Linux: Does Being Competitive with Windows Matter?: Page 2

Posted November 8, 2010

Matt Hartley

Matt Hartley

(Page 2 of 2)

The same kind of backwards thinking applies with the next release of Ubuntu, version 11.04. As you’ve likely heard by now, the desktop provided on Ubuntu 11.04 will be the "netbook friendly" Unity desktop instead of the regular GNOME shell.

For intermediate to advanced users, no big deal, just boot into a GNOME shell and life is good. But for users who are less familiar with this kind of desktop swap, it's going to be like trying to run Android or iOS on your desktop PC. And once again, I see another example of Ubuntu trying to get Linux to compete with proprietary operating systems.

Need more evidence? Consider Ubuntu's eventual adoption of Wayland over X11. Only a year ago or so, one could make changes to their Xorg file if something on their Linux desktop became problematic. Then came the Ubuntu adoption of "BulletProof X." A nice idea at first, but users are not able to use "dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg" for a fast X server repair.

Once again, dumbing down the desktop experience while forcing users to go without a valuable learning experience. Now for the big question: isn't there a fair chance that by moving to Wayland this kind of limiting experience could become even worse?

Competing with proprietary desktops hurts Linux adoption

At the end of the day, the awesome thing about using Linux on our desktop is all the choices it gives us. The problem is, as distributions like Ubuntu try to compete with proprietary desktop choices, we find much of the Linux platform taking on characteristics that might be more harmful than helpful to Linux adoption.

How? Consider the following:

Imagine two distinctly different users, each running some sort of Linux distribution. The first user switched to Linux because they wanted something like Windows, but without a hefty price tag and licensing headaches. The second user chose Linux because they wanted the freedom to customize their desktop and participate in an open source ecosystem that embraced the values they felt good about.

User one is happy to use Linux on the desktop until the day arrives when something suddenly stops working as expected after an update. Frustrated, they give up and fall back to their proprietary desktop.

User two will at some point face a similar challenge. But instead of giving up, they take the time to troubleshoot the problem and finally decide to purchase a new peripheral device to help ensure the problem at hand won't come up again in the future. They do this because they’re willing to make a small investment in equipment that works well with their desktop environment. Even more important, they made this change because they took the time to understand why the problem happened in the first place – owning hardware designed for a proprietary operating system.

Now I can’t speak for everyone, but I think we could use more users like the second Linux enthusiast. People who are willing to troubleshoot, learn and then share their knowledge with others provide better overall value to the Linux community than those who simply complain because something stopped working and are unwilling to rectify the problem.

Sadly, though, with some Linux distributions trying so hard to compete with proprietary operating systems, we'll likely end up with more of those users who expect an idiot-proof experience than those who are willing to invest a little time learning about how their computer works.

So is competing with Windows hurting Linux adoption? In the short term, perhaps not. But when you look at long term user retention, I think it could be hurting Linux adoption as we end up with a group of individuals who are all too willing to drop Linux the first time something doesn't go according to plan.

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Tags: Linux, Windows, Ubuntu, Linux desktop, Linux downloads

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