About Linux and Why Nobody Seems to Care

by Aayush Arya May 19, 2008

To start off, let me assure you that this article is not about bashing Linux or its users or the community centered around it. It's not written out of spite or hatred. It certainly doesn't have anything to do with my being an Apple fanboy and, given that it is being published on Apple Matters, you should know that none of us here hold any grudge against platforms other than the Mac.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let me state my case. I've recently come to the realization that most Windows and Mac users neither hate Linux nor do they want to get into any debates involving it just so that they can attempt to humiliate their Linux using counterparts. I've seen many an OS war and there has always been one common thread--Linux is ignored.

In this article, I want to discuss why that is so. One of my friends, who is an ardent Linux user, was recently discussing this with me and as I was reading his glowing descriptions of the open source Linux distributions and how they have various feature better than both Mac OS X and Windows, I found myself zoning out and skimming over the words. That's exactly what most Windows and Mac users do when some Linux user decides to stage an intervention during an ongoing OS war.

The sole reason, I think, is that no one really cares about what's happening in the world of Linux. If you watch ‘Get a Mac' ad spoofs on YouTube, you'll see that the ones that feature Linux almost always portray it as the dorky nerd who's ragged on by the Mac and PC guys in unison when he stumbles onto the scene. It's not so much an issue with Linux itself as much as it is a mentality issue.

It's got to do with this modern age perception that the nerdy computer geeks are the uncool ones that no one should be hanging out with, a stereotype that's easy to imagine a Linux user as. It's about the rich not wanting to bother with people below the poverty line in the real world. It's about people's perception of those who use Linux.

The general consensus seems to be that Mac users are the sort who want the best in quality, no expenses spared; Windows users are those who're looking for the best bang for their buck (generally in the short term); and Linux users are the ones who want everything for free, particularly software.

Now, I wouldn't condone having stereotypical opinions about any individual or anyone part of a group, but Linux users don't exactly help their reputation either. They seem to actually believe that all software should be free. Of course, if you ask any Linux user outright about it, they'll tell you they don't and will cite the fact that there exist iterations of Linux distributions that you have to pay for.

But pick any number of Linux users at random and ask them whether they've ever paid for any piece of software in their Linux setup and the answer will almost certainly be in the negative. But why is that a bad thing? Isn't it good that they get everything for free? Isn't that what's best for everyone? No, it isn't. Since Linux users get all their software without having to pay a single buck, the perceived value of software (as a whole) becomes zero, or very close to it, in their opinion.

They won't admit it, but it's a fact that most of them think that way. Add to that the fact that Linux users generally tend to have two extreme and conflicting viewpoints about what software should be like. Some users are easily dazzled by superfluous and completely useless effects (wobbly windows, blatant overuse of transparency, etc.) and assume that it must be better than Mac OS X because it's so cosmetically made-up and then there are others who only need the Terminal and can keep typing on it whole day long.

The problem with the Linux community is that, like any community, it has members with widely varying interests and preferences and the open source developers are developing hundreds of distributions to try and cater to every single whim and fancy of these members. The result is a cornucopia of free software, software that has been developed at the expense of the hard work and time of some of the most skilled developers on the planet, and yet does not have a single product that is complete in and of itself and is generating any profit at all.

Since open source developers cannot feed themselves through sales of their software, their only recourse is to devote themselves to another full time job and contribute to the open source community in their free time. This brings me to the crust of my article: There is no way whatsoever that thousands of developers sitting in front of their computers in different corners of the world and spending only their non-working hours trying to develop something that they know isn't going to make them any money, are ever going to come up with anything good enough to seriously challenge software from companies like Microsoft and Apple. There is just no chance at all.

Linux has been around for more than a decade now and it's nowhere near challenging either Mac OS X or Windows. The vast majority of hardware and software makers around the world are still shipping products that are incompatible with Linux. Linux distributions get major updates in spans of six months to less than a year. There's no guarantee that the camera you bought today and is compatible with your Ubuntu installation will work with Fedora Core too should you change your mind in a few days, as is a common practice among the Linux enthusiasts.

All of this and more are reasons enough to ignore Linux. Linux users are never quite sure which one is the best distribution around. They have debates in their own community with twenty different users vouching for twenty different variations. They constantly have to keep figuring out workarounds to make all their software and hardware work together. They can't just go out and buy a new accessory, assured in the knowledge that it will work. They are afraid to upgrade, lest things go wrong.

