Linux: Does Being Competitive with Windows Matter?

The Linux desktop may actually be hampered by its efforts to compete with Windows.
Posted November 8, 2010

Matt Hartley

Matt Hartley

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How many times have you heard this statement: "It's the year of the Linux desktop." Not recently? Then how about "Linux is making gains on the Windows desktop"? Still leaving a bad taste in your mouth? Bet I know why.

For years, both the statements above have been over-used to the point that either idea is now completely meaningless. Not due to anything negative with the Linux desktop, mind you, rather due to inherent differences in how Linux is marketed to the world, who its intended audience is and whether mainstream adoption even matters in the first place.

Let's blame Linspire

The idea behind the Linux distribution Linspire (aka Lindows) was to create a competing desktop environment for PC users not inclined to drop everything and move over to the Mac if they had a distaste for Windows. On the surface, it was an interesting idea. Unfortunately, at the time the Linux desktop technology of that era was not ready for the target market Linspire was going after.

With a more mature desktop experience, the Linspire model might have made greater inroads early without as many hurdles. But the fact is that Linspire took a desktop experience that was aimed at those seeking freedom and tried to make a Windows OS alternative out of it.

Linspire was hardly alone in this path of "conquering Windows" with the Linux mindset. Other Linux distributions of the period were also targeting new users. Unfortunately for adopters of these Linux distributions, functionality like Bluetooth, out of the box wireless connectivity, and other important items were simply not there yet on the Linux desktop. Sadly, this didn't stop many made-for-newbie distributions from pitching the idea to people anyway.

Enough with Linux vs. Windows

My switch to Linux wasn't an immediate one. But what was apparent early on during my Linux adoption was my motivation for making the switch in the first place – no longer wanting to use Windows.

This is where I think the confusion begins for most new Linux adopters. As we make the switch, we must fight the inherent urge to automatically begin comparing the new desktop experience to our previous experiences with Windows. It's a completely different set of circumstances, folks.

Some stuff is easier, other aspects of using the Linux desktop is a bit more involved. Yet once all is said and done, you’ll become a stronger, more self-reliant computer enthusiast if you stick to your efforts and work through any perceived challenges while discovering Linux.

I've grown to dislike the idea of comparing Windows and Linux as I feel that it's a lot like comparing apples to oranges. Both run software and each of them has its strengths and weaknesses. Trying to trump one over the other is time wasted in my opinion and leaves you with no benefit. It took me years to fully comprehend this, but the fact is that expecting one to behave like the other is just a silly waste of time.

Celebrating what works, learning from what doesn't

All too often I see Linux users complain because something that worked fine with Windows failed to operate as expected with the Linux desktop. This of course, leads back down the road of comparing Windows with Linux.

The face that one platform can support a specific device while the other platform cannot (and so on) doesn't really solve the problem of getting said device working. You can see where this dysfunction of thought can become a big problem, fast.

I’ve learned to look at this in a completely different light. I start off by voting with my wallet. I purchase from those companies that support my chosen platform – Linux. Granted, there are some limited exceptions to this rule, generally my computers are almost always purchased from Linux offering vendors. For my peripherals, I use HP printers and Logitech webcams. And my wi-fi options either bear the name Intel or Edimax.

By taking this approach to my hardware and peripherals, I am avoiding the prospect of falling victim to the usual "it's not compatible" hoopla we see filling the various Linux forums. While it's not 100% foolproof, I've found that by supporting those vendors that support my platform choice, I'm working to keep a positive experience with Linux firmly in my sights.

Dumbing down the Linux desktop

Another issue with comparing the Linux and Windows desktops is what some have referred to as the “dumbing down” of the Linux experience. This is an area in which I have some mixed emotions.

Half of me remembers what it's like to learn a new platform from scratch, while the other half of me feels like – in the quest to make desktop Linux more like Windows – we're sacrificing basic skills that give Linux enthusiasts an advantage over users of other platforms. Problem solving skills, anyone?

As Linux distributions like Ubuntu begin to make the same mistakes found with Linspire and < a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xandros">Xandros, among others, I cannot help but wonder: is history is repeating itself?

The difference is that things are happening in reverse this time. Linspire, nearing its demise, was becoming more "open" with their Freespire distribution efforts, while Ubuntu is locking down default installations with its Unity desktop. And the Ubuntu application store is demonstrating a remarkable similarity to that of Linspire's CNR software management concept.

Now, the application store idea Ubuntu is using isn't all that bad. Rather, it's how the desktop is slowly forcing things by default that has me shaking my head in disgust. Take installing a Debian software package, for example. In older releases of Ubuntu, one would end up installing a software package downloaded onto their desktop via Gdebi. Today, Ubuntu defaults to its software center instead, which is much slower to load than Gdebi and results in a much slower user experience.

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

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