Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Linux on the desktop 2010, your honest thoughts?
23 points by berlinbrown on Jan 9, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 73 comments
I was writing an article on the Linux desktop, for example Ubuntu linux. I was thinking it isn't pervasive as we had hoped. What are your thoughts with Linux on the desktop and how it will or will not compete with Windows7 and the Mac Os?

Also, I know these kind of subjective questions get turned in flame wars. First, let's focus on 2010 and beyond. Also, let's focus on the more desktop oriented distros like Ubuntu Linux or Suse? Linux. Also, here are some basic usage question; Are you going to use a desktop linux? Are you going to use this desktop linux all the time? Or as a secondary machine? Would recommend the system for someone else, maybe less tech savvy?

Background: Former OS X user, switched to Ubuntu/Win7 dual boot, spending almost all time in Ubuntu.

Quick thoughts:

Linux on the desktop should be rebranded as Linux on the laptop. I haven't used a desktop for at least 6 years. This relates directly to what my main impression is: For power users, using Linux feels superior in almost every regard, except hardware support.

This is bitter-sweet, because installing/purging apps effortlessly from repositories, keeping a system up to date, and having good usability is fantastic, but the paper cuts are there - brightness adjustment doesn't work, skype video failed suddenly, can't configure touchpad fully (disable tapping, use side-scrolling, etc.). Battery life is noticeably inferior to Win/OS X.

Also, buying PC hardware is a nightmare - way too many models, with terrible nomenclature. Models with entirely different processors, etc. have almost the same name, etc.

I dream of a "Linux Apple" - a company that sells a small but smart range of laptops (even at a premium) with a selection of hardware that guarantees that a major linux distro will run on it without paper cuts. Companies like System76 fail - their machines are too heavy and the battery life sucks (same for others, not singling them out).

"I dream of a 'Linux Apple' - a company that sells a small but smart range of laptops (even at a premium) with a selection of hardware that guarantees that a major linux distro will run on it without paper cuts."

You mean like this?


If it comes with Ubuntu preinstalled it "probably" guarantees hardware compatibility.

I bought one of those in 2007 when they were new, and it was not exactly smooth sailing. It most certainly was not a 'Linux Apple.' Nothing short of alchemic transmutation is going to make a Dell into any kind of Apple.

Certainly laptops are where the market is. I relabeled it below as "Linux on anything that might otherwise run Windows". I think that covers what people are generally talking about when they say "Linux on the Desktop".

I dream of this company once a week after using Ubuntu. System76 has a noble effort going on, but it just isn't elegant.

That is a good point.

2009 was a break out year for linux on the desktop for the people around me. In my company, linux has begun to bleed into non-technical departments. I convinced my aging parents to dump Windows, my acupuncturist brother in law, my wife etc. etc.

With more of an emphasis on console games as opposed to games on the desktop and with 80% or more of a user's time being spent on the browser on desktops, I only see it getting easier to transition people to Linux in business and at home. At my company, the plan is to transition everyone to Linux with two exceptions, testers so we can test compatibility (though those are run on VMs anyway) and old employees who are MSOffice power users that the learning curve for OpenOffice and the few missing features is too much for them to bear (and it is worth the few hundred bucks of licensing fees not to hear their complaining)...this amounts to two, maybe three people out of over 75...all developers and operations and most product sales consultants and engineers are already on Linux.

Were there any issues with converting over? Did you hear about any issues.

The devs had no problems. Operations absolutely loved the change. We heard fears just before the change from people with the most direct client contact (sales and client support engineers/consultants) who where mostly worried about Office document compatibility. We had them try without the crutch and heard very few complaints after a week or so of cutting their teeth. Our main pain point was getting off Exchange. We tested a few different replacements with varying levels of success (blackberry issues, mostly) but once GMail came out of beta we just went with that. Our second biggest issue was display drivers and some lingering confusion about small day-to-day things...but overall our one desktop support guy is very happy with us. All in all I expected the transition to be a lot more painful than it was...even our non-technical staff is pretty technical so we might have it easier than most.

It's not going to happen in 2010, but open source will eventually become a big player on the desktop/laptop/corneal implant/whatever people are using as their primary computer by then.


-Computing is stagnating so open source has an easier time keeping up with proprietary software than it used to. Gone are the days when your 18 month old 486 was hopelessly obsolete, or when there was a greatly enhanced version of (whatever) every year. Even Apple didn't exactly stun us with its latest OS upgrade.

-Computers are becoming cheaper so the price of the OS is becoming a larger fraction of the cost. The Windows 95 license on the first computer I bought for myself was a small fraction of the $2100 price tag. It's not as small of a fraction of the price of a $500 lower-middle end computer in 2010, especially when the middle class that can afford to waste $20-50, or whatever the Windows Tax is these days, is shrinking.

But - that doesn't necessarily mean LINUX on the whatevertop. Android or something that we haven't heard of yet may end up ovetaking it.

Anyway, Linux is pretty much ready. If somebody with some money and clout gets behind it, it'll become big. Who can say when/if that will happen?

