen, count your blessings, otherwise your solution is dependent on every household having a tech guy around.

    In other news: I hate computers.

  12. Well, those were my observations. I never intended to state objective facts.
    I cannot confirm that Linux and hardware do not go well together. I never had any problems with it. To install Linux no special skills were needed. I put the CD into the drive and clicked install. They have really smart defaults, which every user should be able to cope with. If they are unable to do so, they should not be using computers. All the driver/hardware problems I had were on Windows systems. Solely installing Windows and getting drivers right is completely impossible for the average user. In the end, every non-tech guy trying to work with a computer depends on a tech guy. There will always be problems. An average user would not even google how to mount a hard drive. He would ask his nerd friend. Average users do not google. They have no intention of solving problems on their own.
    I would state that you could replace every (non-gaming) desktop Windows installation with a Linux system and everyone would be better off. The Linux distributions aimed at desktop use are much more user-friendly that, say, Windows 7.

  13. Nowhere did I question veracity of your observations, I've pointed out that your argument is incoherent.

    Since you don't intend to elucidate, I think we're done here.

    And quite frankly, while it may have worked out nicely in your case, I contend that if you think grep/YaST/whatever is a more comprehensible solution than autorun, you're mad.

    (The fact that I can't edit typos in Blogger comments is driving me up a wall)

  14. Now now... I do hate linux but i think ubuntu/jolicloud etc could be successful. Why? Because they look like a mac!

    - good user interface
    - easy install
    - few certified apps! No crapware
    - single update process for certified drivers/apps/system
    - no viruses

    I installed jolicloud on some old laptops and i love it and also my non-techie gf does...