August 9, 2005 1:02 PM PDT

Linux on the desktop--almost there again?

SAN FRANCISCO--Despite their best attempts, Linux software companies say they are still having a hard time luring average consumers away from the Windows environment--but that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

Windows still dominates the PC world. About 90 percent of all desktops, laptops and even PDAs are powered by Microsoft, according to reports by Gartner and IDC. Even with all the hoopla last year about Linux progress, the buzz over breaking the Windows stronghold has died down considerably.

When it comes to the enterprise desktop, companies like Novell and Red Hat are making some progress, thanks to open-source projects such as Evolution, Firefox, KDE, GNOME, OpenOffice and Wine. But the companies still report adoption problems in the consumer space.

"(Linux on the desktop) is not the sexy story that it used to be. However, there are some very steady and irreversible trends."
--Jeremy White
Vice president, Novell

"We feel like it is a long road for us. It certainly has not a been an overnight shift," David Patrick, vice president and general manager of Novell's Linux, open-source and platforms services group, said during a press briefing at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, which is taking place here this week.

Novell seems to have made more progress than other companies, with its Suse Linux Professional edition for home users and Novell Linux Desktop for the corporate office.

Patrick said the company has the best success in fixed markets, as with the company's retail win with Ritz Camera and its new education contract with the state of Indiana, both announced Tuesday.

The company also released its OpenSuse project, which Patrick says will differ from Red Hat's Fedora project in that it will let consumers help identify key open-source projects before they are professionally developed.

Red Hat continues to dismiss any idea that it will offer a consumer version of its Enterprise Desktop Linux product, according to a company representative.

Expert Jeremy White, who wears a double hat as the go-to man at the Desktop Linux Consortium and as the founder and CEO of CodeWeavers, says the biggest roadblock to average-consumer adoption seems to be lack of hardware support, especially for gadgets like MP3 players.

"Last year, there was a lot of smoke but no fire when it came to Linux on the desktop," he said. "It is not the sexy story that it used to be. However, there are some very steady and irreversible trends. There are a lot of customers that tell us that they would adopt Linux in theory, but say, 'Gee, we would use Linux if only if it could run this one application.'"

The other barrier, according to White, seems to be the lack of software support by key manufacturers like Adobe Systems and Macromedia, which are strong supporters of Windows and Apple Computer's Mac OS X but rely more on third-party companies to help their applications run on Linux.

White also suggests that crossover products like AJAX, ThinkFree, VMware and Wine are actually creating a world where Windows and Linux coexist in harmony on the desktop. Such tools allow people to run Windows programs on non-Windows systems.

In some cases, Linux is working to the advantage of corporate buyers who, according to White, are not shy about having employees working on Linux-based operating systems when the Microsoft account managers pay a visit.

"They use it like a leveraging tool, kind of like threatening Microsoft to give them better discounts or lose out on their licensing accounts," White said, but added, "it's still Microsoft's game."


special coverage
LinuxWorld SF
Open-source hopefuls
join Linux stalwarts
to talk shop and hawk
wares at the confab.

"In some ways," adds Brian Proffitt, editor of LinuxToday.com and co-author of "The Joy of Linux," "Linux on the desktop is almost irrelevant because of the shift towards Web-based applications.

"Linux in the enterprise is where you will see the most work being done these days because companies don't want all of those applications open at the bottom of a Windows tray. Ultimately, it comes down to what you want the Linux desktop to do."

94 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
My problem with Linux on the desktop
I have installed a number of Linux desktops beside my Win2K/XP installations over the past few years, but I didn't keep any of them.

It wasn't that they couldn't provide me with the tools I needed (I only use my computer for wordprocessing/web/email/spreadsheet/web design), it was that if I wanted to find a program to solve a problem for me I had to go through a bunch of programs with short non-descript names.

I always felt that the program I needed was in the distribution, but I had no easy way of finding it.

I believe if the names of the applications were more descriptive then it would be easier for new users to accept.

User friendly doesn't only apply to the use of the software, but every aspect of it's interaction with the user and this begins with the name.
Posted by ahickey (177 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Software is my problem
Linux and Mac just don't have the software support I need. It's not their fault, but until either I can convice those companies to port their software or Linux can make them work I am stuck in Windows.

(Here is a statement the linux guys can beat me up on)

The next thing linux needs is the ability to create an install disk that only has what I want on it. I need to be able to create it and then install it. I don't want to wade through 3+ cd's to install the OS. In my opinion you can cut out all the instant messangers, office apps, games, dns/dhcp, mail server, etc. and create a clutter free OS. I know you can do this, but it requires going through the setup process and take for ever. The next problem is you still have to install from 3+ disk. It took me 2 hours to install Novell Linux Desktop. Thats about 1h 50m more than it took me to install a custom version of Windows XP on the same machine.