My honest thoughts? It doesn't matter.

If 2009 has showed us anything, it's that the desktop OS is quickly becoming less and less of a factor, as far as consumers are concerned. Linux's strength has always been in the cloud and on "non-computer" devices; is it a bad thing that "not enough" people are using Ubuntu if they end up using Boxee, JoliCloud, Android, etc?

The reason why OS's don't matter is because, generally speaking, all people want them to do these days is not crash and let them get to their apps of choice. In my opinion, if there's one priority that desktop Linux should have for the coming year to increase its appeal, it's not in the OS itself; it's in working with services to get better support compatibility. How about some GPU accelerated Flash support? Netflix streaming anyone? Granted, a lot of improvement has been going on in this area (I never expected to be able to run Hulu Desktop, for example), but there's still a lot that can be done.

I've been dual booting Ubuntu and Win7 for several months now, and I can't find too many reasons why I would choose Ubuntu over Win7 (or Mac OS). I should say, I have converted friends and family to Ubuntu and they do just fine.

Many of the tools I like for Linux are starting to also get ports for Windows. Plus Win7 feels open source compared to my buddy's Mac :P

"Plus Win7 feels open source compared to my buddy's Mac"

Your feelers are funny. The amount of open source and open standards utilization in Mac OS X is ridiculously higher than Windows. And if you think there are a lot of Linux tools that run on Windows, you should see how many run on Mac.

I agree with you in that there is more open source and free software code in Mac OS X than Windows, but I also know exactly what is meant by "Win7 feels more open source". It's a cultural difference, and not a subtle one, and it has little to do with whether vi or emacs is available at the command line.

If Windows was constructed the way a medieval cathedral is built, and Linux is an ongoing "happening" more like a chaotic bazaar, then Max OS X is company town along the lines of Fordlandia or The Woodlands, a little less open than Fordlandia and more closed than The Woodlands. Maybe it's like Disneyland.

Another bullshit analogy I make is comparing Max OS X to an all-Mormon town. Everything is functional, you don't fear your home and vehicle unlocked, and you know if you hire anyone to do work, it will be slightly more expensive but done competently, unimaginatively, and on time; the electricity never goes out and garbage is taken away. You also don't date any girls from there or think about raising children (writing software) there, because you know the locals are fucked in the head, no matter how clean and orderly the place is.

I'm not sure what kinds of towns would be Windows and Linux. Sometimes I think Linux is like a trailer park, where it's cheap but damn, you live in a trailer park. Winodws is like one of the stereotypical American subdivisions, with quiet functional streets and cookie cutter houses that are all shoddily built when you peel off the exterior, and all sorts of unseemly exchanges and lifestyles going on behind closed doors.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Company_town [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fordlandia [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Woodlands,_Texas

Indeed, It may be a chip on my shoulder about iphone/touch development standers (including, but not limited to, needing a mac to develop for them). Just my personal preference though.

I set up my mother's laptop with Ubuntu and she is perfectly happy with it. It stopped the constant cycle of viruses/spyware I was having to fix, and everything works just the same as far as she's concerned.

Yeah, its helped alot with my family's computers a lot too. (on a side note) I will say im amazed that with one installation of win 7 pro (since rcm version), I havent had any virus/spyware problems (with no anti-virus/spyware software)

I'm going to lean to "no" if for no other reason than this has been said for the past ten years and it has never come true. It's like hearing someone talk about "kids today" or "Duke Nukem Forever", eventually just the phrase turns you off.

In all seriousness, however, I think that MacOS and Windows have come so far both in features and price, they can successfully stop Linux on the desktops' growth. Why would I mess with installing linux if there's so many ways to get Windows 7 on anything I want for not a lot?

This is the year of Linux on the console/set-top box/phone/tablet or other specialty device, perhaps, but not the desktop.

I tend to lean towards what you are saying.

Think about this; the AndroidOS is getting a lot of traction. Phones and companies are trying to develop their hardware around the operating system. There is the HTC Nexus One, the Motorola Droid and others. I hear regular discussions in the office about a Android phone.

Google's Android took off from day one. This is how Desktop Linux should have taken off. As far as I know, that hasn't happened.

(Yes, Anroid is based on the Linux kernel, but I wouldn't consider Android the typical Linux desktop OS).

I agree, it's how linux should have taken off. The problem is, you have a bunch of smug idealists running the show who are out of touch with the mainstream public. Imagine if android was: take your current smart phone and just install this software somehow. No one in a million years except for geeks like ourselves would try it. Could you imagine the carrier incompatibilities, the hardware issues, potential bricking,etc.? Imagine if Android had zero hardware vendors making devices for it (I know linux has tons of device makers using it, i'm talking about PC Manufacturers). That's basically how Linux looks.

The show isn't really run by the smug idealists- they're just the loudest.

And this is what pisses me off. There were so many companies that showed "interest" in Linux like IBM, RedHat but nobody really did what Google did.

