Image: Jack Wallen

Over the years, Linux and open source have been a master class on slow burn success. From out of nothing, Linux has become the champion of the cloud, IoT, and containers. And although it hasn’t reached the “world domination” status it swore in the early 2000s, Linux desktop is still very much alive and building momentum.

But that doesn’t mean it’s been all success; in fact, there have been a few stumbles along the way. Let’s take a look at some of the worst open source failures of the decade.

SEE: How to choose between Windows, macOS, and Linux (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The Steam Machine

The Steam Machine was going to prove gaming on Linux could succeed. They already had Steam running on Linux just fine, but Steam wanted more. To make that “more” happen, they developed the Steam Machine, a Linux-based gaming console with the purpose of transitioning PC gamers to the console. It failed. Even worse, it failed in such a way that no one knows why it failed. What should have been a sure thing faded into memory.

Although there has been speculation as to why the Steam Machine failed (delays, cancellations, and high cost of entry), no official word was ever heard. The only indication of its failure is the removal of Steam Machine mentions on the official site and statements like “product not available” on any retailer that once promised to sell the hardware. It’s a good thing Steam is still installable on Linux; otherwise, gaming on Linux would have been a complete and utter failure.

SEE: More Decade in Review coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

Ubuntu Unity

This one is tough for me. Why? Because I was actually a big fan of Unity. Canonical’s in-house desktop environment was stable, reliable, and one of the most efficient on the market. The HUD alone made Unity worth using. But alas, Canonical made a grave mistake when it set its sights on Ubuntu Touch and Mir.

The goal of those two being the new defaults for the Ubuntu desktop was the death knell for Unity, because Mir simply wasn’t ready. To make matters worse, the delay caused by Mir/Touch resulted in a tremendous lack of innovation on the Ubuntu desktop front. Eventually, Canonical scrapped it all and opted to migrate to the GNOME desktop as its default.

Ubuntu Phone

Speaking of Ubuntu Touch, the Ubuntu Phone was a spectacular failure. I owned one of the first Ubuntu Phones released and, from day one, I found it almost impossible to use. The Ubuntu Touch interface was beyond terrible. The person who came up with the “scopes” idea should have been removed from the project.

Canonical had the perfect interface with Unity; if the company transferred Unity to the mobile interface, it could have had a success on its hands. Instead, Canonical opted to go with an interface that no mobile user would find even remotely viable. On top of all that, there were next to no applications on release, and phone call quality was absurdly bad.

The Ubuntu Phone would have been better sticking with its Ubuntu Edge concept phone–the one that promised to finally deliver on convergence.

SEE: 2010s–The Decade in Review (ZDNet Special Feature)

Ubuntu Edge

Yes, this is a second Ubuntu Phone on the list, so it feels a bit like piling on. Truth be told, this phone had serious promise. Not only was Ubuntu Edge the first device to promise true convergence, it was elegant and powerful–on paper.

Before it could make it to production, Ubuntu Edge had to be funded. By means of crowdfunding, Canonical attempted to raise $32 million. Surprisingly enough, the company wound up breaking records by raising over $12 million, making it the biggest ever fixed crowdfunded campaign.

Unfortunately, this phone that sounded so incredibly amazing on paper failed to be delivered, making it one of the more heartbreaking vaporware stories in the history of Linux. Ubuntu Edge could have been the phone to make the Linux mobile a reality. That was 2013. It’s six years later, and we’re only now seeing companies bring to life Linux phones, and those are questionable at best. It was a sad, sad day when we found out Ubuntu Edge wasn’t to be.

Apartheid Linux

I’m not going to point to any links for this despicable Linux distribution; instead, I’ll just illustrate one of the negative effects of anyone having the ability to “roll your own” distribution. Unlike Hannah Montana Linux’s goal of bringing new, younger users into the Linux and open source fold, Apartheid Linux focused its attention on hatred, bigotry, and “white power.” At no time in the history of open source was Linux ever used for such a disgusting purpose.

This distribution is so horrible, I even hesitated to add it to the list out of fear that someone might Google it and be accosted with the language and images of hate. Spare yourself from the inevitable rise in blood pressure and don’t bother.

SEE: Decade in Review 2010 – 2019 (CNET)


Diaspora is a distributed social network consisting of a group of independently owned nodes operating together to form a network. Because it is distributed, the network is not owned by anyone. On paper, this is a great idea and having it licensed under the GNU-AGPL-3.0 license makes it even better.

Work began on Diaspora in 2010, and the first Diaspora Pod was released that same year. Sadly, the founder of Diaspora committed suicide in 2011; reports of his death were linked to pressures related to Diaspora. In October 2012, Diaspora was released. As of 2019, version 1.0 is nowhere in sight. Alas, the promise of the Diaspora distributed social network is still a pipe dream.

SEE: Photos: 10 apps to help manage work stress and mental health (TechRepublic)


RethinkDB was to be the open source database for pushing real-time updates for query results to applications. RethinkDB used the ReQL query language, which was an embedded, domain-specific language for Ruby, Python, Java, and JavaScript. The most promising feature of RethinkDB was first-class support for real-time change feeds.

According to those behind RethinkDB, its failure was a mixture of “inexplicable perversity of human nature and clever machinations of MongoDB’s marketing people,” as well as a failure to build an experienced go-to-market team, lack of numeric type support beyond 64-bit float, and terrible marketing. In the end, RethinkDB was very quickly surpassed by the likes of MongoDB.

SEE: The open source decade, fueled by cloud and GitHub (TechRepublic)

Samsung DeX for Linux

It should have surprised no one that Samsung dropped the ball on DeX for Linux. This was one of those bits of technology that had so many Linux fans foaming at the mouth to have in their hands. After all, who wouldn’t want the ability to plug in an Android phone and have it convert to a full-blown Linux desktop? I know I would.

But in 2019, Samsung decided to scrap DeX for Linux. My guess is that this was yet another instance of that great mythical beast “convergence” flailing and failing. Such promise leading to such disappointment. So long, DeX, you were an incredible ray of hope while you lasted.

SEE: 10 biggest Android flops of the decade (TechRepublic)

Honorable mention: Hannah Montana Linux

Even though it doesn’t fit the 2010-2019 timeframe for TechRepublic’s Decade in Review series, Hannah Montana Linux deserves a mention.

Before I point the finger of mockery at this distribution, I want to at least give the developer props for his intention. The goal of Hannah Montana Linux (HML) was to appeal to younger users. That’s great, and at the time, Hannah Montana was a solid launching point.

What was Hannah Montana Linux? A purple and pink themed Linux distribution, with KDE as a desktop and the Disney channel character front and center. Although attracting younger users to Linux is an honorable goal, HML would have been better served by at least adding some applications that would appeal to users, instead of doing nothing more than theming KDE.

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From the hottest programming languages to commentary on the Linux OS, get the developer and open source news and tips you need to know. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays