Linux For The Desktop – Is It Really Time?

I was just going to write about how a new foundation has been formed in the Linux community, when I noticed that a another Gnomie had beat me to it. Take a look at Jeber’s Juke Joint for the details of how Linux is trying to give Microsoft a run for their money.

Here is my take on Linux vs Windows

  • Linux for the Desktop is still way to geeky for the average user. I guess my best analogy is to compare Linux to DOS. In order to learn DOS and the volumes of commands you needed to be certified as a 100% nerd. Linux still seems that way to me and this needs to be modified, changed, simplified, redone, uncomplex, uncomplicated, plain, clear, ………that’s enough. You get the point.
  • Distribution’s – in the eye of the beholder this is grand. 300 plus distributions being used by Linux nerds trying to impress each other on how well they can take open source and modify the code to meet their needs and confuse the populace. By doing this you make Linux look like a toy to be played with. Not a serious operating system to be taken, well, seriously.
  • Best of the best. Linux folks need to concentrate on the best software, the best distribution, the best hardware drivers and roll this all into one system. Until this is done, Linux will have limited appeal to get Windows users to switch.

Now having said all of this, and not wanting to start a flame war, or have my posts obliterated into space, I say these things because I really like Linux and I really believe it can be a viable alternative. And believe it or not, I am actually doing this post from Freespire using Firefox.

So to all of my Linux friends – if the entire Linux community got together and came up with ONE solid, ready to use distribution called simply LINUX, you would be a force to be reckoned with. At least in my humble opinion.

Ron dashes out the door before the rocks start flying. :-)

[tags]linux, windows, distributions, [/tags]

Article Written by

I have been writing for Lockergnome for eight years.

  • Tim Hodkinson

    I had Debian on a dual boot sytem because I wanted to join Luke and Leia in their rebellion against the MS empire. In my opinion it’s all about applications. I agree with you that Linux is a viable alternative OS, but that’s not what it’s about anymore. It’s Linux applications vs. MS applications.

    As for all those distros… I downloaded one last week that fits on a diskette and loads into RAM. No GUI, just Midnight Commander. I loaded it by accident actually (I should start labelling stuff). Before booting, it asked me if I was intending to connect to a remote network!

  • munkii

    having multiple distros and hundreds of free software to choose from is what formed linux’s identity! who the heck said we want everybody to use linux? we want more SUPPORT for linux not more USERS!! people who don’t bother learning how to use it, shouldn’t be using it in the first place, they should just keep paying microsoft what they want and keep using their crappy software.

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  • Ron Schenone

    Hello munkii,

    I personally believe that more Linux users would serve the Linux community by showing hardware manufactures that their is a viable user base to support. :-)

    Until that happens,manufactures will continue to support Windows with only minor support for Linux.

    I’ll be doing a post on Linspire’s new offering of offering CNR support for other distro’s. This may just be the olive branch needed for distro manufactures to consolidate their efforts.

    Thanks for your comment and best wishes on your blogging efforts.

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  • R Harrington

    I’ve used the various distros. I’m a newbie. However, I think the distros released in the last year have been a major improvement. I’m uisng OpenOffice for my resumes and I spend most of my time just browsing job sites and emailing. These task are handled easily by Linux without the user having to know much. Distros I’ve tried Mepis, Suse, Mandriva and Puppy.

  • http://Parsons Bill

    munkii is exactly what is keeping Linux small and not well used by the general computer person. Too bad as a good competitive atmosphere is lacking, especially in the applications area. Wanting to keep anything small is surely the best way to make sure of keeping it useless. Chris has it right, it’s a toy and I suspect even munkii will outgrow his toys someday.

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  • Orjan Sinclair

    I say you are just about spot on and I have chosen Ubuntu/Kubuntu for my own choice. I think they are coming up to “critical mass” pretty fast. There are glitches for sure but there are now 1 app only to make me boot into Win – dvd copying…

  • Ken

    I agree entirely. Windoze is a commodity and Linux is a hobby shop. Until that changes the win crowd will stick to what is easy and convenient (if expensive, slow, inefficient…) because they have the rest of their lives to run…hard enough for most of them. Bill Gates is a billionaire and Munkii and I are not for just that reason. Too bad.

  • Formica Dinette

    Ron Schenone, MVP writes… “compare Linux to DOS. In order to learn DOS and the volumes of commands you needed to be certified as a 100% nerd. Linux still seems that way to me …”

    For the typical Linux Desktop user, this is simply not true. No more needed than a Windows user opening up “Run” and typing “cmd”.