I've tried several Linux distributions myself in the past and have seen a few of my friends try them too. To date, the only success stories I've heard of people switching to Linux have been on the Internet and the user narrating it almost always switches from pirated versions of Windows, which means that Microsoft does not lose a customer by their switching-and a lot of them just get bored and switch back after a couple of weeks anyway.

Maybe I'm just not far-sighted or knowledgeable enough but, from where I stand and from what I've seen and known so far, I cannot see a bright future for Linux. I suspect that it will always be a loud movement with the paltry market share, which itself is divided among hundreds of distributions. It has been so far and will probably forever be the domain of the computer nerds and server administrators. The problem may be with me, but I don't see any progress in the near or distant future. I guess time will tell.

Again, please view this as an individual's opinion and summation of the scenario through his own eyes. I'm not being judgmental or critical about anything, nor am I lambasting the open source movement. I acknowledge and accept the fact that everyone has different needs and opinions and they're entitled to their own decisions and choices. I'm just stating my own here. So, all of you, just calm down, put those flamethrowers away and let's have a friendly discussion, shall we?


  • To each his own, I suppose.  But I’d say that there are quite a few companies making money off of Linux.  Redhat and Novell come to mind.  I think the distinction you need to make here is the difference between the server and the desktop.

    On the server market there is a great market for Linux, with several commercial applications that run on it. 

    It is true however, that desktop Linux is lacking, and may never catch up without a company pushing it.  I thought for a while that Canonical was that company, but the latest releases of Ubuntu are just not there yet. 

    Interesting article.

    OSZen had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 1
  • You start out with this: “Now, I wouldn’t condone having stereotypical opinions about any individual or anyone part of a group” and then continue on with stereotypes of the worst kind.

    “The only success stories are people on the Internet.” and “almost always switches from pirated Windows” are comments that reflect fairly little knowledge about the world of Linux users. I myself have Mac, Windows and Ubuntu in the same room coexisting at my house- which of your many points about Linux users apply to me?

    Mac users in particular should empathize with the Linux community- I am sure many articles were written in the 90s (and are still written today) about why nobody cares about the Mac, when Windows has a 90% marketshare and most accessories work with Windows and Mac users whine about the most pointless things. Most of this article could be re-written from the perspective of a PC user by replacing Linux with Mac, replacing “server admins and nerds” with “artists and elitists”.

    Painting the entire Linux user community as people who want things for free is disingenuous. The Linux user community is also its debugger community and its developer community; there are no walls that separate the three. Your comments seem to imply that things that are obtained for free have no value- is Wikipedia worthless? How about charitable services? Or any other real-world community you participate in?

    So much of the power of Mac OS X comes from free software, and you go as far as calling everything that comes out of the free software incomplete and without commercial value? Safari is based on Webkit- free software. OS X is based on BSD- free software. Firefox- incomplete and worthless? And in the technical community, almost every tool I use is free software and of extraordinary quality.

    “Maybe I’m just not far-sighted or knowledgeable enough” is probably the answer.

    Devanshu Mehta had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 108
  • Another little follow-up. You say “Since open source developers cannot feed themselves through sales of their software, their only recourse is to devote themselves to another full time job and contribute to the open source community in their free time.”

    News flash: Most open source developers actually work on Linux/FOSS *while on their full time job*. They work for companies like Apple, Novell, Red Hat, Mozilla, Apache, MySQL, universities, large corporations, etc. These companies and organizations have a stake in extending the product because their success depends on the product. Apple employees works on WebKit, which benefits Linux distributions. Apple contains all kinds of open source components, and Apple employees work on them under while employed by Apple. Same for other companies like IBM, (especially) Google and so many others.

    Devanshu Mehta had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 108
  • Well, there are two ways to look at this article: the first one is to dismiss it as an article written by a guy with little linux experience and perhaps less than optimal IT market knowledge. In that sense, I agree that strong/absolute conclusions like “free software will never be as good as commercial software”, sound like the “640k should be enough for everyone”. And yes, Firefox is an excellent example which dismisses the authors point. Additionally, the perceived value of a software can never be equal to zero, by definition.

    However, the second way to look at this article, is to consider it as the perception of linux by the average user. And in that sense, I find it well written. It is true that, overall, the software offered for the Mac is way better aesthetically and functionally, compared to the free linux software. It is true that if I weigh the cost of Leopard vs the cost of Ubuntu, I prefer to pay 130 bucks for the former and have something that really works, than to fiddle with numerous settings and incompatibilities just to save a few bucks.

