But all this success isnt enough for me to start recommending that family and friends abandon the Microsoft-imposed shackles and head off into a world of Linux freedom.
Most of Linuxs commercial success is down to one distro Ubuntu. Ubuntu is, without a doubt, the easiest, most accessible, best set-up and nicest Linux distro currently available. Ubuntu has enjoyed this success where other distros havent by being more like the enemy Windows.
Sure, Ubuntus no Windows clone, but the similarities are there. In fact, there are aspects of Ubuntu that make it easier to use than Windows (for example, the way that it handles different types of multimedia). Im confident that 2008 will see Linux enjoy greater commercial success and massive increases in user base. By the end of 2008 I wouldnt be surprised if Linux will have beaten the Mac OS to the No. 2 spot on the operating systems charts.
But despite all the success that Linux has enjoyed this year, Im not yet ready to start recommending Linux to family and friends as a pathway to computing utopia. Im certainly not ready to start recommending Linux to family over the holiday dinner table, because while a friend or acquaintance might forget that it was me that told them to switch to Linux, I dont have the same wriggle room with a family member.
The reason that Ill be keeping my mouth shut about Linux is not because Linux is bad or that the OS is buggy, flaky, or unreliable, its because of something far more fundamental than that its not Windows and because of that doesnt enjoy the supporting ecosystem that has developed around Microsofts OS.
Trying to condense the advantage, and more importantly the disadvantages, of Linux into a conversation short enough not to send a non-geek into a coma, is impossible. I know, Ive tried it. This information-induced unconsciousness means that you can never manage to get across all the cautions that are necessary, and most of the information that I do manage to get across will be misinterpreted.
Divining from the Entrails of Ubuntu's Gutsy Gibbon
Hang On...Why Am I Still Using Windows?
Linux is Hot, Vista is Not, But What About Leopard?
Why the Dell/Ubuntu Deal Won't Improve Linux's Market Share
The other problem is that people are never honest about how they use their computers and always underestimate what they use their PC for. They may tell you that they just do a bit of surfing, email and a little Facebook (or MySpace) but they dont tell you about that digital camera that needs that proprietary driver to work, or about those occasional sessions playing The Sims and Oblivion. Or about that scanner. Or that all their music is locked into iTunes.
For a high proportion of home users, migrating a Windows system over to Linux would be a huge disaster and would more likely put them off ever wanting to change platforms. To you and me, finding a driver or searching for a fix to a problem isnt a big deal because we do it all the time, but for the average home user, any problem, even a relatively small one, can be a major show stopper. Applications such as Wine are a useful bridge between the operating systems in the hands of those of us which are tech-literate, but if you dont speak geek, its as much use as an instruction manual written in hieroglyphics.
My belief is that two of the best ways for Linux newbies to experience the wonders of the world of Linux is through the use of a Live CD (just warn them against installing the OS unless theyre absolutely sure they want to do it) and on a new PC. Many families now have more than one PC, and being in a position where theres one Windows PC and one Linux box offers a safety net. Next year well be seeing more examples of budget, sub-$200 systems. This is the segment of the consumer market where Linux is likely to make the deepest inroads into over the next few years.
So, this year Ill be doing the same as usual. Ill be listening to other peoples PC and Windows gripes, muttering a few suggestions and maybe offering to help troubleshoot the trickier problems, but I wont be suggesting people switch to Linux. The people who can handle such a switch already know about Linux and dont need to be told about it. People who havent heard of Linux and who are surprised to discover that theres an alternative to Windows wont find a Linux distro any better or easier to use than what theyre already used to.
And anyway, Im not up to taking the blame when things go wrong.