  • Jeff

    I don’t see where Linux is a toy. Puppy Linux is small, contains all the necessary software for everyday tasks and loads of other software to install if you wish. I surf,email,play games,burn audio cds and do office tasks.
    Puppy runs entirely from ram and boots to the desktop in 40-45 seconds. Very user friendly and if you do questions the forums are the friendliest and most knowledgeable around, especially for newbies. Puppy Linux is the distro
    of choice for any one wishing to explore Linux. Windows?…KEEP IT!!! Puppy is free and the entire community is continually improving it. Hats off to all Puppians!!!

  • Ron Schenone

    Thanks to all of you for your comments. They are very much appreciated.

    I read your blog posting as well. My intention was not to
    make Linux a scapegoat, but more of a plea to the different distro writers to organize themselves and combine in a united front.

    I personally believe that by doing this, it would bring Linux to the forefront of the Desktop, make hardware manufactures stand up and take notice and hopefully address the driver issues, and lastly to make Linux a viable contender to Windows.

    Once again, thank you all for your comments and insights.

    All the very best, Ron

  • Liam

    Linux is still too complicated for the mainstream.
    Until they get an easy to use package manager where all you have to do is click and install and be done with it.
    Also drivers would have to be easier to install. Most people don’t want to learn command line to configure and make install the drivers. Plus if you change kernels you have to redo some of them.

  • BillK

    I run PCLinuxOS. It is really easy to use.
    There is a new upgrade release due at the end of January.
    I can hardly wait!

  • Dave S.

    You know, my wife complained when I upgraded her computers from Win2K to WinXP. Things didn’t look the same, shortcuts were in different locations, and the general “this just doesn’t work the way it used to…” I think this can be applied directly to your statement “300 plus distributions being used by Linux nerds…” There may be X number of different distros out there but the vast majority, and specifically the ones I’ve tested, all contain the same basic software – or, at least, different software to complete the same task. (e.g. KOffice vs Open Office) How is this any different than somebody who uses Win2K at work and Windows Vista at home? The same basic software is available out-of-the-box but the look and feel are different!

    I would guess that the average computer user went to the big box store, bought his first computer – complete with a Windows OS, took it home, turned it on and fiddled with it ’til he more or less understood it. I know that generally applies to me! Hopefully, somewhere along the line, somebody told him (at least now in the internet era) that you need to install AND USE firewalls, anti-virus, anti-spyware tools, etc. Oh and by the way, you also need to update your OS on a regular basis too. Most probably, that somebody also told him HOW to do that. So if you went into that same big box store and bought that same computer – but with a Linux distro – how would your experience be any different? You still need to run anti-virus software, firewall, anti-spyware and still need to update your OS. The ‘location’ of these tools may be different than in Windows (or for that matter one of those “300 plus different distros…”) but THEY ARE STILL THERE! Under that same scenario, that Windows user probably has NO IDEA what the ‘Command Prompt’ menu item is – or any need for it. Likewise for ‘Konsole’ in the Linux distro.

    I understand that there are hardware drivers issues with Linux. That’s just a function of the market. 99% of the customer base uses your hardware in a Windows based computer, 1% uses your hardware in ‘other’ computers. You will expend 99, if not 100 percent of your efforts to make sure that that 99% of your customer base is happy. Linux users MAY be willing to pay for working drivers, but most would probably prefer not to pay. After all, you are in business to make money, so it only makes sense that you concentrate on what makes you that money. Having said that, try this on. I have an HP 6110 Officejet and an HP 6840 deskjet (connected to the local network). It took as long to install the drivers, under XP, as it did to compile the drivers, under Gentoo, for the 6110(and yes, all the functions are available under both OS’s). I also had to install the drivers for the 6840 in XP, just had to add the new printer in Gentoo… Of course, Hewlett-Packard IS one of the companies that supports both Windows and Linux/Unix.

    One area that I WILL agree with, where Linux seems to be behind the curve – in comparison to Windows – is the video capturing and editing arena. There are apps available in Linux that DO work, but they aren’t as plentiful, aren’t as user-friendly, and aren’t packaged as “nicely”.

    Finally, have you SEEN the requirements for Vista? I ran a Beta and RC version (64bit) on this computer and NEITHER would work with my Creative SB5.1 Live card – no matter what drivers I used! And that old 478pin P-IV (2.4) with 512M ram and Nvidia MX440 card, will that run Vista? With Aero Glass? I don’t know, but it damn sure does run Gentoo, with Beryl and all the Aero Glass (and more!) that I can stand!

