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5 Reasons that Linux is a failure

By dcolbert Contributor ·
1: Returns of Linux netbooks are currently 4:1 against XP based netbooks.

If ever there was a platform that was suited to all the claimed and perceived strengths of Tux, it would be the low powered, no frills world of the Netbook PC. Yet consumers, by a 4 to 1 margin, are picking XP based netbooks over their Linux counterparts. This failure to leverage an opportunity when Microsoft execution has been flawed, via Vista - illustrates how far behind Linux is. Linux can't afford to let opportunities like this slip by, but by losing the early advantage in the emerging Netbook market, that is exactly what the Linux community is doing. Losing the Netbook market, which I feel is almost a certain thing to happen, could be a critical and fatal misstep for Linux, preventing it from ever becoming a serious contender in the OS "wars". The emergence of Netbooks is the opportunity for Linux to establish itself as a serious contender to Microsoft, and even more importantly, to establish that the OS platform is not actually important. But at present, the Linux community is letting that opportunity pass it by, which is likely to be a far bigger blunder than any mistake Redmond made with the release of Vista.

2: The "Linux is leaner" argument is a myth.

I've been saying for awhile, I can get XP running far better on a Presario 305M "subnotebook" with 128mb of RAM and a 4gb hard-drive (call it a pre-netbook) than any distro of Linux, if I want comparable features. This is a 333mhz Celeron machine. Linux bloat is as bad - if not worse than XP.

3: Linux "Just Works" and is suitable for end users.

The most annoying thing about this is that XP "Just Works", a familiar claim that Linux cannot deliver on this particular box. Linux may be able to be MADE to work on it - but, why would you hassle with the OS other than for the challenge and academic reasons? I recently acquired a EEE PC, and considered sticking with the Xandros distro on it. After trying to load a simple Mp4 video and having it fail to provide audio or video despite "playing" the file, I quickly removed *nix and added Win XP. I suppose I could have messed around with Xandros for hours, days or weeks to get it to work - but instead a "click yes to install" default XP installation resolved that, and likely many more problems. Normal people do not want to spend hours messing with fine tuning and tweaking their OS to get it to do something, merely for the achievement. They want to be doing it, transparently, without having to worry about the infrastructure that allows them to be productive.

4: Linux is more stable than Win32.

Now, this one is difficult to address. The Linux kernel itself is undoubtedly more stable than the Win32 kernel, even today. So if you're content just running a CLI interface and simple non-graphical applications and utilities than run from the CLI, then Linux had an advantage. But once you add Xfree86, and then a Windows Manager, and then an application that runs under that Windows Manager, you've added 3 additional layers of complexity to that model of simplicity, and 3 times are many opportunities for instability. KDE applications are particularily grevious offenders, in my experience - but GIMP isn't immune. Most users don't differentiate between where a failure occurs. Hardware, Infrastructure, OS or Application. All they know is that if something goes wrong it disrupts their productivity. So, we can split hairs on this argument, but ultimately, the perception is what is important. If Open Office is constantly crashing with a SEV error or cannot load a file correctly doesn't matter to the end user - and they certainly don't care if the crash occurs at the OS level or at the particular application.

5: Linux is easier.

Ok... so, there isn't anybody, even the die-hard Accolytes of the Temple of Linux, who are making this claim. But that is the problem. Linux isn't easier. It isn't even easy. Now, some Linux proponents are willing to try to spin this, and I give them an A for effort. "Linux is harder, but it is worth it". There are various explaination for exactly what the "reward" is. It is liberating to be free of the Microsoft Yoke. It is socially responsible to support the ideals of the *nix community. It is mentally stimulating to use an OS that is challening - it broadens your technical skills and understanding, and countless others. The one that you won't hear is that the reward is that you can quickly, simply and efficiently be up and running productively on any task you might endeavor to attempt. Unfortunately, that is the one that the average user is interested in, and the one that Linux can't deliver. Thus, we see a 4:1 return ratio on Linux based netbooks and a mad rush among Netbook manufacturers to move away from customized Linux platforms to WinXP and even Vista.

