According to the well-respected analytic site Net Market Share, Windows currently enjoys a whopping 88.79% of the total desktop operating system market share. Mac comes in a distant second with a paltry 8.41% and Linux third, with a measly 2.42%. Why is it so?
I think it’s fair to say that the dismal numbers for both Linux and Mac very much reflect limited appeal to what can only be described as a niche market. Linux’s failure, in particular, to grab end users’ attention is quite remarkable, especially when one considers that the totally free Linux platform has now been around for more than 26 years in multiple (currently over 500) various iterations.
There are many reasons why Linux and Mac have failed to make any sort of significant impact but, in my opinion, the main overriding reason is software availability.
Superior Hardware vs Comprehensive Software
Many years ago, when VCRs were first introduced into Australia, a battle royale took place between two formats, Betamax and VHS. Beta has long been considered the superior system and is, in fact, still used by TV and film companies today, yet lost out badly to VHS, to the extent where Beta became extinct within 18 short months. The reason was simply due to software availability.
With the advent of VCRs, dozens of video rental stores sprung up seemingly overnight. The VHS people were really smart operators who offered their prerecorded video cassettes to these stores on a consignment basis, whereas the Beta people insisted that stores pay for all prerecorded video cassettes up front. The logical result being, when the consumer walked into one of these stores they were confronted by shelves full of VHS tapes and only a very small section of Beta tapes to choose from. It was this lack of choice within the Beta cassette section which subsequently sounded Beta’s death knell, even though the hardware (the player itself) was generally considered to be superior.
Throughout technological history there have been many similar examples of very good hardware systems failing with consumers because of lack of support for compatible software. This then is what I believe is the main issue for both Linux and Mac and why Windows continues to dominate the desktop market.
Linux/Mac Software vs Windows Software
For many years I’ve run both Windows and Linux, but Windows has always been my main (go to) operating system and, while I could certainly do without Linux, I could never get by without Windows. That’s mainly down to a lack of suitable quality software for the Linux platform. Just one simple example, being a tech writer it’s imperative for me to have a versatile screen capture tool on hand. Linux offers several, the very best of which is reputed to be a program called “Shutter”. Now, I’ve tried all these Linux screen capture programs and they are, quite frankly, rubbish. Even the well-reputed “Shutter” is way below at least half a dozen free offerings for the Windows platform– in terms of feature set, versatility, and effectiveness, they are simply not comparable!
This is true in so many cases. Search for specific software in the Windows platform and, more often than not, you’ll find multiple quality free offerings, so much so that the user is often confused as to which one to choose… they are all so good. Now, try the same thing in the Linux platform. The situation with Mac is very similar. Look for a specific program within the Mac platform and you’ll most likely find only one, or possibly two, suitable programs, which you will probably have to pay for.
There is no doubt that Mac hardware is top quality, solid and durable. However, with comparatively limited software choices from within a propriety ecosystem, Mac will never even get close to challenging Windows… that’s a fact! Similarly, as per the aforementioned example, Linux suffers badly in this area. Linux offers a range of terrific free operating systems within a totally free ecosystem but cannot even come close to matching Windows’ diverse and comprehensive range of quality software. Unfortunately, software developers recognize the appeal, demand, and dollars associated with Windows software when compared to spending time and resources developing software for the Linux platform. It’s just a fact of life.
There are other contributing factors of course, but I firmly believe that this lack of comprehensive software support for both the Linux and Mac platforms is the major reason for their lack of appeal among consumers and subsequent poor showing in the market place. Sure, people might complain about Windows, many people about many various aspects but, in the main, they are prepared to put up with comparatively minor inconveniences, or even more serious grievances, just so they can still run their favorite programs, or enjoy the freedom of choice provided by a comprehensive range of quality software.
NOTE: I haven’t mentioned the gaming aspect in this dissertation. Although I do recognize that gaming is definitely a consideration, it is also a well known and widely discussed consideration. The aim was to try to understand why Mac, and Linux in particular, have failed to grab the attention of your average Joe users who, after all, do account for the vast majority.
Bonus: Windows 10’s Current Market Share
Here is the current breakdown for Windows versions market share (as of 28th February 2018):