Top Challenges for Desktop Linux

From abandoned software projects to fragmentation, challenges abound for the Linux desktop.
Posted November 16, 2015
By

Matt Hartley


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I have been using various Linux distros for many years now. One of the benefits is that I’ve seen many things improve and have been there to celebrate each success as it happened. Unfortunately, like any modern operating system, even the most modern Linux distributions are not without their challenges.

In this article, I'm going to share the biggest issues I've experienced over the years. At no time am I disparaging Linux on the desktop. Rather, I hope to start a dialog so that some of these issues can be addressed.

Adoption

With the rise of mobile devices taking the spotlight from desktop platforms, getting Linux adopted by the masses feels more challenging than ever. Why does this matter? Because I think having Linux as an alternative desktop option adds value for a lot of potential newcomers.

The next biggest issue besides mobile devices flooding the market is the missed opportunity disenfranchised Windows users never hear about – Linux! Setting aside technical barriers for a moment, the fact is most people only know of OS X and Windows. This is largely because no one is spending big ad dollars on Linux promotion. Most people that are introduced to Linux on the desktop are doing so by chance.

Solution: I can't in good conscience suggest that there is a solution to this. Even if we could magically zap computers with Linux goodness, when it comes time to get a PC repaired, folks are left with Windows-biased technicians. The best course of action is to accept that this will be a grassroots effort that won't shatter any adoption records.

Abandoned software

To be fair, software projects are abandoned on Windows and OS X too. But it does seem to hurt more when it happens to a Linux project. I've seen this happen with Twitter clients, Webcam software and other non-critical applications. This may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but there have been abandoned projects that really bugged me for a long time.

Ideally in the Open Source world, this problem is addressed by someone choosing to fork the project. Sadly this doesn't always happen (I'm looking at you, GNOME Nanny). Where this rubs me the wrong way is when we're trying to get something done, locate the perfect application...only to find that it's no longer being developed.

Solution: Figuring out a way to make adopting existing code a bit more transparent would be a good start. Jono Bacon has some interesting ideas, but I think it's something that really needs to be looked at for the long haul.

Fragmentation

One area that I have gone back and forth on is the level of fragmentation within Linux distributions. On the one hand, I love being able to jump from distro to distro for new experiences. Unfortunately software developers for Windows and OS X do not like this.

Acknowledging that there are exceptions ranging from Steam games to Skype, overall most Windows and OS X software tends to avoid Linux altogether. Why, you might ask? Because according to the developers, fragmentation within the Linux community makes it pretty unattractive. Is this unfair? Perhaps, but at the end of the day the result is the same – no Photoshop, no MS Office, and no (insert software title here).

Solution: I have to admit that I'm on the fence with this issue. On the one hand, I don't rely on any of the "missing" software titles Linux newcomers might expect. But I'd be a fool if I tried to pretend like this isn't a deal breaker for some people. There are a lot of people that need certain legacy software titles. According to the developers of these apps, fragmentation is a big reason why they don't try to port their software titles to Linux.

Personally, I'm in the camp that believes that developers could do it if they simply chose a distro and stuck with it, but alas, that would again point straight back to the fragmentation issue. Even if they chose the most popular distro, they'd be missing out on users from others Linux distributions.

Reported market share

This easily fits in nicely with my above point. The difference between reported market share and fragmentation is that one is accurate while the other is perceived nonsense. Say it with me folks: The reported market share myth is higher than the "stats" have indicated in the past. The truth is no one actually knows. The Linux community don't issue licenses or sell traceable pre-installed PCs with Linux. Notice I said traceable, there are a number of vendors that sell Linux pre-installed.

Regardless of this fact, the consensus of a tiny market share remains. And like with the issue of fragmentation, this doesn't help matters much when Linux users are trying to convince a developer to port a game or software over to Linux.

Solution: I believe asking for a cited link when someone spouts off Linux adoption numbers is a good start. But in the end, there isn't anything we can really do about it. For now, we're left with making sure we reward developers that support us. This means participating in crowd funding opportunities, along with promoting our favorite distribution at ever opportunity. This doesn't do much for reported market share, but it does let others know that we Linux users are a passionate bunch.

Getting the latest software

If you use Arch or another related distribution, this doesn't apply to you. However, if you use a release-based distribution, getting the latest software version usually requires some extra work. For Ubuntu, this could mean looking for a PPA (personal package archive) that contains a later version of your desired software. For other distributions, it might make more sense to simply put a package together yourself. However you slice it, the situation sucks for release based distributions.


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Tags: Linux, Linux desktop


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