Not to end this on a sour note. I really do like Gnome, YaST, Evolution, and Red Carpet. I am looking forward to the day I can toss Windows out the windows, but that day isn't today.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Boycott Dell, HP, Gateway
The major computer OEMs such as Dell, HP, and Gateway are refusing to offer CONSUMERS a non-Microsoft choice.

These OEMs are anti-competitve and anti-consumer-choice.
They continue to maintain Microsoft's desktop monopoly.

I suggest not doing business with these companies
until they offer a serious non-Microsoft choice to CONSUMERS.
Posted by cyber_rigger (70 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That didnt help much
After reading the article there seems to be no real big push on how much better linux on the desktop is reaching, i have tried Mandrake, Suse, Fedora, several live distro's in search for something closer to being more friendly with my hardware and my collective software... 1.) Once Wine or more software vendors add more support for linux so i can use more of what i already have bought and also not worry about if the next game or application will work, that alone might make me throw out windows for linux for good, 2.) Not all hardware is supported, i have a Lexmark 3150 AIO that i cant find linux drivers for, lexmark refuses to make them for linux and states you can make them yourself or turn to someone who has or can make them for you.... with those 2 points in mind seems im stuck using windows a little longer or least untill Vista forces me to make the change.
Posted by (71 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Tired of hearing that I have to learn it
I have tried hard to work with Linux. I like what it stands for and how it works. That said, I'm tired of being told that I have to learn it just like I learnt Windows / MacOS. The fact is that when I plug a Bluetooth stick, say, into Windows then it works well. My XP at home never crashes and, when it does, it recovers well. My Ubuntu, on the other hand, regularly fails to shut down properly or goes slightly wrong in some other way.

I'm pretty computer literate, but the fact is that I've had to spend hours if not days on the net trying to resolve problems with Linux. Perhaps the commercial versions are better set up, but then I lose one of the Linux advantages - it's freely available.

I still use Linux because I'm confident that once I've worked it out, I can set it up for other people so that they never need to work out the nuts and bolts of it. As BeatrIX says, most people only use 4 applications (Web, e-mail, office, messenger). It is cheaper and more effective to do this with Linux than with XP, plus it can be installed on ancient computers, but boy is it hard to get started!
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's Called Thin Client...
If a company is concerned about desktop maintenance or too many toys to play with on a computer it doesn't mean that Linux is the only fit. Thin Clients of multiple platforms are available to facilitate this purpose. This is not news, it's fluff.
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's called Linspire (Debian)
I know what everyone thinks - Linspire sucks cause they charge $50 a year for updates. This is true, but...

Can you open up a webpage - search for firefox - click a pretty icon, and magically have the firefox icon appear on the desktop? This works with many program - from satan - to rdp clients - even to smp kernel updates.

All versions of desktop linux need to emulate this ease of application install, which is better than XP even, if they ever want to crack the PC market.

But we can already to that with appget!! That's what you're thinking right? Well maybe _you_ can, but can your bosses, bosses, boss? Or you kid? They can with Linspire.

Linspire also remembers every program you've loaded. That way when you reinstall, you can easily (and nearly as fast as they download) reinstall all of you favorite open source apps.

Personally the $50 a year is too much for me. They should bring back the $100 lifetime memberships, that had some value.

If you like Ubuntu - you'll really like Linspire.
Posted by Lanman1 (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
All I want is better support from hardware manufacturers
I had been a Unix user on workstations and mainframes for many years before I ever started PCs, so Linux was a natural for me, although I did use Windows at home for several years because of a lack of applications for Linux, and I've been forced to use Windows on the job for about 12 years now. However, I basically stopped using Windows at home over five years ago, only occasionally installing a copy in VMware when I absolutely have to use a Windows-only application.

I do wish that it was easier to setup and use some multimedia features in Linux, but I can live with it the way it is as long as it enables me to do without Windows. My biggest complaint is the lack of support from hardware manufacturers. My latest bad experience in this area has been with scanners. I bought an Epson scanner in January because it was the only one I could find that had the features I wanted at a price I could afford and there was downloadable software for it from some Epson division. As it turned out, the software they provide is missing a lot of features and has no support, and now that I'm apparently experiencing hardware problems, Epson won't provide any support at all for Linux users, so I can't determine whether it really is a hardware problem. I'd go out now and buy a comparable or better scanner (at up to twice the price I paid for the Epson) from another manufacturer if I could find one that provides better support for Linux users, but as far as I've been able to determine, there are no such manufacturers at this time.
Posted by acrider (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Getting Linux software on Windows.
One thing I would really like to see is more Linux software ported over to Windows. Because it will make the transition for many a lot easier. If you get use to it on Windows the move to linux would probably be simpler and less resisted by some.

