Linux is a superior product. Along with its open-source brethren (whom I use in abundance), it comprises one of the major computing accomplishments of the last decade (In fact, this year marks the anniversary of the Linux kernel 1.0). Today, its clean GUI and present security bonuses make it an appealing choice for those in the know. That being said, it all means very little in terms of actual users.

It’s long been a rule of marketing departments that the quality of a product means very little if the customer is ignorant and the sales pitch is convincing. Why else would the 90% of users who use Windows stay with it despite instability problems (especially after a new release, while Linux releases are generally rock solid) and major security issues and high costs? Why deal with bloated features and a porcine, resource-hungry operating system? Because Windows is there, and it’s always been there.

Windows as we know it has developed concurrently with Linux, and has always held a tight grip on the mainstream. Microsoft has the dollars, the clout, and the user base to keep running their aggressive marketing campaign, and their consumers will continue to shell out too much money for a technically inferior product. I know, it’s not fair, but since when has it been?

Miguel de Icaza writes in his Ximian blog:

They leveraged their monopoly to break into new markets. The most discussed one is when they used brute force and anti-competitive strategies to get their products into new markets, but in some other cases they got fairly good adoption of their products with little or no effort: just bundle it with Windows: MSN messenger, Media Player.

He further states that Windows always managed to sucker punch Linux by “innovating” first, beginning with Windows 95, then with .NET, and now with the proposed next-generation Avalon system of Longhorn.

So why has Linux become popular on servers? Simple: many of the server applications (such as Apache) are open-source themselves. Linux currently has better security (partly because of better writing, partly for lack of threats to the O/S) and easy deployment in a server environment by knowledgeable administrators. The same can’t be said of the desktop.

It is true that Linux has for years chipped away at Microsoft’s consumer base. If fact, some studies predict a 20% share of the desktop market for Linux by 2008. Others forecast a standstill at 5%. The problem is in saleability. Often, it’s just not cost effective to support an alternate computing paradigm. And why bother? With 90% of users running Windows, where’s the need? And if developers (excluding, of course, the slow trickle supporting Linux every year) continue to side with Windows, if not exclusively then at least preferentially, where’s the determined march forward for Linux into an aggressive share of the market? Naturally, it isn’t there.

Linux advocates make the mistake of vilifying Windows to the point where it’s easy to believe that the operating system has hit a standstill, and it’s a simple matter of time for Linux to pass it up. If only it were that simple. No one is saying Linux won’t continue to grow, or make Redmond nervous, or continue to be the best operating system around. But just like the past ten years, Linux (and Mac) will continue to play Larry and Curly to Microsoft’s Moe, slapped around despite their niche popularity. From Icaza, again:

Will [Microsoft innovation] be the end of the world for Linux and the Mac? Not likely, many of us will continue using our regular applications, and enjoy our nicely usable and consistent desktops, but it will leave us out of some markets (just like it does today).

My point exactly.

§370 · June 24, 2004 · Tags: , , , ·

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