There was a Google marketing campaign, they worked with proprietary companies (gasp, heaven forbid) to push a system that they were to make money off of.

Red Hat has done pretty well by linux. So did IBM, at least I think they did. The problem is that it's not really "Linux on the Desktop" if its an enterprise roll out or a server or other specialty application (I'm a librarian and there are some good systems for public access internet based on Linux). Do you mean "Linux on the Home Desktop" or "Linux on anything that might otherwise run Windows"?

I think the mainstream desktop battle is long over and no longer relevant. Apple and Microsoft have defined exactly what a traditional personal computer is supposed to be. Desktop Linux can only hope to replicate the experience which puts it in a perpetual state of catch up. That's OK though -- traditional PCs are old news. They'll be extinct for the mainstream in 5-10 years anyway. Linux and OSS software is positioned to be the dominant player in the next generation of devices: mobile handsets, set top boxes and a variety of other new platforms we haven't considered yet. That being said I don't think the desktop Linux projects should just pack it up and stop because there is a small highly devoted audience for Linux on the desktop today and there will always be a sizable market for traditional PC workstations. As time goes on and the mainstream moves to mobiles & set tops for the bulk of their computing the remaining market for PCs will slant heavily towards hackers, developers, power users where Linux is a fantastic choice. So I guess after the first "decade of Linux" in the mainstream we should be cautiously optimistic. The huge usage numbers aren't there (on the desktop) but there's no doubt the existence of Linux and other OSS projects have completely changed how we use technology as a whole in the last decade. That's not a bad start.

After shunning Linux desktops for years, I find myself surprisingly positive about Ubuntu.

I'm trying Ubuntu 9.10 Netbook Remix, on a Lenovo S10. There were a few bumps getting it started, but all in all I'm starting to enjoy using it as much as my Mac laptop, maybe more.

It may have the best GUI shell available for a small screen. Stuff that used to be tricky, like mounting devices or connecting to networks, is now quite elegant. Workhorse open source apps like Firefox and Thunderbird are now very mature and usable. I can get (some) decent fonts and they look about as good as any other OS on-screen.

So I can customize it more, and I have the reliability of apt-get, a lot of very good apps, and for the most part it is slick, attractive, and Just Works. Perfect for a hacker who hates system administration.

That said, Linux probably won't conquer on the desktop, ever. They missed their chance, because the desktop is now obsolete. Network-oriented devices like phones and the forthcoming Chrome netbook are the future. Ironically they will run Linux, but only for the most basic OS functions; all this desktop stuff will wither away.

I've been using *NIX as my primary desktop for a very long time. For most of that time, I used the same server distros on my desktop as on my servers (why learn a new system, right?) and it was kindof a pain in the ass. But, I figured, it was worth it, as I could use what I learned at my dayjob.

But two years ago or so, I switched to a desktop distro; ubuntu. It was striking. setting the thing up was actually easier than setting up a windows box for gaming (no digging around for drivers, etc... the box doesn't slowly become less reliable as you add new software.) my laptop (thinkpad X60s) works out of box. Every peripheral I've needed, from the internal EVDO modem to usb->serial adapter 'just works'

2010 will be like 2009.

The year of the desktop for Linux will keep on not arriving, but the Linux desktop offering will keep improving incrementally.

Windows will continue to stagnate. Mac OS X will continue to innovate and the Linux desktop community will be better at copying the good bits than Microsoft, partly because of less cruft and partly because Microsoft is still trying to get a sense of itself in a changed world.

Personally, I write code on all three, have basically the same environment on all three (Vim, Vimperator, bash, GCC, CMake, OpenGL, Cg) and find all three usable for most purposes.

Background: I've used Linux a lot for around 4 years.

In the time that I've been using Linux it has come a very long way. When I started it was absolute torture. Hardware compatability was terrible, very few things worked. I had to update drivers by compiling and installing them. No where close to being usable by anyone that wasn't pretty tech savvy.

However, I was able to install SuSE linux on a laptop for my dad and it has been working just fine for him. That being said, there are things that are seriouly lacking. The main one, and the reason I pretty much have switched to Windows 7 is graphics.

The state of graphics in Linux is completely unacceptable. Compositing breaks often, the performance is poor, and if your hardware is even kind of unusual things won't work. Want to get a sweet notebook (http://tr.im/JUuy - amazon.com) with 10 hours of battery life and the ability to switch between a discrete card and integrated graphcis (to save power)? Tough luck, Linux can't do it. Want to have composite with 3 monitors (admittedly just for power users) you're pretty much out of luck.

Beyond that, there needs to be a company promoting and selling linux, a company that has a vested interest in fixing problems like the above. More than that, there needs to be a company that needs to find a way to make money with Linux desktop/laptop computers. Until that happens, I feel that it will always be stuck behind the curve and playing catch up.

Seriously, why does anyone care? Do you want to use Linux on the desktop? Great! Use it! Why spend a bunch of time trying to convince Windows and OS X users to use something they don't want to. I really don't understand Linux users obsession with converting other people. I suppose it springs out of GNU and the RMS style wish to convert the world to FOSS. While I think it would be great if all software was Free, I don't think it's worth worrying over weather or not Linux is "ready" for the desktop.

