Can Desktop Linux Conquer its Challenges?

There continues to be a credibility crisis with the Linux desktop that could be addressed with better inclusion in the mainstream marketplace.

Despite countless inroads made by today's best and brightest Linux distributions, it's still difficult for the Linux desktop to get ahead. In this article, I'll talk about the biggest challenges I've seen and what can be done to overcome them.

Pre-installed Linux

Not too many years ago, it was nearly impossible to find Linux pre-installed anywhere. Over the years, I've seen a limited number of companies attempt to sell pre-installed Linux desktop computers. The consumer distributions in question were Linspire, Xandros and a couple of others. Sadly these attempts had two significant issues that these distributions failed to address.

The first issue was the lack of Windows software. This may seem silly to you and me, however to the target market for these PCs, it was a problem. New buyers purchasing these machines had no idea if their existing Windows software titles would be natively compatible. Sure, there are WINE-based solutions that can help, but the greater issue is the lack of consumer education taking place here.

Next we have the second issue: lousy hardware was the general rule of thumb. This isn't to suggest that lousy PC hardware somehow bypassed Windows users. There is ample lousy PC hardware to go around. But it broke my heart to see the first Linux PCs appearing in various stores ranging from Best Buy to Walmart with such lackluster configurations.

Flash forward to now – if you want to purchase Linux PCs pre-installed, you'll be doing so exclusively online. No longer will you find pre-installed Linux PCs in the various big box stores. At least not on a national/international scale. Sadly, I don't see this changing anytime soon, since Chromebooks have filled any potential void here.

The good news is that there is still ample opportunity, but the best approach is to target folks disenfranchised with their current OS.

Windows 10 is a golden opportunity

For the first time in history, Microsoft's forced upgrades have frustrated many users into rethinking their operating system of choice. Granted, the last news on this issue is that Microsoft is rethinking the forced upgrade to Windows 10. But I maintain the belief that the end user’s trust has already been damaged.

The key is to present various desktop distributions in the right light to attract various Windows users who are fed up with Microsoft's shenanigans. Instead of showing off desktop environments, we need to demonstrate how we accomplish specific tasks using today's best Linux distributions. Point of sale, data entry, customer relation management, these are just a few of the things that need to be demonstrated. If we can get folks to see that many of these tasks can be accomplished using the Linux desktop, I believe we'd see more people inclined to switch away from Windows.

The problem of getting people to switch away from Windows is less about function these days and more about awareness.

Dated Linux myths

Just recently, I found myself correcting someone saying that there were "no games available for Linux" and that you needed Windows to run Netflix. Obviously, I corrected both of these misunderstandings by explaining that and Valve have oodles of Linux games available. That and the fact that Netflix runs just fine under Chrome, is also important to note. Fact is, many people are still operating under false impressions as to what the desktop is capable of.

Another annoying common myth is that Linux has less hardware support than Windows. This is factually incorrect, as Windows hardware support tends to drop off over time with each OS released. By contrast, both older and newer hardware usually works out of the box under today's modern Linux distributions. While there are exceptions to this, they are few and far between.

The final myth that drives me nuts is the idea that there is a lack of useful software available. In truth, there are countless awesome applications available for the Linux desktop. From professional video editing with Lightworks to a fully functional office suite with LibreOffice – Linux has software for just about everything. Unfortunately title-specific software from companies like Adobe remain hit and miss.

Correcting the Linux marketing conundrum

Is it too late to get newcomers to try Linux and potentially switch? Not at all! But for such an effort to be successful we must find a way to get the word out to non-Linux users. As it stands now, we're doing a mediocre job of converting newcomers into full time Linux enthusiasts. The problem is, as always, marketing to non-Linux users in such a way as to compete with the likes of Microsoft and Apple.

Thus far, ChromeOS has been the biggest player with casual users by blending the familiar with user-friendly functionality. I feel strongly that if we work to demonstrate what Linux can do for the casual user, we'll continue to see new users converting over.

In the past, we've relied on individuals to do this. And there's no question that this has been pretty successful. But I think it's time for companies supporting Linux to take the proverbial torch and run with it. This means advertising, featured appearances at non-Linux tech events with demonstrable Linux PCs and a greater presence on commerce websites like Amazon. If we can make this happen, I believe we'll see a lot more Linux on the desktop recognition.

Why should we care how Linux is marketed? Because the more people use it, the better it is for all who run Linux on their desktops. Improved video driver performance, bleeding edge networking, more people using Linux means we see more companies willing to toss their hats into the Linux ring of support. Speaking for myself, I believe that there is still a credibility crisis with Linux that could be addressed with better inclusion in the mainstream marketplace. Well, at least with laptops and desktop PCs that is.

What say you? Do you believe that we need to work on how Linux is being marketed? Perhaps instead, we should be content with how things are now and accept that ChromeOS is to become the most marketed Linux desktop? Share your thoughts by hitting the Comments and sounding off.

Tags: open source, Linux, desktop linux

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