Why Linux on the Desktop is Wrong
by Walter V. Koenning for the Reallylinux.com OPINION/EDITORIAL section.

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Too many Linux enthusiasts continue to tout, "this is the year of Linux on the desktop." I understand that Google's Chrome OS as well as other announcements make it seem like a pending reality. I am quite hopeful myself.

But perhaps this is a poor choice of focus if we really care about Linux success.

At the very least, it is getting painfully cliché to hear the oft repeated mantra that this is the year of "Linux on the desktop."

In perhaps one of the better assessments of whether Linux on the desktop is appropriate, Vincent Danen writes in a recent Tech Republic article that, "it's a rather silly question" and "recent distributions already prove that Linux is more than capable for the desktop."

The real reason Linux has not been seen as a desktop solution has very little to do with the quality of the Linux OS or the functionality and look of the desktop interfaces.

Instead, I propose that it has everything to do with OEM relationships, vendor lock-in and mass marketing.

For instance, today few people have the brashness to ask if Linux is a viable server solution.

That would be ridiculous. It would be like asking if Michael Jackson was a singer.

The reason is because for years major corporations have been promoting and marketing Linux as a viable solution for server infrastructure. And Linux has shined in that environment.

Big names like IBM and HP go out of their way to promote the Linux branding and name. But this simply has not happened in the desktop user environment.

If we want to see 2010 as a major movement year for desktop Linux deployments, we need to stop talking about it as if it "has not been ready" but "could now be ready."

Putting Linus' opinions regarding development techniques aside for a moment, I find that both Gnome and KDE, as well as XFce, Equinox Desktop Environment, and Enlightenment are all of quality professional standards.

Add to them the enhancements of windows managers such as Beryl, and many of these desktop environments exceed the quality and effectiveness of non-Linux counterparts.

So why argue whether Linux on the desktop is ready?

I submit to you that this question does little more than distract from the reality that Linux as an OS is already uniquely poised.

We know that Linux desktop environments have been slow for adoption among vendors and users.

People shy away from Linux, even to this day, even with the exceptional quality of available desktops, because:

1. There is an illusion of incompatibility,

2. Microsoft remains the key marketing and relationship master for the desktop.

Instead of rehashing the question of desktop viability, I propose we focus our efforts on moving people to OSS applications. This general movement to OSS applications over time resolves that illusion of incompatibility.

As people use more OSS applications, barriers Microsoft integrates into their software can actually be used to encourage a movement to Linux.

After all, most users don't care what underlying OS they have. I know that may seem sacrilegious to Linux purists, but it is the truth.

Instead, most users see the desktop environment as an extension of the OS, and the key factor for their use is whether it has the applications they need/want/love.

No one is willing to give up their favorite applications, or key tools, to move to a new environment -- even if it is far superior in quality, stability and cost.

People are open to change when presented with a barrier (such as required upgrades or new purchases) and an easier alternative.

Get people using OSS consistently and in greater numbers and quickly you will see why the value proposition for remaining with Microsoft Windows diminishes. In fact, there comes a time when proprietary software, with its licensing, registration requirements, and costs will fail to seduce.

Over the next year, if we encourage greater OSS application use, Microsoft's own barriers will help to encourage the transition to Linux.

But the first step and most important step is to move people to OSS applications. Otherwise, the OEM relationships and the marketing dollars will continue to mock with the idea of Linux on the desktop.

We can encourage a movement to Linux since end users keep their favorite OSS while gaining advantages of a non-proprietary OS. Linux becomes an integral rather than an instrumental part of the change we all hope in.

Walter V. Koenning is a technology writer and provides insights regarding industry trends. He contributes regularly to the OPINION/EDITORIAL segments on Reallylinux.com and other technology online magazines.

This brief opinion piece should not be construed as factual information, and only contains the opinions and personal experiences of the author at the time of publication. Reallylinux.com could not find information in this article that at the time of publication was inaccurate. However, the opinions and personal experiences that have been posted do not express the opinions of Reallylinux.com and are not endorsed in any way. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. Microsoft and Microsoft Windows are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation both in the United States and Internationally. All other trademarks or registered trademarks in this opinion piece belong to their respective owners.