Because if not enough other people use it, everybody assumes you have Windows and programs/writes accordingly, and you find yourself forced to do things like use web applications that only work on IE 6.

No man is an island.

Web apps that only work in IE 6 are dead in consumer space and will be repalced evenetually in corporate space.

The desktop is dead, the web is the platform now

(10 year Linux desktop user, ex Red Hat employee, author of man resolv.conf in a bunch of distros, the 'mikem' in your sudoers file on RHEL/Fedora)

Eventually. Eventually, we'll all be dead. Meanwhile, I'm still getting pptx files from professors that are meant for MS Office 2007 and work only very badly in open office. And hardware compatibility is still a problem.

Don't overgeneralize your experiences. If you work for Red Hat or a similar employer, obviously you're not going to have to use corporate or educational crapware that many others do.

I'm not overgeneralizing my experiences, but rather, observing past history. Nobody ever thought Lotus Notes would disappear either, but it did.

Most large corporates still have a lot of desktop crapware, but they're also deploying more webapps as they notice the time wasted maintaining client software. My past experiences at Red Hat were cited because I was once very interested in Linux desktops. I currently work at a conservative investment bank who's nevertheless busy deploying every new app via the browser.

PS. Re: OpenOffice opening OpenXML files, if Google Docs or Zoho don't solve your issue, you can access Microsoft Office 2010 web version from Firefox or Safari.

That... is actually a good point. That's the only reasonable rebuttal I've ever heard to my "who cares" argument. :-)

For me the desktop Linux year was 2006. I'd been using it on and off since 2000 (Redhat, SuSE, Mandrake), but it wasn't until 2006 (Ubuntu) that it could do all the things that I needed without a great deal of complication and diversions. I've been using Linux almost exclusively since then as my primary OS on multiple desktop and laptop machines. I also feel comfortable recommending Linux to other people now, which wasn't the case even a couple of years ago.

Having used desktop Linux since 1997, this year I switched to a Mac because I expect to spend less time adminning a Mac than a Linux box.

ADDED. One reason I expect to spend less time adminning a Mac is because some things cannot practically be changed on a Mac because of lack of source code. Also, more loose end are tied up on the Mac than on any Linux distro I can think of. Most people can probably resist the temptation to tie up the loose ends better than I can, though.

I use both Mac and Linux on the desktop and in my experience a recent Ubuntu and OS X require about the same amount of admin time. Which is to say not that much.

That's good to know. I haven't tried Ubuntu yet.

Here are a few thoughts. These thoughts have the mindset of "how do i make linux get some form of mainstream adoption":

- People are comfortable with computing devices that aren't running windows now (netbooks, kindles, iphones, the thought of a tablet, etc.)

- It can't just be a software proposition. A large mass of people will not just say: let me uninstall windows/os x for linux.

- There needs to be a tight integration of Hardware, Software, AND Services/Support.

- I <3 open source. I absolutely think it's the reason most of us are able to do and build what we love on a daily basis. With that said: We need to get past some of the hippy ideals+everyone is tech savvy assumptions of the linux community. You need to bundle the "non-free" codecs and assume that no one will ever want to touch the command line.

The PC industry is complete and utter shit. It infuriates me like you wouldn't believe. All of the desktops are ugly, the service is absolute crap, and every computer comes with bloatware out the ass. Where's the "Apple of Linux PCs"? Why doesn't someone say: I'll build a great distro of linux that has what you need out of the box with amazing effects (cairo dock, compiz,etc.), looks absolutely stunning in a small form factor, AND provides great support+getting started support.

Absolutely. We need Google to step in. I wish Redhat or Novell would consider this market. But they haven't.

I've been playing around with HTPCs that are Linux based. It was my first time using linux on a dedicated device on a daily basis. It's actually some really great stuff. Through my research and playing around, I saw some of the utterly beautiful things Linux can do- the eye candy blows OS X out of the water.

If you're going to make Linux a popular force in the PC market, you cannot fuck around. You need to be serious about the Software (how it looks/default apps/ drivers/ etc), Hardware (beautiful cases/ performance /etc), and Support (Apple 1 on 1 sessions + genius bars work for a reason). Too many of the hardware guys see Linux as a way to make the PC even cheaper since there's no MSFT tax. Look at the evergreen gOS PC. I'm the opposite. I see it as a way to make the PC "richer" (in experience) than ever before and actually make a product people want to own. That's why Apple is around, they're the only people left on this Earth that make a great end to end PC.

tl;dr - No

At this point, I don't think there's any technical reason that Linux on the desktop/laptop/netbook/smartbook wouldn't fly.

End users never see a command line in mainstream Linux distributions, anymore than they do with Windows 7 or Mac OS X (though power user still use them). Applications are available from a nice point and click GUI, very similar to the apps marketplace on smartphones, making software installs a snap.