    WHEW, somebody put a quarter in ME today!

  • Dave

    “I guess my best analogy is to compare Linux to DOS. In order to learn DOS and the volumes of commands you needed to be certified as a 100% nerd”

    That you claim to be using a Linux Desktop and have to invoke DOS just begs incredulity. Using this OpenSuse desktop I can right now browse, email, play multi-media, burn cds etc. All without once having to learn volumes of DOS commands.

    “I really like Linux and I really believe it can be a viable alternative”

    Try some of these Desktops.

    Novell XGL/Compiz presentation

    Beryl 3D Window Layer Plugin

    Looking Glass 3D 1.0

    Here’s a networked multimedia system from FIA

  • Josh

    There is nothing complicated when using Desktop oriented distro. The same GUI principals apply to XP and/or KDE (or Gnome): click or double click to start a program or launch a document viewer. Right click to see context menu. Taskbar, menu launchers, desktop shortcuts all has the same functionality. If PCs were sold in BestBuys with KDE/Gnome Linux on it, nobody would even complain about complexity.

    Both Win and Desktop Linux have their share of pros and cons. Saying that either of them suck is not fair. I choose to use dual boot. Why not use the best of both?

    As far as “Is it really the time?” Not really. I experience some application crashes in Desktop Linux that prevent me from complete switch.

  • Ron Schenone

    Bill K – PCLinuxOS is one of my favorite distro’s. I like the new way Texstar has presented the download packages. Great job. I always recommend PCLinuxOS to those who are first trying Linux. Plus it runs on Live CD or HD install. And thanks for the comment
    Dave S – hi there. Thanks for your comments as well.
    Formica Dinette – most Windows user don’t even know where Run is nor what CMD even stands for. :-) And thank you as well for your comments and insight.
    Liam – thank you also.
    Jeff – Puppy Linux – Interesting. Thanks also.
    Ken – Thumbsup ! I’m still working on my first Billion as well. :-)

  • Ron Schenone

    Hi Dave – Thanks for the links ! Excellent stuff.

    Josh – I tri-boot
    Freespire – Windows XP – Windows Vista
    Took sometime to get this working. But my friend over at Scot’s Newsletter Forum known as Bruno got it working for me. And yes, I had do use a lot of commands and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. TG for cut and paste. LOL

    Again, thanks to all!

  • stmok

    You are missing the overall picture of open-source itself. (I think you lack the understanding of open-source, as I can see you’ve made some major generalisations).

    I’m sorry, but no one is gonna care about if “this year will be the year for Linux desktop” or not. That’s for the users themselves to decide. Not you, me, or some weener at some popular tech site who gets paid to put his 2 cents worth of nonsense every week.

    There will NEVER be a single distro. Its NOT Windows. There is NO one-size-fits all when it comes to Linux.


    Think about it. You use Freespire. A pre-built desktop distro. I prefer Arch Linux, where I just install the base and set the system up to the way I want it. Its nice, trimmed and FAST. I install just what I need and no more. I like it this way, I have full control. I know what goes into my system.

    Do you get what I’m saying? Its about choice. My needs aren’t the same as your needs.

    The point of open-source is to allow anyone to do whatever they want with the code under rules dictated by whatever open source license they’re under. Which means its anyone’s choice to build their own distro.

    That 300+ distros you talked about does NOT account for the fact that they are not all the same, serving the same single purpose. They are NOT all for the desktop. That assumption is a mistake you’ve made.

    You don’t use a distro like Backtrack for desktop work. Its for security penetration testing. You don’t use Mythdora for a desktop, because that’s expressly for HTPC/PVR work.

    Linux wasn’t meant for the mainstream to begin with. Even though its more than possible to make it for that crowd. You have to learn it to really enjoy and fully exploit its potential. You don’t have to learn everything. Just things you need to get by. And that doesn’t turn you into a nerd. (Why did you make a generalisation there?)

    One only needs to spend a few hours with a beginner and get them to write notes (reminders). After that, they become independent after a few weeks of constant use. The best part, is that they hardly bother you about problems anymore!

    Tossing them on a Windows-like distro is doing nothing for the user, but promote that disgusting behaviour of being dumb/clueless and dependent on someone.

    Linux is hard for a reason. You learn something. You become independent, learn better computing practices, you learn problem solving skills, you learn about better security concepts. When a problem arises, you take matters into your own hands. That’s the effect Linux has.

    Windows doesn’t do that. The end-users see Windows as nothing more than that never ending quest of Microsoft to get people to continue paying for things that they really don’t need. (You don’t need to replace something if the existing solution works perfectly fine). You don’t learn anything, but develop a sense of reliance and dependence on someone.