Just a thought.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Reply Link Flag
AJAX a cross-over product?
The author of this story obviously doesn't know what they're talking about with this comment: "White also suggests that crossover products like AJAX, ThinkFree, VMware and Wine are actually creating a world where Windows and Linux coexist in harmony on the desktop. Such tools allow people to run Windows programs on non-Windows systems."

AJAX isn't a product, nor is it a "true" technology (in it's own right, I mean), NOR does it help people run Windows programs on non-Windows systems! AJAX is a methodology built on existing technologies (JavaScript, XML, and XMLHTTP objects).

When is CNET ever going to learn to hire some journalists who actually know what they are talking about?
Posted by wiley14 (39 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's simple, really
People don't buy operating systems, they buy a machine to run applications to solve problems. And if the platform that supports those applications is Windows (or MacOS), that's what they will buy.
To buy Linux for Linux's sake is just silly.
Posted by aemarques (162 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just installed Ubuntu - notes
I have installed many distros of Linux for "fun" over the last year, and wanted to try Ubuntu because so many touted its ease of use. I have now installed and ran Mandrake, Red Hat, Suse, Gentoo, Fedora 2&3, and now Ubuntu. Now originally I had problems with every distro because they could not or would not recognize my archaic monitor on my spare computer, or ignored my bios which turned off my integrated graphics. This involved editing the FreeX86 file on many of them. Since I am running this on a very new computer now, this didn't happen.

The install for Ubuntu is quick, but not as intuitive as Suse. The partitioning of a dual boot system was rather advanced if you want normal users, which they do. Wiping it out and building a whole new system would be simple. It didn't install too much crap, which was nice. After booting is where my problems began. I assumed my network was set up properly because it downloaded some packages during set up. So when I opened up Firefox I expected it to just load right up. Wrong. Everything seemed in order, I could ping and download packages, but no browsing or Gaim. So apparently kernel 2.6 has some problems with certain routers and dns etc. I had to install a different dhcp client and turn off ipv6 in Firefox. It then worked fine. I had this same problem with Suse if I remember correctly.

After restarting I wanted to make sure windows booted properly. It didn't. An error about xmnt2002 missing came up. Quick search showed that it is because the windows partition was hidden. Apparently Ubuntu for some stupid reason does this by default. After finding out how to fix this I went into Ubuntu and manually edited the grub boot loader file to load up windows.

Now, things like these might seem simple to a avid computer user, but an average user will just freeze up at the sight of words like DHCP, or Grub boot loader. This contrasts with my clean installation of XP Professional last week in which I loaded it up in around 15 minutes and everything worked without manually typing anything but a username and password. Now, I still like Linux for many things, and will keep Ubuntu for a while. I like having Apache and Mysql right there, as well as built in ssh and other things like the compilers and the overall programming environment. However, Linux desktops have a long way to go before an average word/IM/outlook user like my wife can set it up and use it. With Windows I could give the install disk to my wife and let her go at it. With any of these distros of Linux, no way! Macromedia and Adobe need to get on board with Linux too. I like Fireworks and Photoshop too much. Gimp just doesn't do it for me.
Posted by tsm26 (81 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Linux on the desktop
I use Linux almost exclusively. I have run Red Hat 9, Fedora Core 1 & 3, SUSE Personal 9.1, & Ubuntu. And I also have one machine that runs Solaris 9 (Sparc). All have their pros and cons. On the upside Red Hat/Fedora and SUSe have lots of books one can refer to. All have the Internet as a sort of reference manual. All of these distros accomplish what I need and I have become good enough with Linux to figure out how to add what's missing. But, I must point out Linux is not for everyone. Editing config files can be daunting for some users, installation is not always easy, gaming is limited. Details can vary from one distro to the next. Though I must applaud Novell and others for making great strides in improving Linux.
As for me and Windoze : ) ..... I booted Windoze off my desktop for good about 4 years ago. I still use Windoze at work and fix the PC's of friends. I have no intention of returning to Windows anytime soon.

Lou Barrio
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Linux desktop is not yet ready for the masses
I have been using Linux exclusively for about two years now and I am pretty much up to date about new developments and what is going on in general in the community.