Linux now has the best hardware support of any OS; hardware that doesn't "just work" is kind of rare these days. There's no driver installs, making the end user process even easier.

Since smartbooks will be the next big push, Linux will have an early advantage, as it did with netbooks.

All that said, unless more vendors start offering and promoting pre-installs, Linux on the desktop will not be mainstream. No one (expect we few) installs an OS. If viruses take over a machine, they take it to Geek Squad and pay $150 for e re-install. That's just the reality, just as most people don't do their own car maintenance anymore.

The single largest failure of Linux (which I use exclusively) is that it has no serious marketing. 99 out of 100 people I encounter have never even heard of it, after all these years. They know Android and Tivo and Google and Sharp and all the other brands that run Linux under the covers, but they have no idea what it is or that it's something they can use on a computer. I understand that the free distribution model doesn't lend itself to paying for marketing, but there isn't even a way to contribute towards advertising. The only thing Linux has is word of mouth.

Linux now has the best hardware support of any OS; hardware that doesn't "just work" is kind of rare these days. There's no driver installs, making the end user process even easier.

Let's see, I've got 3 computers using linux that needed drivers installed via apt-get.

1. Wireless card (well known card) was detected as an Enternet card and assigned eth0. It obiviously didn't work.

2. Wireless card (Broadcom) didn't have open source drivers so the drivers weren't installed. Had to enable the nonfree repository through synaptic to get the driver I was looking for.

3. Video card is forced into a mode it doesn't support because it wasn't detected properly. (GeForce 2 NVidia, worked just fine with Debian Sarge) Had to modify X11 config files manually.

I think I'll stick with my Mac for any serious work. I love linux on my servers. Keep it off my desktop. (Anyone ever noticed reading anything on a linux gui causes eyestrain like it's 1995 if you don't change the defaults?)

And a data point of one user is a trend?

I have seven different computers (x86_64, i686, ppc) and I don't have to install any drivers.

What does that tell us? Just as much nothing. The fact is that Linux supports more hardware (as of about 2007) than any other OS. Feel free to Google it yourself.

And when you say Linux, what distribution? I use Fedora 12 at the moment (the on-screen text is beautiful); there are over 300 active distributions.

Keep in mind that a Windows or Mac is pre-installed, with the drivers for the specific hardware. If Linux were pre-installed, why would you expect otherwise? Have you ever seen an end-user try to install a retail copy of Windows (missing drivers)? There's a reason people pay Geek Squad $150 for a Windows re-install.

I've switched back and forth between Windows and Linux. Right now I'm favoring Windows.

The main problem with Linux from a developer standpoint is that you have to be doing strictly Linux-oriented development to have a good experience - which, commercially, mainly means server stuff. As soon as you want to target end-user anything, then you have to think cross-platform, and when you try for cross-platform you start running into basic platform compatibility problems and you start wanting to use the proprietary tools and APIs of the target platform because they "just work" on that platform and the universal whatever you're trying to use doesn't.

Linux also tends to have trouble with even slightly non-mainstream hardware configurations(multiple sound cards, multiple monitors, etc.) because of driver/architecture design that doesn't really account for those situations. It's very all-or-nothing. When it gets things right the hardware works great, but when it doesn't there is usually no real recourse.

That said, I still want to use Linux if I can find a good reason to. It is pretty awesome having 10GB+ worth of software sitting in repositories for convenient download. Just paging through listings in Synaptic is food for thought by itself.

What are the use-cases for multiple sound cards?

No, I don't think so...

The only company focused on the Linux Desktop is Canonical (for Ubuntu) while all others only care about servers...

Plus, other companies don't see Linux as very important for the end user, so you end up with cameras, printers, scanners, etc that don't work on Linux.

My say is that it will continue to grow with the geek community, but not for the average users.

Well, a couple of years ago, many people thought that Linux would take over the desktop as soon as it could match windows' and Mac OS's ease of use/installation, because it is much stabler, safer and free.

Now the time has come that Linux has (almost?) caught up with those other OS's in terms of usability. Unfortunately, Windows has become a lot safer and stabler in the mean time; and we have come to realize that the security of Linux is not just because of technical reasons -- for a large part it is because it is simple a less interesting target. Also, the price is not really that important.

So, no, Linux will not quickly beat Windows on the desktop. On the other hand, it might become easier to switch, also as more and more software becomes available on Linux, and this could make Linux's growth at least pretty stable for a couple of years to come.

I'm using linux from 15 years now. First server-side only, quickly after for XWindow apps on client side, then on workstation. I'm a proud early adopter of Linux/KDE and I did contribute as I could.

I'm absolutely sure Linux on the desktop can't succeed if it's not provided by the harware vendor. I even tryed it, beeing the first hardware vendor selling Linux (corectly !) pre-installed laptops at entry level price, a few years ago. BTW, this did kill my very long running bizz. Execpt some American Online Magazines, I didn't recieve any help from European comunity. They were too busy fighting angainst Windows pre-installed systems, and for their own individual karma. As a very skeeled but self-teached person, I'm now working in a gas station.

Think of it.

I keep sure Linux on the desktop can't go further if it's not provided by the hardware vendor. (RIP)

I believe it will continue to grow but not as fast as it needs to be any serious competitor to Windows or MacOS in 2010.

It still lacks a good-enought variety of (proprietary) third-party applications and games.

This is what most of the younger power users care about -- and they are the ones who learn computer usage most easily. But there's no compelling reason for them to try or to switch to Linux.

What blocks the supply of third-party applications is the lack of a default decentral installer on the major Linux distributions. APT just doens't cut it. In a recent review of using a Macbook, former GNOME Quality Control lead, Luis Villa, wrote [1]:

"...installing new software [on a Mac] is insanely nice. Yes, apt and yum are nice, but I don’t find out about software that way. I find out about software by reading something on the web (for me usually a blog post, but for others a news article) and from there installation on mac is a click, download, and drag away. That is it. That is insanely great."

I do find new software like that, too, but APT wasn't made for this use case. As a result, I stopped reading reviews of Linux applications. Most of the time, it's a hassle to get the dicussed software installed, for they are often not available in Ubuntu's repositories or it's an old version.

I also stopped buying or reading Linux magazines or journals for this reason.

So, even if there are new great applications out there, the word spreads slowly. As a result, Linux appears to be boring and to lack behind the other two OSes. It's simply more fun to use Windows or MacOS for a power user.

And if the majority of power users don't switch, the less literate users are not going to be convinenced to switch, either. Neither more advertising nor having Linux pre-installed will change that, in my opinion.

[1]: http://tieguy.org/blog/2009/12/23/continued-notes-on-the-mac...

_APT just doens't cut it. In a recent review of using a Macbook, former GNOME Quality Control lead, Luis Villa, wrote [1]:

"...installing new software [on a Mac] is insanely nice._

_Upgrading_ software under APT (or Arch Linux's pacman) is very nice. On the Mac, though, each software publisher rolls their own way of upgrading installed application; do they not? But, yeah, Linux lacks proprietary applications.

No it isn't IMO for the following reasons:

- Windows 7 is actually pretty good. Those who were put off by Vista are, I think, being sold on 7 a lot easier

- The Linux UI experience still, IMO, isn't up the the level of a non-technical user. Microsoft and Apple have invested a LOT of time and money into UI and Linux needs to learn from some of their ideas.

- Apart from the UI things still aren't "slick" enough for non-techy users. Example; People make a big thing of package managers as being something awesome - however in my experience people dont find the Ubuntu one particularly intuitive.

- There is still too much techno-jargon within easy reach of users

I love Linux but it isnt yet a viable desktop for the consumer market.

Someone needs to charge for it; and push the funds into developing the UI. I think the uptake will be MUCH higher if people are paying, say, $30 for it (crazy huh?)

I remember buying a boxed version of SUSE Linux a long time ago. Other distributions have tried that business model as well. It doesn't work. Most Linux users expect software to be free of charge.

Which may not be a good thing, in the long term - some software just isn't going to get written for free, and sneering at anything that steeps so low as to charge money for work isn't a strong motivator.

I run a Windows install natively, as it's far more reliable than any desktop Linux distribution I have ever used. I then run Ubuntu 9.10 in a virtual machine on one of my monitors or in Unity mode or what have you. This works very well for me; when Ubuntu inevitably breaks, it's trivial to revert to a working snapshot, and it doesn't take down the majority of what I'm doing.

Linux still has a long way to go improving usability and user experience, as well as improving the generally poor quality of Linux desktop software.

I really like Linux. I use it daily, and I would like it to succeed. I hope that the things I've mentioned are improved to bring it up to par with newer versions of OS X and Windows.

That's pretty much how I use Linux on my Windows 7 notebook, except I only need to use it once a week or so. I really don't have the time to bother with all the hardware issues I remember facing back in the day, when I did have time to tinker around.

I see Linux's future being in a VM rather than on the desktop. I think more and more "power users" will eventually switch to using virtualized Linux on Windows or Mac, to get the power of Linux without any of the hassle.

Maybe the future of all desktop OSes is to run in a VM. I run Windows in a VM to sandbox it and ease rolling back if the system gets unstable or crufty. I run Linux natively, but like to check out new distros or test upgrades in a VM. It's incredibly easy to install a modern OS in a VM, especially because of the stable virtualized environment. I won't start a flame war about what makes the best host OS, but it certainly doesn't need to be a full-fledged desktop OS. It would be great to keep my own personal desktop VM on an encrypted thumbdrive and walk up to any machine, plug it in, and run it.

I don't run linux on my desktop because windows XP really does just work for me.

I know the evangelists really hate to hear this, but I'm currently sitting in my conference room watching a DVD on our projector (I didn't even have to screw with xorg.conf to get the second monitor that windows treats the projector as working!), with a couple of sessions of putty running into linux boxes.

