Monday, June 25, 2007

What does Linux really need ? What can we learn from apple ?

Today i read two articles(here and here) that made me think.They made me think about several things but mostly they made me think about what is it that Linux really needs to "make it" to the desktop. I thought of making a comparison and viewing this question while keeping osx in mind.Lets have a look at some well known facts (hopefully from a new perspective :) )


  • Linux is an OS that costs absolutely nothing and offers a pretty compelling solution compared to windows with some clear advantages , as well as disadvantages
  • All you need to know to install and try linux is knowing it exists (duh) , how to get it and some relatively limited expertise on how to partition the disk.
  • Some modern distros can be very user friendly but still different from what users are accustomed to.
  • Linux market(desktop) share is extremely small (probably under 1% , even though noone can be sure)
  • Many companies dont seem to consider linux as a serious platform for commercial apps/games
By looking at these facts one may reach some of the following conclusions :

  1. The disadvantages outweigh the advantages so that is why people dont use it and that explains the small market share.
  2. The prerequisites for installing linux are not common in the general public so ,few people use linux and that explains the small market share.
  3. People dont switch because there are not enough commercial apps for linux and therefore windows/mac offers functionality that linux doesnt
  4. Linux is hard/different to use so people dont switch
  5. Linux is a mess (changing APIs incompatibility amongst distros etc) and commercial companies dont want to get involved
  6. Commercial companies dont want to get involved because linux users have no purchasing power because of their small numbers and/or a stereotypical profile of the linux user.

I could add other points to that list but those should do it.I want you to keep these points in mind and ask you a few questions:

  • Do you have anything to add to these two lists ?
  • Do you disagree with any of these points ?
  • Which ones do you think are more important ?
  • What solutions would you propose ?
Now lets do the same thing for OSX


  • OSX is an os that offers a compelling alternative to windows with advantages and disadvantages.
  • OSX is not free but it costs less than windows.
  • In order to use OSX you have to purchase apple hardware that is usually more expensive.
  • OSX seems to be widely considered as clearly superior to windows (even by windows and linux users) as well as easier to use and offering a "smoother experience"
  • Many of the people mentioned above dont make the switch
  • OSX has a small market share but much bigger than that of linux
  • Its market share is increasing slowly but steadily
  • OSX is considered as a profitable platform by many companies but not to the extent of windows

*NOTE* I have never been a mac user so i appreciate any feedback


  1. People have a very positive view of OSX but they dont switch because of the overpriced hardware and/or limited application availability.
  2. People that do switch do so because they find the mac experience more congenial , they consider OSX to be superior to windows easier to use and more pleasant.
  3. Smaller software availablility is caused by small market share
  4. Since market share is increasing software availability will follow and so more people will make the switch.

Now lets compare the lists for linux and OSX

In a way , installing linux is easier than OSX.It costs nothing , it can be used with your existing hardware, and you can do it without even getting up from your chair.On the other hand , you have to install it yourself, so it requires some effort.If someone knows about it and tries a livecd he will probably decide to go through the whole process only if during that time, which probably is going to be very short , he or she sees a feature that makes linux an attractive choice.

Linux market share seems to be increasing but by a very small amount.OSX on the other hand seems to increase its share at a bigger rate and has managed to create an "aura" around it that affects non mac users too.Linux on the other hand seems to retain that "geeky" characterization that it used to have some time ago but doesnt do it justice anymore.

OSX gets far more publicity than linux.Apple nowadays is ubiquitous and has managed to take over a huge part of the mp3 player market to an extent that some people use the word "iPod" instead of "mp3 player" Jobs's keynote addresses are a major event in the "popular IT culture" and are covered extensively by the press.


All the above points lead many people to believe that the apple "model" is very successful and we should be trying to move in that direction.But the big question for me is: What is that direction ?What made OSX such a popular os and changed the mindset of millions of people ?Is it some innate characteristic of the os ? Before the imac and OSX people would watch macs and turn the other way , but now they always stop to have a look and inadvertently some of them buy one.What made all this possible ?Why dont we see the same thing happening with linux even though access to it is even easier ?


There are many possible answers to all these questions and i would like you to give me yours.But i want to focus on one subject that for me is more important and is one of the main reasons OSX and apple caught on.Read on


Consider two "average" windows users A and B who have never had close contact with a mac looking at a mac before OSX and after.Since A doesnt know that much about it his reaction is indifferent and since macs are considered popular only for desktop editing etc this doesnt concern him.Its just an OS like the others and none of his business.User B on the other hand looks at something very different.He sees a beautiful ,dare i say sexy, desktop.Elegant and smooth it looks new and refreshing , unlike anything else.He is instantly attracted to it.Maybe it is his business.Maybe this could be his next desktop.He is not indifferent anymore.The "aura" that surrounds the mac isnt so boring and dull anymore.Its new , innovative, it looks cool and sexy, people start talking about it.Its trendy.That instantenous attraction makes the difference.Its hard to resist because its an emotion.People start talking about it considering buying a mac and some do , that creates publicity and momentum.

In short thats one very important thing that linux needs , a cute face and airtime as well as a good reputation.Of course i am not saying that hardware support ,app availability,quality applications and all that isnt important but when you have people whos needs are covered by the already existing software
and have compatible hardware but are not switching , isnt there a problem ? Isnt there a parameter missing from the equation ?Yes , the problem is that even though linux may be a better solution for their needs IT IS NOT RELEVANT to them.We have to make it relevant just like apple did the same thing for OSX. Look at all this buzz around the iphone.It hasnt even become available and its already labeled as easy to use , innovative and its being marketed as the next thing.It has succeded before it even launched.Cnets n1 reason to buy an iphone:it looks good ! Everybody knows about it and it looks good , thats what makes people want something.We have the product and we have the quality , but those two things alone wont get us far.


I bet by now (if anyone ever reads this) people will be saying that i care about superficial issues and am ignoring the real substance.No i am not , quality is always important but all i am saying its that its not enough and we have already witnessed that.


So , what can we do ? I think we should make linux look much cooler than it already does.When a user that heard about linux once or twice pops in a livecd to check it out , if he sees a desktop looking like ubuntu's default desktop or any other similar disto he will probably try surfing the web , playing media and some other tasks like that and he or she is going to dismiss it."Big deal,i can do all that with windows too" Thats what i mean by irrelevant.We have to make them want to have it.They have to start using it first , then they will be able to see what its all about.The problem is that if to them its irrelevant they wont even get that far.I have seen people considering buying macs without even knowing the first thing about them just by looking at an imac running OSX.You cant tell me that there was any reason other than attraction.It was sexy , they wanted it.If it was for free they d surely get it !

What makes on os sexy is another big talk and i have to admit i am not very sure but i am not saying we should copy OSX , maybe we can do it better.Beauty also doesnt necessarily mean super cool 3d bloat but also elegance and harmony.A good widget style and a good icon set that go well together can go a long way !

Also: publicity
I am always surprised when i hear windows users going on and on about how advanced OSX is.Isnt that weird ?Many of then havent even played with it !I dont know if that is actually true but dont you think if all those people could get it for free , they would do it ?Why cant linux fill that gap ?We need more and better publicity and i d love to listen to your ideas on this subject (as well as all the others)


People act on emotion and not rationally.Apple knows that and its using it to its gain.Why shouldnt we ?I ve heard many people wondering why linux isnt making it and i used to do the same thing.Its free , safe , secure , reliable...What else do you want ?I think thats whats missing.Mark Shuttleworth said beauty is a feature and i absolutely agree but i dont see him doing much on that side of things.Maybe we should.

There is alot of room on the field.Compiz/Beryl and KDE 4 as well as other projects can bring that to linux and we really need that.It might really give us the edge we need.

I know this post is really big and incoherent at times and i also know i am repeating myself more than once but its off the top of my head and besides...I am not that smart :P

*Note*
I ve noticed people tend to read articles and flame the author about a tiny detail that was completely peripheral to the article.If you dont agree with me on something just let me know but what i really want is feedback on the issue at hand.Thanks

3 comments:

Locutus said...

I have had those very same thoughts myself. I think you have managed to articulate them quite well (better and in greater detail than I seem to have time for).

Linux does need that extra zing to push it into the limelight. It needs to get the public appeal not the specialist appeal.

Mike Kavis said...

Good recap. One point I struggle with in all arguments for or against any of the OS's is the installation issues. If we are talking about installing the OS at the enterprise, the is typically done by the desktop folks. If the desktop folks get the same level of training for Linux then they get for Windows, then I would think that the install would be no issue. I have installed Ubuntu at work and it was real easy.

Anonymous said...

great read. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did you guys know that some chinese hacker had hacked twitter yesterday again.