With Netbooks forecast to be one of the hottest items this holiday season, with rumored deep discounting coming up this Black Friday, this really presented an opportunity for Linux to gain massive visibility into a previously largely uncracked market segment. But instead, it is more likely that this Black Friday and the following holiday season are instead going to see Microsoft dominante yet another platform while reducing Linux once again to a bit player. I've seen a growing lack of confidence for Linux throughout the tech community, an erosion of enthusiasim for the potential of this platform. Despite the buzz regarding cloud computing and the browser as an OS replacement - despite the arrival of powerful and useful personal convergence electronics like the iPhone, Android Phones and Netbooks - Linux has not been effective at leveraging these market changes. That failure to execute may be the swam-song of Linux - at least in regards to ever being a major player.

None of this means that Linux is inferior. But I don't think it is superior, either. The thing is, Linux is better for some things, and worse for others. This seems lost on many Linux advocates. Linux is not a silver bullet. Far from it. In fact, Linux is highly specialized and very well tailored to very specific needs, but woefully disadvantaged at operating in the "mean". Linux users seem to have a real chip on their shoulder and a inferiority complex that makes them tend to overcompensate. They revel in the fact that Linux is obscure, arcane, and requires a superior intellect. They revel in the fact that Linux is somewhat counter-culture and inaccessible to the masses. Yet, the feel that Linux should be all things to all people and they constantly seek affirmation by way of comparisson to other products. They inevitably find that Linux is "superior", although it is quite clear that this requires a form of mental yoga that often defies rational thought. In the meantime, their aggressive, condenscending attitude to anyone that won't drink their special Kool-Aid makes theirs one of the more unpleasant communities on the internet. I'm happy for those of you who enjoy Linux and take whatever benefit, real or imagined, physical or mental, from that action. I'm glad for Linux and the competition it brings to the marketplace. The fine line exists where Linux-reality approaches untruth, where tech-journalists who are also Linux advocates stretch and distort reality. I think the flurry of anti-Vista rhetoric over the last two years or so is an example of this. I don't think the Linux community is alone in culpability for this, either. Apple is likely the biggest culprit, having aggressively promoted a highly popular and successful campaign that often stretches the limits of truth and honest advertising. In fact, the irony of the pot calling the kettle black in Apple Mac/PC ads have often been the most amusing part of that particular campaign. The sheer balls of Apple to implicate that a Mac has better peripheral support than Win32 (by indicating that the Mac speaks to a Japanese "camera" that the PC cannot speak with) is only eclipsed by an add that implicates that Microsoft is spending huge sums of money on advertising Vista that would be better spent on improving their product. I mean really, how much has the PC/Mac campaign cost APPLE over the last 5+ years, and how much better would their product be if they had put that money into R&D? The PC/Mac ads have launched Hollywood careers, for Christ's sake. How come rational people can't see through the logical inconsistency of a prime-time commercial taking another company to task for running prime-time commercials? Especially a company that encourages people to think independently and critically. I'm Jack's amused grin.

Now, really, I think it is becoming readily more apperant that Vista has turned a corner recently, and that parallels between Vista and XP (adoption, lifecycle and stability) are appropriate and fitting. The reason I chose to post this at Tech Republic, and in this particular format, should be obvious. There are certain segments of this industry that don't want to see the anti-Vista rhetoric die away. But the fact is, Linux has every reason and interest in acting just a ruthless and cut-throat in promoting Linux adoption as Mac or Microsoft. To that end, just like a political campaign, there is a large incentive to tarnishing the reputation of your opponent while over-estimating the value of your own (Candidate or product). That is really a fitting analogy. Both a poltical campaign and an advertising campaign have the same
goals; to convince someone to pick one choice over another. But to those who are the target of these campaigns, it is always important to maintain a truly critical perspective and to have a nose for the hyperbole, exaggerations, and outright lies. In particular when any campaign turns "dirty". In the case of Linux, when you look beyond the hyperbole, exaggerations and outright lies, the numbers and facts - in the case of netbooks - tell a very important and undeniable truth. Average consumers, for some reason or another, are rejecting Linux *in this segment*, by what appears to be a SIGNIFICANT margin. Now, no doubt some of the returns are based on people expecting a true laptop experience from a Netbook and being disappointed by the netbook experience. The early perponderence of Linux based netbooks probably means that the returns of Linux based netbooks are going to be skewed further. Regardless, a quick browse at Amazon or Tiger Direct shows that XP has quickly gained on Linux in the netbook segment, and 4:1 returns still indicate that a significant reason for this disparity is Linux itself. The very fact that vendors and manufacturers have so quickly adopted XP in the netbook segment would serve to illustrate that there is demand for XP and dissatisfaction with Linux in this market. The prospective Linux convert should weigh THAT factor very seriously before considering a change. Based on this fact, a prospective Linux convert should be skeptical of the claims made about the opposition. Based on all of that, it is crucial that potential Linux converts research their consideration seriously, carefully weighing all factors, before they jump. As we head into the holiday season, unless you are familiar with Linux, I would recommend that you do NOT make the jump into Linux with a brand new netbook purchase, at the very least. The numbers show that if you do, you are liable to become an unsatisfied statistic.