I wouldn't run linux on my desktop for the same reason I wouldn't run windows on my DNS server: it's just the wrong tool for the job.

(I wrote a blog about this here: http://newslily.com/blog/permalink.cgi?blog_id=77 if anyone is interested)

> it isn't pervasive as we had hoped.

As who had hoped?

> What are your thoughts with Linux on the desktop

Meccano dressed as lamb. Fun for people who like Meccano, trapped fingers for people who mistake it for a real lamb.

> Are you going to use a desktop linux?

No, I'm Windowsy by habit and day job, and while it has many teeth grittingly annoying parts, so does Linux, just different bits. Same with OS X. Developments in Trusted Computing / Palladium / DRM might drive me to a different opinion in coming years.

> Would recommend the system for someone else, maybe less tech savvy?

No chance, but that's for personal reasons to do with not wanting to become the scapegoat or go-to support guy rather than a considered evaluation of whether it would do what they want.

I'm using Linux Mint 8 on my Lenovo SL300. The SL300 is a bit of a strange beast, the BIOS is some hybrid of an IdeaPad & Thinkpad. Fedora 12 kernel panics on boot. OpenSUSE 11.2 does not provide any brightness adjustment. Linux Mint is the best I've found for this particular laptop but there are still some issues with power management, etc.

As much as I like Linux I would still rather be using a Mac. Macs just work - my other computer at home is a 2-year old iMac. The thing just works - it has never caused ANY problem, EVER, as far as I can remember.


I think 2010 is going to be the breakthrough year for Linux on the desktop in China. Microsoft's attempts at litigation have driven the Chinese government towards Linux.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Flag_Linux (Red Hat based) and http://www.xp.com/ (Ubuntu based). Xp.com very closely duplicates the Windows XP interface and the Chinese government does not care about copying a visual interface.

I've used Linux as my main desktop OS for 12 years and I'm 100% happy with it. I feel horribly restricted when I try to use Windows for anything other than web browsing.

> I feel horribly restricted

In what way? I don't use Linux on the desktop (just on the server) but really everyone has done a great job of ensuring most of the open source software you need is on pretty much every platform in one way or the other.

No it will not compete with Window 7 in market share, but that is because of the distribution channel. Linux has always been more succesfull than OS X, except the us (http://www.osnews.com/story/21035/Ballmer_Linux_Bigger_Compe...).

Would you recommend it? Yes, especially if you never used a computer or you need cheap software.

By the way, are you from germany?

I like PC-BSD myself. But that said, I don't see any real change coming in 2010. There will likely be a small increase in non-Windows, non-Mac desktops in 2010, but nothing out of line with the trend over the past few years.

Edit: The main reason why I think this is that mainstream retailers don't support it (e.g. Best Buy's "Geek Squad"). Non-geek consumers want something that comes with support or at least the appearance of support.

I ran linux on the desktop for a year, and it was a similar experience to using a mac... some stuff that should be simple there just isn't software for, and your limited in a weird sort of way. Having said that, it wasn't as annoying as my mac is, but then I am a techie.

It's simple: Linux was ported to ARM chips soon after being invented and it's pretty much game over for Windows x86 when you can run X servers on ARM on cheap mobile phones.

I switched to Linux in the days of Windows 3.11 + MS DOS 6.22, I was happy with it back then, it required more tooling around to get anything to work, but once the tooling around was done, it stayed working and it did not crash. At the time I was not entirely aware of why this was the case, but it was definitely apparent.

In retrospect, the reliability was contingent on the simplicity, beyond netscape and an xterminal window with a few editors and ncurses based programs, there was little that I ever used, and little that could ever go wrong. At the same time in the mainstream world people were attempting to shoehorn advanced applications into a far less advanced operating environment and the stability and usage issues that ensued were entirely concurrent with what one would expect for the situation. I realise now that I traded ill fit and ease of use for reliability and simplicity.

As time has gone by, both branches have slowly diverged toward one another, where the current situation stands between Windows 7 and the latest version of Ubuntu Linux both systems are highly technically advanced, running on mindbogglingly powerful hardware ( by comparison to back when I started ) and the seperating points between them appear to be shrinking all the time.

The way I use Windows 7 is modelled on the way I use Linux, I have VirtuaWin with hotkeyed multiple desktops (while in Linux I use Compiz with hotkeyed cube faces) Launchy (vs Gnome-do in Linux). But at some level within Windows things fail to compare to the equivalents in Linux, Package management is far superior in Linux, Gnome-do plugins allow it to be far more advanced and integrated than Launchy can be for windows; for example gnome do hotkey + username to quickswitch to a pidgin window for that user so I don't have to take my hands off the keyboard. After all these years the Windows environment has not done much to improve it's abysmal terminal environment, and I do not consider Cygwin a viable option considering something as simple as switching directories can take over 3 seconds and is totally throwing when you're trying to maintain mental flow. Development environments / server emulation environments within linux are far superior also, but without much difficulty, in either case one can simply virtualise what is needed from the other environment anyhow.

