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10/22/2007
10:52 AM
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Why Linux Will Succeed On The Desktop

Former Linux Journal editor Nicholas Petreley argues that the open-source operating system will break through big time on the client side, especially if pre-installs increase and the KDE graphical environment is adopted.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, this isn't a mistake it can undo easily. Microsoft can't afford to give away a significant portion of its Office market share just to try to regain some loyalty for the Windows platform. Now that the damage is done, companies are more inclined to support platforms where the playing field is level, hence this opportunity for Linux and other desktop operating systems.

But while Microsoft made it nearly impossible for competition to make money on mainstream desktop applications for Windows, Linux does not necessarily restore that opportunity. The best mainstream applications for Linux are free, open-source applications. While many companies are beginning to recognize the superiority of free software, most still haven't figure out how to make money on it - at least, they realize they can't make money the same way they did in the old market.

Another problem with these Microsoft-driven windows of opportunity is that they simply make it easier for any alternative operating system to gain desktop market share, not necessarily Linux. Mac OS-X, can reap the benefits from these opportunities, and probably already has. Linux may have the edge in the long-term, but in the short-term, it's going to take some additional changes for Linux to exploit these opportunities. Linux will have to overcome some significant obstacles.

Obstacle: More Preloaded Linux Systems Are Needed

It is the personal experience of many users of both Windows and Linux that Linux is far easier to install than Windows when Linux recognizes the hardware properly during installation. Obviously, Linux can be a bear to install when it has trouble recognizing hardware, but then so can Windows.

One could argue that Linux installers are doing a better job of recognizing hardware these days. It's irrelevant. The easiest installation is the one you don't have to perform. This is the reason why so many people believe, true or not, that Linux is harder to install than Windows. They have to install Linux. They don't have to install Windows. They get Windows on their PC when they buy it. Mac OS-X has the advantage here. Buy a Mac, and you've got your desktop operating system installed for you.

The way past this obstacle is obvious. Get Linux pre-loaded on PCs and Linux users won't have to deal with installation woes. Ubuntu and Dell partnered up to pre-load Linux. That's a great start, but it's only a start. Linux will need much broader support in pre-loads to be successful on the desktop.

Obstacle: KDE Must Replace GNOME As Linux's Preferred GUI

GNOME is the default graphical desktop environment for Red Hat Linux, Ubuntu, SUSE, and others. GNOME may not be keeping Linux off the desktop, but it is not selling desktop Linux, either. GNOME can't seem to make up its mind if it's for novice users or hard-core hackers. It would be different if GNOME, like KDE, attempted to serve both types of users. Instead, the GNOME approach to being user-friendly is to make it impossible (or all but impossible) to perform anything but the most basic operations. If you really want to do something GNOME doesn't want you to do, you have to get down and dirty and edit the GNOME registry or other configuration files.

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