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Did you start this solely to

by The Scummy One In reply to How often have you heard. ...

show your bias to MS?
Well, we get it.

"This is another problem with the Linux community. Some sort of lack of accountability. If someone uses Linux and doesn't like it, doesn't get it, it is THEIR failure, not Linux. "

Who's fault is it then? Linux's fault? The user should look into what they are getting and what to expect. To expect Windows with a Linux msystem is just not an accurate determination.
Besides, there are dozens and dozens of distro's out there. If 1 does not work for a person, another may. But it is not 'Linux' fault if someone does not like their system.
However, if someone does not like it, they can opt to change it. When was the last time MS listened to the customer???

WTF is your problem anyway. You have nothing better to do than to try to bash Linux because you invested too much in MS and Vista is a failure?

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My response

by dcolbert Contributor In reply to Did you start this solely ...

I started this for the same reason that Jason Hiner started THIS thread:

Although I don't see a post from you in that thread proclaiming Jason's Linux bias or asking him WTF is his problem.

Why is THAT?

It is an interesting fact, the high return rate on Linux netbooks, that isn't well known yet, and it is a relevent part of an ongoing dialog and debate on this forum.

I believe the last time MS listened to the customer and changed their product was when they released Vista with much tighter security control, in response to ongoing complaints about security vunerabilities in the previous Win32 architecture. Much of that public voice they were responding to was in fact, the Linux community. Ironic.

If were going to have these kind of discussions, there have to be some ground rules, and rule #1 would be, "What is good for the goose is good for the gander".

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not directly own any interest or shares in Microsoft corporation, although it is possible that I am invested in technology funds that might have investments in Microsoft at one time or another. I do own considerable stock in Intel corporation, but those have been almost always hopelessly under water since I acquired them (at employee prices, no less) and are currently at their worst in years. I have no financial interest in this debate - it is purely academic to me.

One last thing, and I don't have any numbers for this.

It would be interesting to note how many people return their Linux netbook in EXCHANGE for a Win XP netbook. That would be a relevent and meaningful number. It would illustrate beyond a doubt that the NETBOOK isn't the problem, it is the OS. AND, that *is* changing your "distro".

I suspect there is a LOT of that happening. People ARE picking a distro that works for them. It is called Windows XP. I think the fact that the netbook manufacturers are moving quickly to make XP available illustrates this demand. But... I have no numbers to back that claim up, so it is just hearsay.

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Ok, to address the original post

by The Scummy One In reply to My response

#1 -- I think (do not know for a fact) that people are buying them expecting it to be just like Windows, and when something does not install they get pissed off and take it back.

#2 -- not a myth. Many distros of Linux are much leaner than comparable MS products. So much so that older HW works fast and seems to be rejuvinized when Linux is running on it. However, not always, some distro's are pretty bloated.

#3 -- For many things, a Linux Distro does 'just work'. Think of a complete office suite built in, and more than 1 web browser (often there are 2)and a graphics editor (the Gimp). However, since it is free, there are no proprietary SW installed, things that need to be paid for do not show up.
In Windows, Office is seperate, and for the good photo editing, photoshop or another expensive application is needed. And since when is .mp4 part of the standard Win install?