On the other hand, Linux applications are still far more rare than windows applications, the world at large assumes that everyone uses windows and happily throws around documents from the office suite without so much as a consideration that these might be annoying to deal with. Openoffice goes some way to mitigating this, but it's unrealistic to say that surviving in the application ecosystem on Linux is just as simple as the same ecosystem within Windows. Microsoft / Adobe applications (especially flash, my love for linux is inversely proportional to my hatred for Adobe at any given moment due to how utterly bad adobe applications / support for Linux tend to be in general)

In conclusion, they both have their advantages and disadvantages, and I am happy to use both in virtualised or dualboot contexts, I believe limiting oneself one way or the other is probably a mistake.

I realise that the above is of course only going to apply to my own needs as a Developer / Systems Administrator. If you're a designer or office worker or something then I can imagine very little reason for you to be a Linux user instead of a Windows or OS X user.

The best thing about Linux is its rate of improvement. Linux in January 2010 is much nicer than a year ago and barely recognizable from, say, Linux 2003, the year when Windows XP launched. Windows and Mac OS are much slower to innovate. There are several reasons for this.

- Because Linux has many distros, it can't take a big stumble like Vista. If Ubuntu stumbles, RedHat, SUSE, and Debian keep innovating (to name just the biggies).

- There's a constant churn of projects contending for every component of Linux,from media players to Ethernet drivers. The distros continuously select best-of-breed.

- Linux has a huge developer base, comparable to the whole Microsoft development ecosystem. Many of them aren't paid, and those who are paid are distributed across hundreds of companies. This huge developer base isn't subject to Brooks' Law because open source projects release early and often, and because Linux is decomposed into many independent but interoperable pieces.

Unfortunately, I don't think Linux will ever take over as the desktop market leader.

- Windows and MacOS are good enough for most people most of the time.

- Linux requires extra effort to get and install. Microsoft has shown repeatedly that they can keep it that way on PC compatibles.

- The network effect works against Linux on the desktop, just as it favors Linux in servers and embedded systems. Since 90% of the world runs Windows, Windows is the default choice for independent desktop software developers. Even Google, a very Linux-friendly company, released Earth, Chrome (browser), and SketchUp for Windows first. There is still no SketchUp for Linux.

- The highly innovative development process leaves too many loose ends visible to end users. Linux always needs a little tweaking (though this has dropped dramatically in the last decade).

There are some things that could disrupt the current desktop space.

- OLPC or Google Chromium (OS) both have the potential to push Linux into the majority desktop OS. Other platforms could do the same. But those platforms are so different from the traditional Unix/GNOME/KDE userland that they barely count.

- The other potential disruptor is non-x86 CPUs. ARM or another architecture could come from below and replace a significant fraction of the desktop boxes. Windows is pretty tightly wedded to the x86 architecture, so Microsoft does what they can to bolster x86. But Moore's Law is still in effect, so a disruptive CPU is certainly a possibility.

Basic usage answers: I've been using Linux on my desktop and laptops since 1998-99. I use it all the time on my primary and secondary machines. I cautiously recommend it to others. (Cautiously: I don't push Linux. Whenever anyone shows interest, I explain the pros and cons, and make sure they have an Ubuntu LiveCD in their hands when we're done and understand that there's no commitment to trying it.)

I ran linux on the desktop for close to a decade, and I honestly regret that. The hours I spent futzing with x-windows, apmd, the broken pcmcia support, etc were unproductive periods of my life that I can not get back. It formed a ridiculous "us versus them" mentality that took years to fully get out of my system.

I still remember the day seven years ago that my laptop failed while at a customer site. I jumped onto an imac, the first time I had ever touched an apple product. The next day I went out and bought a macbook pro, and haven't wasted time trying to shoehorn a server OS onto a desktop ever since.

I ran linux on desktop for close to a decade. Things I've learned from it are invaluable to me.

I came from windows where I learned all that user can learn about it, which was not much.

I switched to linux for anything else than gaming and Visual Studio jobs and lived (more or less) happily ever after.

When I first touched mac two years ago I was angry about the UI that was completely counterintuitive for me. When I found console things brightened up. I thought "Hey! It's linux inside, only packaged as annoying toy." I could even set up nat when I needed it. It was only a bit more complicated than in linux. I haven't found any killer apps. When it died on me recently I wasn't really shaken. I just felt bitter about the money.

Few things to outline my perspective. I'm a programmer, I don't like paying for hardware more than its worth. I don't like paying for software.

Few things to outline my perspective. . . . . I don't like paying for hardware more than its worth. I don't like paying for software.

These are important aspects of the demographic that uses Linux on the desktop and laptop. It and the ideological zealots are why there's no commercial software for the Linux laptop or desktop.

The drift from desktop software to software as service (usually free up to some capacity) is a good thing for linux because it fills some gaps in availability of some useful software on linux.

Personally I had far worse experiences with commercial software than with free software so I am not especially eager to see commercial software on linux. I think on linux commercial software has hard time competing with the software developed open source way.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact