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Linux - a failure on the desktop?

Author: Vidar Langberget.
Posted : 2000-12-08 00:00:00.0
Category :

Linux was the number one buzzword in the computer industry a year ago. Linux was going to change the world. Microsoft would soon be a victim of the new open source operating system according to many Linux believers. Almost every company pledged their support for Linux, and a several Linux only companies IPOs were extremely successful. Linus Torvalds, the original creator of Linux became a celebrity. The Linux momentum was incredible. How long would it take before Linux would conquer the desktop?

Now a year has passed, and Linux on the mainstream desktop seems further away now than it did a year ago. Everyone has understood that Linux will not put Microsoft out of business, at least not for a quite a few more years. And while the Open Source movement is still going strong, it has been proved that it is very hard to run a business based on Open source. Linux companies in particular have struggled to achieve high revenues.

A few examples of the trend:
Red Hat shares were sky high after the IPO at $7. Now the share is valued at ~$6.35.
Caldera Systems had an IPO at $14. Now they are below $2.
VA Linux is now sold for ~$8.75. The stock had a value of $30 at the IPO.

Linux is doing just fine in the embedded and server markets. The open source nature of Linux have made it very popular among device makers, since it makes it easy and cheap to adopt it to their device, instead of going through the process of getting support from one of the OS makers. In the server market, Linux is stronger than ever. The low cost combined with good performance has made it a real force in the server market. SGI, IBM and other server manufacturers have invested a lot of effort and money in making Linux a good OS for high-end servers. But even though Linux is a good server OS, its mostly the hardware companies, and not the software companies that make money on it.

The mainstream have not adopted Linux as fast as many anticipated, and while there are many reasons for this, I think the principal reason for this is the open source nature of Linux. This might be hard for a lot of Linux fanatics to accept, but in my opinion, almost all the other problems stem from the fact that it is open source.

The main problem regarding cracking the mainstream for Linux is the unfriendly nature of the OS itself. I think 99% will agree me with me when I say that this is a very important reason for the lack of mainstream adoption. While some distributions of Linux have become easier to use and install, it is still quite few steps behind Microsoft in that department. And I think the main reason it still is hard to use is the different needs the different distributions have. While Corel probably would like more work towards ease of use, there are other companies that are more concerned about the server qualities of the OS. This means progress is slow. Of course the different distributions can have various install scripts, and in general work towards better ease of use, but it is the same basic OS in all the different versions. This means there are limits to what can be done.

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