linux geek.pngEditor’s Note: This post was written by guest author Pieter De Decker, who is also the developer of the free USBsyncer and iPodCALsync! Feel free to read past articles that Pieter has written.

Even though Linux is more user-friendly than it ever was, it has yet to catch on with the average Joe. Having used Ubuntu Linux for over a year, I’m pretty familiar with both the graphical interface and the terminal. I’m gonna play devil’s advocate and try to uncover what’s keeping the crowd away from Linux.

You can’t just go and install anything you find on the net

When you use Windows, you get used to the fact that any piece of software you find on the net is compatible with your operating system. Sure, many sites are dedicated to finding cool Linux software but I did miss being able to try everything I came across. Even though I find myself uninstalling these things afterwards in many cases, I still missed being able to play around with these things. Joost is a perfect example in this category.

There are Linux-compatible alternatives out there for every Windows app, but they’re not always good enough to replace them.

Linux has a dedicated community of volunteers that work on all sorts of cool applications in their spare time. Not every app however is ready to compete with their Windows counterparts just yet. For example, I enjoyed using Pidgin/Gaim but I did miss a couple of features, most of which are hard to develop without some help from the companies running the IM networks. I’m a loyal MSN user so I had to miss out on winks, backgrounds, audio/video chat, games and all that stuff that makes Windows Live Messenger have such a big memory footprint. Or how about video editing? Until this day, I haven’t found an open-source alternative that is good enough to replace Pinnacle Studio. Although this is mostly due to the fact that Linux developers have a lot less resources, that excuse is not going to get Windows users to switch.

You can’t use Windows apps you purchased on Linux

If you bought any commercial software in your life, you might as well just go throw it all away unless they happen to support Linux.

Microsoft and Apple

Since free OS usage is on the rise, Microsoft and Apple secretly try to set up some kind of cordon sanitaire by totally ignoring Linux, and in some cases even crippling their user experience. Here’s an example: Ashley reported a while ago that the new iPods don’t support anything other than iTunes. For years, people in the Linux community have been working on iTunes alternatives without any cooperation from Apple. But then they wrote new iPod firmware, which is of course paid for by the consumer, that intentionally prevents third-party apps from accessing their device! Since the average consumer doesn’t like rebooting into Windows or Mac OS X to sync his iPod, he just stays away from Linux. Cause after all, why would a user degrade its experience just to get away from the two giants?

The same thing goes for Microsoft. If they’d give the developers at some insight into their file formats, Office compatibility wouldn’t be such an issue and people would be more likely to switch to an Office alternative (which of course is the reason that Microsoft’s not doing it). Don’t get me wrong, they have done a tremendous job on figuring out how Office file formats work. However, that still doesn’t guarantee that your documents will look exactly the same in Office. And that is very important. Let’s say you’re a Linux user and you have to hand in a PowerPoint presentation. As you know, PowerPoint presentations can become very complex if you’re messing around with images, and if your images move a little to the left, your layout could get messed up.

Cross-platform apps are less user-friendly on Linux

The best way to explain this is with Audacity, a great open-source sound editor. On Windows, you download the installer, you run it and you’re set to go. On Ubuntu, you download the installer, you run it, then you find out that the package was compiled without MP3 support, uninstall it, compile it manually and install it yet again just to find out that your microphone is not supported since your sound card driver hasn’t been installed correctly. But it doesn’t end there. Even Firefox doesn’t feel quite right on Ubuntu, just because for some reason the Download Manager doesn’t display file icons. It’s just one of those small things that make users feel good about the product they’re using.

Linux’s advantages over Windows

Linux may have its disadvantages, but let’s not forget about its advantages. Have a look:

  • Linux is free and they will even ship it right to your door with no strings attached!
  • On Windows, it takes a while for Windows to install the drivers for your USB devices when using them for the first time. On Linux, you connect a USB device to your PC and boom, it’s ready for immediate use.
  • You can get stuff done faster using a terminal… if you know how to use it. Compare: Windows versus Linux.
  • GNOME and KDE, the two most popular window managers for Linux, are far more customizable than the Windows shell currently is. Which brings us to another advantage: if you don’t like your window manager, you throw it out the window. On Windows, you’re stuck with Windows Explorer.
  • Most Linux distributions have an all-you-can-eat buffet of free software that can be accessed with the click of a button.
  • Most Linux distributions update all your software automagically. Windows on the other hand will only update Microsoft-owned software. But wait, there’s more! On Windows you’ve got antivirus updaters, Windows Update, that nasty Apple Software Updater, the Google Pack updater and all kinds of other stuff. On Linux update tasks are centralized, saving you a huge amount of resources. It’s getting more stuff done and giving you a little speed boost!


It’s not the fault of Linux contributors that its market share is no bigger than 2%. If this movement had taken off faster before Windows became popular, I wouldn’t be writing this article right now and Linux would have taken over the world. Now that Windows and stuff like Microsoft Office, the iPod, Windows Live Messenger and so on dominate the market, Linux has to adapt to it. They have to write drivers and produce software to interoperate with these systems without any help of the software/hardware companies, which is almost impossible since some companies even try/tried to prevent this. Until the day that they get out of the vicious circle where hardware and gadget manufacturers are saying “nobody’s using Linux, so we don’t have to support it” and users are saying “my hardware is not supported, so I’m not going to use Linux”, the future’s not looking so bright as many people want you to believe.

[image via ExtraLife]