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Desktop Linux: Why you shouldn’t care

Desktop Linux: Why you shouldn’t care

TechGear by Preston Gralla

Recently, website analytics company, Net Applications, came out with figures that showed the percentage of “client devices” used to surf the Web that were running Linux crossed the 1 per cent level for the first time ever – 1.02 per cent in April, to be exact.

The firm enthusiastically noted “Linux has reached this important milestone on the client as Linux-based systems have become more functional, easier to use, and pre-installed on computers from vendors like Dell”.

Linux backers touted the 1 per cent breakthrough and prognosticated Linux could eventually reach 20 per cent market share. My response: Not in this lifetime. And in any event, you simply shouldn’t care about Linux on the desktop.

Linux has been around since 1991 – a full 18 years – and is available for free. Given that, the recent “milestone” of 1 per cent market share doesn’t seem so impressive.

In addition, if you do some digging in the Net Applications numbers, you’ll see that from August to March, Linux use was largely fl at. Last August, Linux’s market share stood at 0.93 per cent and then gradually declined before picking up again and reaching that 1.02 per cent apex in April. So it’s not as if Linux is on a skyrocket trajectory.

There’s also some evidence that Linux market share won’t likely ever get much higher than 1 per cent, and certainly not more than 5 per cent. The primary reason for the growth of Linux is the growing use of netbooks – inexpensive devices used primarily to surf the Web and send and receive email. When netbooks were first sold, Linux was the desktop operating system on about 30 per cent of them. Netbooks have been the fastest growing segment of the PC market, which is why Linux finally broke the 1 per cent barrier.

But Linux isn’t faring so well on netbooks these days. Analyst firm, NPD Group, found that, by the beginning of this year, only 10 per cent of all netbooks sold had Linux on them. And Windows 7 will run on netbooks – something that Vista doesn’t do – which means market share will drop even further when Microsoft launches a big Windows 7 marketing campaign.

If you hunt hard enough, you’ll be able to buy a notebook with Linux from Dell. But apart from that, good luck.

Desktop Linux will simply never be popular enough for most people to care about. One big reason is the difficulty of upgrading and installing software. It’s true that using the operating system itself is simple and straightforward. But when you try to install new software, or upgrade existing software, you’ll be in for trouble. I won’t get down and dirty with the details here, but believe me, it’s not pretty.

Beyond that, there is no single version of Linux, and so by definition, using it becomes a nonstandard experience. How many versions are there? I’m not sure anyone really knows.

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