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The Pathway to Linux Domination - Where Do We Go From Here?

Sep 13, 2008
Maybe domination is too strong a word. Maybe not. The market conditions for Linux are as favorable as they have ever been. Apple and Microsoft have weaknesses that are either plainly evident, or will be revealed soon.

The general public is becoming more technologically savvy in general, and beginning to understand their options. There are just a few things that stand in the way of the general public's adoption of the operating system, in my opinion. We'll tackle Linux's greatest opportunities and the weaknesses that can and do slow down its adoption as a mainstream OS.

Let's start with the favorable environment: Microsoft is really hurting with Vista. I mean badly. They've made an operating system that has locked itself out of all but the new PC market. Then, it nags you like a small child each time you need install a program, or download something, or sync your mp3 player. The business market will hardly touch this. Now, they've hired Jerry Seinfeld to fix it all. Somebody needs to tell them that just because he idolizes Superman, doesn't mean he is Superman. Microsoft looks tired. They should probably just release an OS called XPlus( for the uninitiated, that would be XP SP4.)

Apple, while gaining market share and shooting at Microsoft, is now worth more than Google. There are problems that lie down the path of growth. Apple has always bragged about security, and the fact that you don't need anti-virus for their systems. My computer teacher( millenia ago ) told me it wasn't needed for one simple reason: Crackers(known to the general public as "hackers") didn't find it very profitable to crack a MAC. The adoption rate was too low. Now that the adoption rate has increased, the prospect of savaging bragadocious fanboys is almost irresistible. What could be better than humiliating the arrogant, artsy crowd?

Then there's the fact that Microsoft seems a kindly old grandfather when it comes to openness. Steve Jobs holds his cards ridiculously close to his chest. While this might not bother the average user, it will get on the nerves of those who want complete control of their system. Apple has tighter DRM than Microsoft, and has recently come under fire for their invisible software upgrades. It won't take long for the more adventurous user to download another OS and find other programs to meet her needs.

Linux has made great strides because of one flavor of their operating system: Ubuntu. Talk all you want about how Debian, Fedora, and SUSE are the pure, unadulterated nectar of the Linux gods. Mark Shuttleworth's Canonical has made Linux palatable for the average user. The install process is simple, it's free, and adding programs is a snap using Synaptic. Wireless support is vastly better in this distro, as is printer support. Plus, it boasts the largest Linux community.

That community tends to write programs that solve extremely specific problems. They are also writing programs that meet or exceed closed source, commercially available software. This is the most vital thing for the continued growth of Linux as an operating system.

The security problems for Linux are almost non-existent at present time. It's pretty air tight, not to say that it can't be done, it's just that it is far more profitable to hack internet communications than it is to hack a Linux box. Plus, the Linux community will track you down and make you eat your hard drive if you take out one of their PC's. This may change as well, with broader adoption, but right now I am not worried about some Windoze script kiddie hacking my box.

If all this is true, then what stands in the way of further Linux adoption?

Sound. I bet you thought I was going to say "the command line". We'll get to that later. Linux sound is a pain to configure, and is really horrible if you want to run more than one program that requires sound output. There are a couple of different ways to implement sound in Linux. Some of them are stable, some are not. In 50% of all cases, one application's sound will work, while another will not. Yesterday, I ran into a case where a sound server actually kept an entire application from running. Until Linux converts to a single, common sound architecture, then it will keep the average user dependent on...

The command line. You knew it was coming, I gave you fair warning. I enjoy the command line, to a certain extent. It allows me to instantly kill a program when it hangs, no questions asked. I can edit configuration files without opening a text editor. Just today, an article came across my screen, in which the author stated that you could use Linux forever without having to touch the command line. While technically true, that assertion is misleading, at best. All help articles in Linux forums start with, or assume you have already opened the command line. If you need to fix something, you will be using the CL, or you will not be using Linux very long.

This is something that people are going to have to come to terms with, unless Linux kernels and library sources are closed. What will hopefully happen is a more accessible command line integrated into the various window managers as part of the default configuration. Predictive commands(and the ability for expert users to turn this feature off) should play a huge roll when delivering the rollout to the average user. The final holdup is...

Developers, Developers, Developers. So we laughed at Steve "MonkeyBoy" Ballmer during his outburst of "irrational exuberance". Major developers of closed-source software will have to get on board for the full adoption of Linux. Even though I love to GIMP, and am huge devotee, I miss the incredible batch processing abilities, and clean interface of Photoshop CS3(GIMPShop doesn't cut it). I just do. I miss Flash. I don't want to dual boot, or use WINE. I want a natively run solution. That is what is currently missing in the Linux equation. I want a peanut butter sandwich, not a bologna sandwich. Just because you can eat it, doesn't mean you enjoy it as much. The common Windows user feels a far greater fear than I do in this regard, and they won't give up their familiar programs and OS without a serious fight.

For every flaw, Linux has thousands of advantages. Linux will become a major player on the OS scene, has(and will) be the greatest bridge on the path to platform independent software and cloud computing. It will. The question is, how soon will we, as the Linux community, stop arguing over whose distro is better, and have a conversation about which path it will take to domination as an operating system.
About the Author
Kurt Hartman has been using Linux as his exclusive OS for just over 1 1/2 years now. He finds it to be the best option for both his business and personal use. He is the head of Employee Training for BuyBigTires.com, a company that loader tires and off-the-road tires online .
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