The Linux community has been trying to get people to switch to Linux for, well, forever. As a desktop operating system Linux has failed to convince people that it has anything to offer them. Ten years ago the market share of Linux was around 1% and today it isn’t much different.
It is true that Linux powers a lot of stuff you don’t see and that Android, of which there are a billion phones and tablets, is a type of Linux, but I am focusing on desktop usage here. PCs in homes and offices.
There, Linux has failed to stimulate any interest at all. If you are giving away something for free and no-one takes it, it must tell you that there is something seriously wrong with the product. So what is wrong with Linux?
Here are five ideas to make Linux better and to turn it into something that people might actually want.
1 Fewer distros – 10 max
There are far too many versions of Linux and this is confusing for people. I am not talking about Linux experts, but the general public. There are said to be over 400 different versions of Linux and only three days ago EFYTimes published a list of 240 with links to each distro’s website.
There are probably double this when you consider that there are often 32-bit and 64-bit versions, and versions with different desktops. There are 14 versions of the current release of Linux Mint for example. That is 14 versions of one distro.
It is mind boggling and having a choice of distros does not help to sell Linux to the general public. Microsoft has sometimes been criticised for offering 10 or more versions of Windows and Linux has an extra 390. When there is too much choice, people are numbed into inaction. They cannot decide.
Firstly, there is the fear of choosing the wrong one and you could end up with one that does not do what you want or support the software you need.
There is also the very real problem of actually choosing the wrong one and having a bad experience with it because it does not do what you want, is difficult to install, has little software and is just for technical geeks.
There is an old saying, “United we stand, divided we fall,” and Linux is a divided community with hundreds of distros all pulling in different directions instead of all pulling together. They are all trying to gain users, all claiming they are the Linux you need and that their Linux is the best Linux.
Creating so many different versions of Linux is a waste of time and effort.
Just imagine the thousands of programmers that must be involved in creating hundreds of Linux distros, all slightly different. Let us suppose there are, on average, 5 people involved with every distro (some distros are one-man bands, but hundreds of people work on Ubuntu).
That makes over 2,000 programmers working on Linux. Not as a team working towards a common goal, but all working on private projects that are incompatible with each other.
Just think what could be achieved if all those programmers worked together on one project. In order for Linux to gain popularity with the general public as a desktop operating system, there should be a maximum of 10 distros. Those other 390 have to go. They are holding back acceptance by the general public.
2 One software store for everyone
Some Linux distros have a nice software center that provides an easy way to find and install software. The problem is that each distro has its own collection of software. Some don’t even have a simple software center and instead, they rely on applications like Synaptic Package Manager or even the command line.
There should be one store containing a list of Linux software and a simple Install button. Software should also come with a simple uninstaller too.
Outside of a distro’s software center, Synaptic Package Manager or whatever they use, it gets really confusing for the public. Different distros require different file formats and even when distros share the same file format, the software can be compatible with one Linux but not another.
The software situation is a mess and confuses the public. It puts people off Linux. Software can confuse Windows users with XP, Vista, 7 and 8, each in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, and it can be hard work out if software will run. The number of Linux distros is an order of magnitude greater and so are the problems.
Will software for Debian run on Fedora? How about software for OpenSUSE on Ubuntu? That’s four Linux distros. Imagine the problems facing people who have a choice of 400 distros.
3 Get rid of the Terminal
Linux experts love the Terminal because with the right commands you can do anything. Although there is a command prompt in Windows and Mac users have a Terminal, the majority of Windows PC and Apple Mac users do not know what it is and have never used it.
Getting rid of the Terminal would force Linux developers to think of other ways of doing things using the graphical interface. You can do almost everything on a Windows PC or Apple Mac by pointing and clicking on menus, buttons, and other controls. Why not Linux?
People can often work out the solution to problems if there are buttons, menus and controls to click on, but they cannot work out the command and syntax of something you must type into the Terminal.
Too often the solution to a Linux problem is some expert saying something like “Type the following at the command prompt: echo -e '\E[7m'”. How is anyone supposed to work that out?
Try and live for a month without using the Terminal in Linux. Most Windows and Mac users go a year without touching it. If there is something you need to do and you cannot do it by pointing and clicking with the mouse, then that’s a fail.
4 Better software
People don’t care about operating systems, they care about software. The Apple Mac is a brilliant computer with a great operating system, but even Mac users run Windows. The reason is that there is an application that only runs on Windows and they must have it.
Photoshop does not run on Linux and if you need to use Photoshop then your choice of operating system is between Windows or OS X. Linux is not an option. A single program can end up being a barrier preventing Linux being used.
There are Linux alternatives to many market leading Windows and Mac software packages, but mostly they are not the same and they are not as good. Sorry, but GIMP is not Photoshop and LibreOffice is not Microsoft Office. It is true that they are free alternatives and good in their own way, but only in the same way that a Ford is an alternative to a Ferrari, and a Toyota Prius is an alternative to a Tesla.
Instead of spending time and effort making the operating system better, which will have little effect on usage, developers should focus on creating killer software. People use Windows because it has program X, whatever X may be (Office, Photoshop, InDesign, and so on). What is Linux’s killer application?
5 What can Linux do to become more popular?
In addition to reducing the number of Linux distros, setting up a single online store and file format, and creating a killer app, there are other ways to increase its popularity.
The world is changing and we are doing more online than ever before. In fact, you can almost do everything online and computers like Chromebooks are basically internet computers that do little offline. If Google can sell Chromebooks then surely there is a market for Linux.
There are online office suites like Microsoft Office web apps, and Google Drive with Docs, Sheets and Slides, there are online photo editors and video editors, and the services that people use most, like Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks, are online anyway.
In some ways the operating system is becoming less relevant as everything moves online. If you spend all your time in a browser, what does it matter which OS it is running on? Word processing, email, social media, accounts, photo storage and albums, and so on, all run online in a browser window.
When the OS is no longer relevant, Linux might gain popularity, but it needs marketing.
It is interesting to compare the home pages of Linux distros with the home pages of Windows and OS X. Microsoft and Apple tell you about all the wonderful things that Windows and OS X can do for you and how they will transform your life, how you can work and play, watch films and TV shows, listen to music, and browse the web. There are pictures of kids and families, young people doing fun stuff with smiles on their faces, and so on.
Linux home pages are full of technical jargon. Not one of them explains what the Linux distro will do for you or how it enables you to do stuff. They don’t put people on their pages doing fun things, implying that maybe Linux isn’t fun. Linux websites are technical pages written by geeks for geeks, not the public.
Linux needs a marketing makeover. Look at how Microsoft sells Windows and how Apple sells OS X. Of course, the one-man-distro maker doesn’t have the budget to advertise like Microsoft and Apple, but they could at least make the websites user friendly.
Linux should show people doing fun things on their computer and websites need a serious makeover to convince the public to use it.