Back on October 17th, PC World published an article titled Desktop Linux: The Dream Is Dead, which started with the paragraph:
Despite phenomenal security and stability–and amazing strides in usability, performance, and compatibility–Linux simply isn’t catching on with desktop users. And if there ever was a chance for desktop Linux to succeed, that ship has long since sunk.
They followed up on October 19th with Reports of Linux’s Desktop Death Are Premature, which covered points such as the impossibility of measuring the market share off something that isn’t paid for at retail.
So where are we really?
No one really knows. Microsoft supposedly dominates the desktop market. I say supposedly, because Apple computers are generally in service longer than computers running Microsoft Windows. This is partly because Apple doesn’t build cheap junk, and in part because OS X is virtually virus proof, so the OS just keeps running and running. Rather like the Energizer Bunny. Apple also claims to have captured twenty percent of the U.S. consumer market for personal computers. A lot of Windows fans won’t want to believe that, but Apple has seven spots on the top twenty at Amazon today, including the number one spot.
Apple equipment commands a premium, not just because of the build quality, but also because of the bundled applications. Most musicians use Apple equipment because there’s nothing on the market that can match the Garage Band/Macintosh combination as a Digital/Audio Workstation. That’s why I bought a Mac – for recording, there’s nothing better.
Then there’s all those ‘modified’ machines out there. I’ve personally installed Linux on twenty computers in the last year. I have a server, well actually an ex-Windows desktop which was DOA until I installed Linux on it. Now it just works. The only time it’s down is when the power is off, and when the power comes back on it restarts, and just works. It automatically updates the software with no user intervention required, and unlike with Windows (in my experience) the updates just work too. Oh, and it never gets virused.
So why can’t you buy Linux desktops in the stores? Easy. Microsoft. Microsoft got burned in dealing with the OEMS (see the US Antitrust Case filings on record at Groklaw), and it appears that they’ve now moved to working with the Big Box retailers. They’d like to block both Linux and Mac uptake. So far they’ve been more successful at keeping Linux out of Best Buy, Staples, etc. than they have Macs. Apple has a fair bit of muscle too. But let’s face it. Best Buy and Staples are mercenaries. They don’t care about Microsoft, they care about their sales. Right now Linux doesn’t look like it will boost their sales, so they are avoiding it. If that changes, well Microsoft is in deep trouble.
Meanwhile, the OEMs still cooperate with Microsoft, to a point. They don’t show Linux on their front page, but Dell, HP, and Lenovo all offer Linux pre-installed systems. Again, these companies are mercenaries. They don’t care if the system ships with Windows or Linux, as long as they are making money shipping it. And in fact, once they’ve certified a system with Linux, their costs are lower, though they don’t get the money that they do for installing junkware on Windows.
One issue is how do you qualify if something is a success? Apple supposedly holds a 26.2% share of the U.S. Smart Phone Market according to Canalys. Is this a success? AT&T and Apple think so. Honda held an 11.2% share of the U.S. Automotive Market according to the Wall Street Journal. Is this a success? I haven’t heard Honda crying about sales.
The only market that I know of, which is so heavily dominated by one vendor is computer operating systems.
The image is from Wikipedia. The numbers from the chart, are as of today:
Windows XP – 48.32%
Windows 7 – 19.81%
Windows Vista – 18.43%
Mac OS X – 6.42%
IOS (IPhone, IPad) – 1.40%
Linux – 1.34%
This totals up to 95.72%, which would make sense. I know people who are still running Windows 98. Hey, if it works, why change it? And there are other options, such as the other BSD versions (OS X is the most popular BSD variant), Solaris, Windows 2000, Windows ME, ReactOS, etc. making up the other 4.28%.
These numbers of course aren’t really accurate, they are guesstimates. As Wikipedia says:
Information about operating systems share is difficult to obtain. In most of the categories below, there is no reliable primary source or methodology for its collection.
In fact I’ve argued in the past, and provided documentation to back up my assertions, that Linux is probably above 10% market share on the desktop. But it doesn’t really matter for sake of my argument today. The question is, how do you define success?
If it’s total market share, than Windows 7 is a failure. Or is it? It’s only been on the market for seventeen months. Maybe it’s Windows XP that’s a failure. It was on sale for eight years, and it holds less than 50% of the market! How about Vista. Everyone loves to beat up on Vista, but it still holds 18.43% of the market, maybe it wasn’t a failure after all!
Or maybe 1.34% market share makes Linux one of the greatest success stories ever. Just think. It’s damned near impossible to walk into a store and buy a computer with Linux pre-installed anywhere that I’ve been in the United States and Canada (except for a short period of time when Netbooks first came out, before Microsoft realized that they were a market). So most of that 1.34% (assuming it’s accurate, which it isn’t) comes from people like me, installing Linux on machines that used to run Windows.
In other words we went to a lot of extra work, including things like finding network cards which had Linux drivers, to escape from Windows. Think of that. We had to work hard to get away from Windows. Really hard. And Windows was SO BAD that we did it.
And a lot more people would too, if they knew they had the option.
Think. When was the last time you meet a happy Windows user? One who wasn’t forced to pay extra over the cost of the operating system for an anti-virus subscription? Or who didn’t have a story of having to take their computer into Geek Squad or their local equivalent, because the damned thing just wouldn’t run right, and when they got it back, they were told it had been hit by a virus? I know two professional writer’s who lost time this fall, because Windows died on them. Note that I said on them, not for them.
Or for that matter, Dr. Roy at Techrights reported recently that One in Two Windows computers was had been hit by a BotNet (Dr. Roy, if you read this, I couldn’t find the link – can you post it as a comment?)
So when you consider the amount of effort so many people have made to escape Windows, and how few people are happy with Windows, maybe Linux is the real success story.
A final note – with the graph I posted Wikipedia’s warning about the numbers. Currently numbers are collected several ways including retail sales, website visits, industry reports, and anecdotal reports. I’m going straight to anecdotal reports.
I know a lot of people involved in the Free Software community. The one, and only thing that they agree on, is that it’s growing. There are more people contributing to Free Software projects than every before. There are also most people using free software, Firefox has reported that downloads have been rising, as did OpenOffice.Org before Oracle bought Sun. Every time you log into the Ubuntu forums you run into new users. Every time you drop into Groklaw you see comments from new people (and on Groklaw less than one in a hundred comment). Every time you drop into the Techrights IRC channel, or anywhere else where Free Software is discussed, you see new people. Some are running Free Software on top of Windows. Some have dropped Windows, and are running Desktop BSD, Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, or whatever. But there’s always new people.
And whether they are interested in free software from the philosophical or the cost side, they are interested. In fact many times you hear the cry of ‘I just wish I knew this was available X years ago!’ The interest is snowballing. And many who started running Open Office or Firefox on Windows, are now looking at getting rid of Windows totally. The user experience with Firefox, Open Office, Videolan Player, The Gimp, and so many other Free Software programs is just that good.
And that’s why the article is called ‘The So-Called Death Of Desktop Linux’. Yes, desktop Linux adoption has appeared for years to have been stalled, due to Microsoft’s monopolistic manipulations. But Microsoft is limited. Sure, it’s one of the richest companies in the world. But even it has only so much money to spend.
Add to that it’s inability to produce an answer to Apple’s media campaign, and people who didn’t know they had an option, now know that they do. Mobile Phones and Tablet Computers are now defined in most people’s minds as ‘Not Made By Microsoft’, just as MP3 players are. About the only success that Microsoft has had outside of it’s traditional markets is the Ford Sync, and Ford acted pretty quickly to make the Microsoft name just about totally invisible.
Monday November 8, 2010