    Haven’t you noticed why countries like China and South Korea use the excuse of “reduce reliance on Microsoft solutions” when asked why are they trialling or transitioning to Linux?

    “Linux folks need to concentrate on the best software, the best distribution, the best hardware drivers and roll this all into one system. Until this is done, Linux will have limited appeal to get Windows users to switch.”

    You say something is “best”, but you don’t define what best is. Best for who?

    Its our diversity that lets the user decide what’s best for THEM. Unlike Microsoft, we do NOT assume a feature is best for the consumer. We provide a number of choices and let the user decide for themselves. Ever heard of “the freedom to choose” ? That’s what its about…You’ve completely missed that as well!

    Example: Desktop and Window environments.
    KDE, Gnome, XFce, Enlightenment, Fluxbox, Equinox, etc.

    I prefer XFce. Someone else might see Gnome as the better one. You may like KDE, etc. You see? Just because you prefer KDE, doesn’t mean its best for everybody!

    You are clearly not well in tuned to what the people are wanting from Linux. They’re looking for application compatibility.

    I’ve talked to many people in the industry, home users, small businesses, etc. They all want to run their much needed business app or game, etc…They’ve always made the comment that if it only worked on Linux, they will dump Windows.

    If you provide the ability of running Windows apps in Linux that is seemless and secure, there will be no purpose in life for Windows. (which removes approx 1/3 of Microsoft’s sales!)

    Its the applications…That’s the key.

    Its not about a unified single distro or “Best of the best” applications, or the required learning curve of Linux itself. It never was.

    Applications! Applications! Applications! Applications!

    This is what Wine is working on. The ability to run your Windows apps in Linux.

    At the moment, its still working out the kinks. But I did get some games and apps to work. (Red Alert 1 and 2, as well as Photoshop 7 and DVDShrink).

    It takes time for this to mature. Since there isn’t a deadline or shareholder pressure, what’s the rush?

  • Bob

    I really enjoyed all of the responses. Learned a lot.

    Working on a tight budget and needing a new computer I was looking at LINUX as a way to save money.

    PUPPY LINUX, do you still need to partition the hard drive if you have windosa 98se?

  • Ron Schenone

    Thank you for your response and also the explanation you have provided. It was obvious you took the time to express your thoughts and provide some very useful and helpful information.

  • Josh

    Calling Windows user dumb just shows narrow closet mind set and being out of touch with reality. One thing that Linux community needs is to try to understand casual PC user. In those terms PC would be an appliance/tool to get some functions done with minimal effort required. That’s why you hear “if this and that worked in Linux I would try”. This vast group of people would not care about source code or kernel. Asking them to learn CLI, scripting, and coding is almost like saying this is how you switch channel on your TV:
    1. attach keyboard
    2. log into X terminal session as authorized user
    3. type something like “tvtnr -c up -v +5%”
    then ask them to learn regular expressions to be able to query TV Guide programming. All of that instead of pressing “Channel +” button on the remote.

    As far as 300+ distros. There is a difference between specialized distributions that serve certain purpose and provide functionality just for that purpose VS dozen of Debian/Ubuntu spin offs that are barely a customization of the original. It would make more sense to concentrate efforts on quality and application migration into existing distributions. Does it make sense to distribute the same application with the same bugs/issues across dozens of spin offs (may be fixed in only one of them) VS to contribute and fix issues in the original distro?

  • Frank Charman

    I love Linux. Plain and Simple. It is definitely more complex than what you receive in Windows XP Home, however, your standard command are only needed by the standard user. I found that it is very easy to use while in a desktop environment, the average user would have no problem using Linux for everyday tasks. The ONLY reason I am running Windows XP right now is the support for gaming on the OS. I would prefer to be able to run World of Warcraft well, yes I know it will run, but not well in Linux.

    This is from my experience of a about a year or so ago. I have been keeping up with the changes, however, It still comes back to how well companies develop software for cross-platform usage. Windows will always be supported, but it is an uphill battle to get Linux support from the original company that produced the software.

    WINE is a great piece of software that allows programs for Windows to run. You still need to configure it for each game you want to play. I got Diablo 2 running on it fine. :) The sound was my only issue, it was playing faster than normal. 😛

    I am using games in my example for 2 reasons;
    1) I am a gamer.
    2) I see games as the driving force in why we need better video cards, more ram, faster processors every year.

    Yes Windows needs more too, but Linux does not.

