Open Source

Open source still has a few gaps to fill to go mainstream

Linux has come a long, long way. But it still has a few gaps to fill before it will be considered by small to medium-sized businesses. Jack Wallen offers his take on those gaps.

I've been pondering the why of the issue regarding mainstream Linux adoption. Recently an article was spread around (and then copied and pasted onto every mainstream site that pushes Linux) that Big Business has embraced Big Linux. And it's true. The enterprise LOVES it some Linux — and with good reason. But once you go below the oceanic waters of enterprise computing, and into the SMBs, you start seeing Linux being used less and less. Why? I strongly believe there are two reasons:

  • It's not what they are given
  • There are still a few gaps to fill

I'm going to be honest with you — if a small to mid-sized business said, "We're switching to Linux," it would happen and probably happen with little to no issue. Problem is, not many businesses are saying that. So the end users aren't being given Linux to use. That is, in my opinion, a reason driven by a bigger issue — gaps in the usability space.

These gaps aren't glaring, but they are enough to affect mainstream adoption. And I firmly believe that, should the distributions and developers (and anyone else involved with open source) take a long, hard look at the list I'm about to offer, they could easily fill those gaps and Linux would enjoy an adoption rate previously unheard of. Let's take a look at those gaps. You've certainly read about them here and there before — maybe not all in the same location. You may also have experienced one or more of these gaps yourself. Let's take a look.

Better DOCX Support: I firmly believe this should be the other way around, that Microsoft should better support standards. But the truth is, they don't and they won't. So to resolve that issue, someone in the open source world (LibreOffice maybe) needs to find a way to better render documents saved in the .docx format. This needs to be a top priority in many areas, because the office suite rules medium-sized business. Exchange Support: Outlook is the King of the office in small to medium-sized business. Until Linux gets an alternative (and I don't want to hear about the incredibly challenging DavMail Gateway or Evolution — both offer iffy connections and pose a challenge for many IT staff and end users), it will have to continue sitting in the corner, staring on at all the party-goers. I would love to see a fork of Thunderbird designed specifically for Exchange. Why Thunderbird? Because it already has a calendar plugin and is as stable as any mail client out there. QuickBooks: This is a real sticking point with me. As someone who has to deal with supporting QuickBooks on a daily basis, I have an intimate understanding of how much businesses rely upon this piece of software. Don't get me wrong, QuickBooks is GREAT when it works. But when it doesn't work — it's a nightmare. Now, the easiest solution would be for Intuit to port QuickBooks to Linux. That will never happen. Instead, something like GnuCash needs to step up and add multi-user support. If GnuCash could gain that one feature... it would go a long, long way toward helping Linux gain momentum. NVidia and ATI Support: NVidia already does a fair job of supporting Linux — but both the proprietary and open source drivers for the chips are still iffy at best. ATI support is a joke. The only graphics chipset I never have issues with is Intel. This needs to seriously change. Unfortunately, this change cannot happen from within the open source community — it must begin with the companies themselves. This also must include dual monitor support. Over the last two years I have seen this blossom into something nearly everyone that sits behind a desk "must have". Niche software: There are a TON of niche software titles that are used on a daily basis that either do not have a Linux equivalent or the Linux equivalent is not up to snuff. One such niche is video editing. Though OpenShot is fun to use (and can do some quality, entry-level video), it's simply not business-ready. This space could change when Light Works is finally released. There are also a lot of applications that are industry specific that would need to find their way to Linux. That won't happen. Why? There's too many. For that to work out, Linux needs to have an auto-detection system for .exe installers to call upon the Wine system. And for that to work, Wine still has a way to go. Don't get me wrong, Wine is a remarkable tool, but it's not really end-user friendly. Marketing: This one is big — but it would be a tremendous help to gain the public's trust and awareness. A single television commercial that shows, say Ubuntu 13.04, running in day to day business would help to make people aware that there is a choice. And if that commercial is run correctly, that audience would understand they could enjoy a daily life free of viruses, malware, and the common issues that plague their work. That gap is huge. Microsoft and Apple are the reigning kings of marketing — it's why they have such a death grip on consumers and business. If Canonical could spend their dollars wisely with a little television advertisement, the game could be changed.

I spend nine hours a day supporting end users from what seems like an endless stream of companies. The problems are always so very similar and has made me come to the realization that Linux is much closer than everything thinks to being able to take over the world of small to medium sized business. With the above gaps filled, there's nothing that could stop Linux from world domination.

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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