#4 -- ok, you got me there. I have had errors on a Linux box, usually in KDE with a 3rd party app, but not always. So I guess its just frequency of errors which is the problem. XP gives me many more errors, and often they seem to just be random. I have also had lots of problems with the Vista systems as well. But the errors are more of a personal preference, so I wont say which I think is more stable.

#5 -- I havent heard this one before. I personally think that many of todays distro's are pretty easy, however I still had trouble with some parts.
I think Linux is more difficult for someone used to Windows. However we often forget that Windows wasnt too 'easy' when we were first learning it.
But since most people have Windows first, I will agree that Windows is easier to learn for most people.

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See how much better this is?

by dcolbert Contributor In reply to Ok, to address the origin ...

1: I agree. It is kind of my point, and a point I have been trying to make for awhile. Linux is simply not suitable or ready for mass consumer adoption - and may never be. That isn't the WORST thing in the world. Undoubtedly SOME people are buying Linux netbooks and finding them perfectly useful for their purposes. But for most people, for most purposes, Linux doesn't cut it yet. So if this *is* the case, and I think it is, how come we get so much debate about if Vista is going to succeed or fail, or if Linux is superior? It is (and I use this analogy a lot) much like the Beta versus VHS argument (or HD versus BluRay for those of you who are still wet behind the ears). BEST doesn't mean "market success". Vista is going to be a "success", or some Microsoft derivative of Vista. It isn't going to go away, and Linux isn't going to upset Microsoft dominance. If it was going to happen, it would have already. Smarter money is on something like Chrome and Cloud computing marginalizing the OS completely, regardless of brand. (Although such a scenario presents its own challenges and dangers - Linux people may end up wishing for the good ol' days of Win32 back).

2: Apples to Apples. A 486DX33 will run Win95 fine - or DOS 5 fine. Linux is, no doubt, more scalable. But to run a full distro with Xfree86 and GIMP or KDE and Office takes some resources - and introduces a lot of Win32 like frustrations, as well. It is part of the deal. The more complex you make a system, the more it takes to run, and the harder it is to keep it running.

#3 I've got a friend that says, "Linux is only as free as your time". My time is pretty precious to me. Mp4 support was just an example. It is a matter of accessibility. And let's be fair - Win32 has issues with Codecs and different media formats can be a hassle. For me, with Xandros on the Eee PC, when I encountered the problem, it instantly made me evaluate, "Do I want to spend a bunch of time tracking down how to get a package or codec installed in Linux for MP4, or is it easier to just jump to WinXP and install Quicktime/iTunes now". I've been down this road a lot. With RedHat, with Debian, with FreeBSD, with Ubuntu. That experience led me to XP.

#4 - I think this is a moving target. But I think the argument is old and goes back to when Linux was competing mostly with Win95. There was a time... a time of frequent GPFs and BSODs. Those times are behind Win32 now. But the argument still operates as if that were the reality today. In the meantime, as Linux has grown complex to meet the challenges of Win32, they've developed their OWN GPFs and BSODs (Sev errors and Panics, for example). I've done a lot of work on both sides, and you're right, it isn't a hard target anymore. KDE 2 on Debian Potato, at release, was really bad. The Open Office at that time was really bad. Now, in all honesty, the few times I've revisited since, the first inclination I get that the experience is headed that way, I'm inclined to throw in the towel. At the very least, it makes me take it with a grain of salt when a Linux advocate tells me that Linux is MORE stable than Win32.

5: Today'd distros, especially Ubuntu, have come a loooooong way. On the other hand, there are still very difficult parts that are really just part of the design and architecture of *nix. I'm thinking of issues I've had with ATI cards and Compiz and with wireless. Drivers, especially are still difficult to manage with *nix. Although again, much better today than having to recompile a custom kernel under Debian, like in the old days.