  • Cdog

    Regarding Windows users as dumb is an excuse that allows lazy developers to release software that’s just plain hard to use. Nerds like us love to explore the power of regular expresions but the average pc user simply wants to listen to that CD, view those photos or email Aunt Zelda.

    The same is true for the professional office user. Corporate pressures to produce doesn’t allow non-IT employees the time to sit down and explore the complexities of the OS. Also, keep in mind that the vast number of users aren’t the slightest bit interested in how the OS works. To them the PC is a tool, a tool that allows them to do the work they need to do. The cost of the OS or the fact that B Gates continues to be the world’s richest man just doesn’t play into it in a significant way. BTW – I’d rather have the richest man in the world be an IT Geek than some oil broker or arms dealer.

  • The Weekly Geek

    Let the war’s begin!
    I too agree with your comments about Linux.
    I come from a UNIX background (in the late 80’s) and kicked and screamed and was dragged to Windows (I was really liking the Mac Classic).
    Software is the key and usability is a very tight second.
    Yes, there is a lot of good and very good Linux software. The problem is that “Harvey Homeowner” does not have the time to search, test, search again test again for the software they “need”. Going to a retail store, buying “it” off the shelf and calling 1800HELPME is where Linux has fallen short.
    Don’t flame me, unite with me. “Two Linux users back to back are safe and three are formidable.”

  • MrGrave

    I’ve been using Linux for quite a while, made some money on the side using it and applying it to solve customer issues (although in the server side). I have installed in my computers at job, mobile and home Linux OpenSuSE 10, with all the “standard” goodies available, SuSE and Novell have done a fair effort to have a consistent and working equation with royalty paid and royalty free SW, things like DVDs, Music, Streaming, Games and other goodies that people (including us) want to use is “popular” apps., we already have those in Linux.

    Yes there are still some outstanding issues to come around when dealing with Linux-based Software, that is Windows-popular all around, yes there are still some issues about drivers, about compatibility and other tech things as well.

    Popularity contests don’t comply when posting the proposal, is Linux ready.

    Linux IS READY indeed, as the Mac OSX was and is today, but will these two fine examples prevail in a “war” that really isn’t happening anymore?

    There are far more complicated, sector-constrainned, financing and even political reasons why people DON’T choose Linux over Windows for Desktops, but mainly is because they don’t know better, so all they’re hearing is the mambo-jumbo on the back, of a supposedely happening war… they WILL play it safe and use what they know.

    A killer application, or better said a killer utilization of HW-SW combo, like Mac is for designers for instance… could be an approach too, but HOW MANY “decent” and aware designers are out there yet? I’ll bet that the same proportion as the market share comparable for such applications on PC based computers, to express it bluntly, the PC Designers didn’t prefer PC’s they just didn’t have enough money to spend in a Macintosh or they just didn’t want the trouble of learning a “new” GUI environment… are there better designers? I’m sure some of their collegues would say “He needs to get a Mac”.

    Linux is READY, the word needs to be spread all around and also to have public awareness build into todays IT consumer society, in schools at the very basic levels and even in IT Faculties all around that won’t make a thoughtful selection of the HW again because they just don’t know better.

    Want to make a contribution to desktop users? Spread the word, get involved, engage!

    Let’s DO something so people (IT consumer society) eventually will be aware that they (we all) HAVE a choice! Give them the consumer-approach info, so they CAN decide on their own, beyond the “…it’s just easy…” comfort decision without making it difficult.

    If they would’ve shown us how to drive a standard stick transmission car, will that make it more popular for me?

    Well, I’ve talked too much, you get the picture.

  • MrGrave

    BTW, Gates has become a HOTEL broker now, and HE is retireing next year from MS.

    When you have enough money you can be or do anything (and almost get away with anything as well), I still HATE the legacy of his monopolistic practices, steal-the-best ideas and bury monopoly-threat applications that actually were very nice to have if not the best to have.

    I insist, it’s not only on tech issues, usability, compatibility, interoperatibity, standards, is very much on WHAT people DO with their computers, what’s the VALUE that such appliances bring to their life. We all want a sports car right? But we won’t just let go the little humble utility car that moves us every day.

    Imagine, challenging the “Wow!” Vista reaction for a normal user, to a “Wow!” Compiz-Linux reaction in a less than 512K RAM computer? That’s “wower” to me if you ask me.

  • Ron Schenone

    Hello MrGrave,
    Thanks for the comments. Take a look at some of my more recent articles about Vista and also Linux.

    I think you may notice a shifting of my opinion as well.

    Regards, Ron