Should Linux Admit Defeat and Call it Quits?

First of all, I want to make it abundantly clear that we are discussing Linux for the DESKTOP here, not for supercomputers, not for servers, not for smartphones, and not for gaming consoles… just for the Desktop.

desktop os market share

It’s been more than 20 years since Linus Torvalds released his Linux kernel under the GNU General Public License, and today total market share for Linux still hasn’t managed to break the 2% barrier… currently sitting at a measly 1.64%. Even if we look at the time frame since the advent of more popular desktop distros such as Ubuntu and Mint, that still equates to a decade with negligible impact on the desktop consumer market.

Discussing Windows and Linux is akin to comparing a mighty lake with a puddle… sorry, but that’s simply the truth of the matter.

Why Hasn’t Linux Impacted on the Market Place?

linux desktopOne of the main impediments to Linux’s adoption is lack of support from major hardware manufacturers, in terms of both pre-installations on new machines as well as driver support for peripherals. The underlying issue however is the sheer numbers of distros involved. Well known Linux site DistroWatch currently lists a total of 787 Linux flavors, and this extreme fragmentation presents enormous difficulties for manufacturers.

Even eliminating the majority of distros from the equation and working with just the top few doesn’t necessarily improve the situation. For example; if a manufacturer were to elect to pre-install Ubuntu on new machines, they would immediately alienate Mint users, not to mention all the other fanbases. This then is the conundrum; numbers of distros and divided loyalties diminish the potential userbase to a point where any investment is nigh on impossible for manufacturers to justify.

Even Linus Torvalds himself admits that the Linux desktop has been a failure, as exemplified by his recent comment at LinuxCon held in Chicago last August:

I still want the desktop. The challenge on the desktop is not a kernel problem, it’s a whole infrastructure problem. I think we’ll get there one day.

Considering Linux’s negligible market share after all this time, I think Mr. Torvald’s assertion that “we’ll get there one day” is optimistic in the extreme. He also hints at Linux desktop’s underlying problem when he says it concerns the “whole infrastructure” – in other words, the complexities associated with third-party software, drivers, etc. need to be overcome.

Over the years I’ve run various Linux desktop distros for extended periods, including Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Mint, and always managed to “get by”. However, each involved its own share of glitches, admittedly generally nothing that couldn’t be overcome with a little research and fiddling, but your average Mum and Dad home users do not want to be bothered with researching and fiddling, even if they do possess the necessary expertise. They want a desktop operating system that just works, right out of the box.

Bottom Line

Believe it or not I am actually a fan of Linux, I love the free and open ideal. I am in no way criticizing either Linux or its users, merely pointing out that after many years the market share for Linux undeniably reflects that the vast majority of desktop users aren’t interested. As Linus Torvald’s pointed out, the problem is not with Linux per se, it lies within the infrastructure.

Many moons ago I expounded the theory that Linux would never achieve any measure of meaningful success on the desktop until such times as the number of distros is rationalized. Unification rather than fragmentation, the best of the best incorporated into one mighty distro.

Linux fans may view this approach as going against the grain but you can’t have it both ways. Stick to principles and continue down the same cul-de-sac or alter the approach and maybe gain a degree of significance.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know your thoughts.


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About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

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