And again, it isn't about fair or right, it is about reality. Windows is dominant, people expect Windows and a Windows experience. Windows is the paradigm they're comfortable with. This is aboslutely part of the 4:1 return ratio we're seeing with netbooks. But the Linux community saying, "The customers are stupid, they need to invest in learning Linux" isn't going to change this. That is a poor plan if Linux ever wants to replace Win32 as the dominant OS. Again, Apple seems to be on to something. They've got a *nix that average people seem to be able to adjust to, that people can make the switch to. What is the difference? Apple users, in my experience, are often the LEAST computer literate people on the planet. I think there is an important lesson in there about how to successfully sell a *nix based OS to Non-*nix/Windows buyers.

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Sorry for the more offensive start

by The Scummy One In reply to See how much better this ...

I read your original post more as a seagull post -- so responded in such a way.

new #1 -- I think as more and more apps are made to be browser access, the main OS will not matter as much, and more people will flock to cheaper versions such as Linux. However, useability is still a key factor, and many people do not want to learn a new OS. This is why MS still reigns on top for home users. Most of them, aside from these flash games that dont work in Linux, really have no need to use Windows. However, they are used to the way to do things.

#2 -- I agree -- the more complex you make a system, the harder it is to run properly. Why does MS not see this? Why is Aero so bloated, why are temp files hidden soo much that you have to enable 'view OS files (not recommended) to find the folders for them? MS has a lot of overprotective bloat where it is not needed. Some is likely for stability reasons, but the mass seems to be just to do it.

#3 -- I cannot comment on mp4 in Linux, I havent tried it. However, if you use the package manager it should work fine -- but I am brought back a few years with a SUSE issue, where I spent about 4 hours trying to figure out a codec mess for (I think it was dvd :0 ). So yes, some things can be a hassle, especially if one is used to Win platform. An avid Linux user would be just as stuped if thrown on a Win box for the first time.

#4 -- I have noticed this as well. But it goes back to more code = more areas that can be a problem. MS has become much more stable, however a command line based Linux box without a GUI should be much more stable. However, add something like KDE and guess what -- stability falls dramatically. I dont see a Server OS by MS that does not have the excess GUI. But I will say, this point is mostly moot now, because the stability is more from excess, and Linux is catching up with excess

#5 -- I would have to agree -- some parts of many distros seems to still be a big issue. For me, dual monitors was an issue, when switching between using 2 and using 1, and even having the main monitor die and replacing it with a different model of monitor :0 -- yes, it was a tremendous hassle. But I see that as not everyone needs/uses this function.
I am not doubting that many things Windows is better for. I use both daily, and see many things that I much prefer Win for, and many others that I prefer Linux for. However, there are also distro-specific cr@p as well. Some things I prefer SUSE for and some things I prefer PCLOS for. This is solely personal preference though.

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Puppy linux and others

by jdclyde In reply to Ok, to address the origin ...

are designed to give a light install on a flash stick, taking about 128M of space.

When is the last time you saw a liveCD that ran Windows?

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by CharlieSpencer In reply to Puppy linux and others

I use it all the time. Bootable XP CD, and I could put it on a flash drive if I had to.

I'm not going to tell you there's room for a bunch of apps, but would probably fit.

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What kind of licensing does that take?

by chris In reply to Bart-PE

something you pay for once or is it per machine used on?

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by dcolbert Contributor In reply to Puppy linux and others

I'm certain that there are probably more LiveCD Win32 disks than the two mentioned here by Palmetto and I.

NLite will allow you to make a custom, light version of Win32 - probably bootable as well. I bet you could get an NLite version on a VERY small USB disk. As a matter of fact, I'm almost certain you can, because there is a lot of discussion on the Netbook forums about doing this kind of thing. Of course, as you go down this road, you start turning Win32 into something almost as complex and convoluted for the average user as Linux.

Dude, it is just an OS. If one can do it, another can, too. It shows a general lack of understanding to even suggest that Linux is somehow special because it has "liveCD" and "USB lite" installs.

They're all more the SAME than different. I've said for awhile, if something is going to upset the current paradigm, it is going to be a WHOLE NEW concept - something none of us have even imagined yet.

Gesture based computing, VR interfacing, wet-link technology... But, it might be even more obscure than any of that...

It isn't going to be another GUI desktop.

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Widows licencing

by j-mart In reply to Winternals

The closed source and windows EULA would limit what can legally be done with with "live windows". Linux being open source allows much more scope for mucking about with all the posibilities

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