I love Linux and it meets all my requirements with flying colors. Nevertheless, what attracted me in the first place is the freedom to use the OS and all the wonderful software that are available on it. I would rather not use a particular software or technology (unless it hurts me financially not to do so) than switch to a proprietary OS.

However, this freedom comes at a price to me. It takes me one full week to install it from scratch and configure it to my liking with all the software I need for my work and personal use. I am pickier than most people but I am also quite knowlegable too. So I spend one week from my life once every 18 months or so just for the privilege to use Linux. Lately this is becoming a somewhat frustrating experience because my time is becoming more valuable to me and I am simply wasting my life on addressing basic problems that should not have been here after all these years of maturing of the OS. In fact I am postponing my long due hardware upgrade because I cannot afford a one week disruption of my work during the switch.

Here are some of the major things I do in this one week time. The first is the fonts. The initially installed fonts look bearable at best and horrible at worst. So I have to hunt down Microsoft Windows fonts, recompile FreeType2 package with bytecode interpreter turned on, configure XFree screen resolution to 100dpi which all sound easier than done. Even after that there are many applications that require separate configurations. One example is the Evolution e-mail client. No matter how hard I tried and spent time I still get smaller fonts than I like in the message body.

Other things that I deal with are programs that worked fine in my previous installation that do not work the same in a similar configuration. So I reconfigure them - mostly through configuration files. Or sometimes I hunt down substitute software.

Most computer users, rightfully so, do not want to go through all this. It is either their time is more valuable than the $80 or so bucks they pay to buy Windows or that they simply do not have the enthusiasm or skills to do it.

Unfortunately these problems I mention will probably never go away because of the nature of free software development process. It is very much decentralized and since there is no one controlling/coordinating entity the chaotic nature of open source software will persist.

So what should average users do ? I think they should pay for support services. They should either purchase distributions like Xandros or Linspire or pay a local person to provide support. Many potential users think that this would bring Linux on equal footing, from their perspective, with Windows in terms of cost. However, the freedom they will get is priceless, at least in my opinion.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
LINSPIRE 5! best Linux desktop period.
Linspire is the only Desktop Linux I'd feel comfortable giving to my grandmother... seriously.
Linspire is pretty nice. Get the Live CD and ck it out yourself. It's the closest, nicest, Desktop Linux I've seen. And you can't beat it's east app install. god, I sound like I commercial... kill me quick..
hehe...
anyway, it's very cool - very well done.
Posted by IntenseTech (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Desktop Linux = Jumbo Shrimp
Tired of waiting for "geeks" to make a user friendly (as in not for
geeks only) UI.

What happened to those Apple guys who were trying to do this?
The Open Source/Linux people need "outside" help with this.
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Linux under attack!!!
It is not surprising for Microsoft to have <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserversystem/facts/default.mspx" target="_newWindow">http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserversystem/facts/default.mspx</a>. In one of the case studies, Radioshack's experience directly attacks their rather unsatisfactory experience with Linux.

There are few of these kinds in favor of Linux. I've seen some of them but I don't think Windows NT to Linux success stories still count -- too outdated.
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Been there, done that... it isn't pretty
I have Suse 9.2 running on Thinkpad T22. Difficult to get WPA security for wireless working - have to use windows drivers and ndiswrapper. Luckly I do programming for a living.

Then, I decided to upgrade KDE version, it stopped allowing root login thru' UI. Posting message on suse usergroup elicited responses like - "you should not be logging in as root through UI", "you are a novice so don't login as root" - all very helpful.

I have critical patches that I need to install every week. Redmond has it once a month.

I hate to tell the penguin folks - the guys from Redmond do a better job.
Posted by shikarishambu (89 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My Problems With Linux
I cant wait for the day I can turf windows for good.

My two biggest problems with current linux (among the many pleasures)

Installing Programs.
There needs to be a standard solution so i can in a click or 2 have something installed (no compile this, make that, dependency error etc.)
The community has to come together on this.

I suspect that since the kernel is always updated, they should try to make compiling easier. Make compiling a behind the scenes sort of thing that handles itself and fixes problems automatically.

RPMS and the like are nice but need to be updated frequently as distros progress.


The Biggest problem with migrating to Linux is this, The DirectX Problem:

If windows games were easily played on Linux then the flood gates could open for migration to Linux.
Currently great strides have been made but the process is still quite hard and tedious for most games to work. Its not for the faint of heart, or those with merely minutes to spare.

Its no problem writing my reports in Star Office instead of Office XP but if World Of Warcraft or the like wont work... then theres no use.

(Also it would make things easier to be able to read / write to NTFS disks as fast as Windows)


Really thats all that needs to be solved to get anyone to migrate... those are the major anchors.
Posted by (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.