    In conclusion, I just want to state that my main desktop machine is an iMac, and up until a few days ago, my laptop was a WinXP machine. After giving a try at the latest Ubuntu, I erased WinXP from my laptop, since the latest Ubuntu was the only linux distro that finally recognized my laptop’s WiFi, Bluetooth, audio @ video hardware, automatically.
    Now I enjoy a functional, speedy OS on my laptop. But for serious work, I always turn to my Mac.

    crass had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 2
  • @crass: I agree with how Linux is characterized in the article, but not how the Linux users and open source communities are described.

    Devanshu Mehta had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 108
  • DM, your answers were well written and to the point, and I agree with most (if not all) of your points. I also believe that the author’s intention was to attract informed comments like the ones you made. Comments that would “attack” the general perception regarding linux.

    But, I must agree with the article’s title that “no one cares about linux”, as far as the average user is concerned. And by average, I mean the user who is not working in the IT industry.
    For that user, even if he has ever heard of linux, the general impression is that it is an obscure platform for some nerds, where you have to have a PhD in IT just to set up a printer.
    The above do not imply that I do not agree with you, that the author has made some terribly wrong points.
    But I just liked the general idea of the article, as a good starting point for debating, and most importantly, as an opportunity for me to learn something new from more advanced users like yourself.

    crass had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 2
  • I agree with OSZen, who identifies the Desktop version of Linux as the true issue here.  An analogy springs to mind: Linux is an incredibly advanced combustion engine, and you really have to be a trained mechanic to work with them.  On the other hand, the frame, chassis, components and interior of the vehicle are there for the user to engage with, and provide you with the comfort, safety and facilities you need to get from A to B.  When the vast majority of people drive a vehicle, the engine is not the point (unless you’re Jeremy Clarkson) - the journey is.  In essence this is the problem with Linux - it’s a fantastically versatile engine capable of being tweaked and manipulated to suit a plethora of needs,  but no-one’s yet come up with the user-friendly “chassis” to plonk on top of it that completes the package and makes it a product worth investing in (either monetarily or temporally).  To belabour the point: Microsoft touted Aero for Vista in its mass-market advertising; Apple touted Aqua for OS X.
    It’s about time we stopped crowing about the value of Linux, and simply started focussing on the user experience.  I mean, at the end of the day, it’s only a kernel, and you don’t hear people crowing about Mach day-in day-out.  They’d rather just get on with the job in hand, using the OS and GUI of preference, and forget about it.  So long as they can complete their tasks with the minimum of fuss, they’re happy grin

    44$rqs:XWEnQ had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 13
  • Just so that everyone is clear, this article focusses solely on desktop Linux and how it’s perceived by the average Windows/Mac user. Nothing else. My comments about Linux developers not being able to deliver a truly world class product that can compete with the likes of Windows and Mac OS X also relate to desktop Linux, not open source software in general.

    I can see how, as a Linux user, you might disagree with how I’ve described Linux users in my article. And you’re right too. However, when you consider yourself, you’re not thinking about the average Linux user. Most Linux users I know are the sort that I’ve described: they’re awed by those wobbly windows, are unwilling to accept that the platform has any flaws at all, use Linux only because it’s free and earnestly believe that all software should be priced at $0.00.

    I committed a major blunder though—I shouldn’t have categorized all Linux users as the same. I didn’t intend to and I realized that I had only after reading your comments. I apologize for that. All Linux users are not the same. A certain subset of Linux users, the ones who’re contributing to the community (even by just being responsible members of it), are definitely a cut above the rest.

    You’re also right about that fact that “most of this article could be re-written from the perspective of a PC user by replacing Linux with Mac, replacing “server admins and nerds” with “artists and elitists””. Yes, it could.

    This article is all about generalization. I didn’t set out to establish what was right and what wasn’t. I just wanted to take a look at the status quo and have a discussion about it. What I’ve described is what, IMHO, is the state of affairs today. Whether it’s justified or not is what the debate is about.

    Aayush Arya had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 36
  • Just a clarification…this piece was originally attributed to Hadley Stern,  Aayush Arya was the author.


    Hadley Stern had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 114
  • @Aayush, it’s unfortunate that the Linux users you have come across are a poor representation of the community at large.

    Devanshu Mehta had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 108
  • Why? In a word, “convenience” and that gets a lot of mileage in the Mac & Windows worlds.

    Why bother with the pain of downloading ISO CD/DVD images, of which can be several Gigs each. Then one has to install since running the LiveCD images to create a virtual disk in RAM is convenient but lacking (no 640x480 rez for me, thanks). Then lots of codecs that are open-source yet one has to scour the ‘Net to find the right repositories, the right version, the right build, etc, etc, etc…

    I like Linux since Fedora 2 but I am getting fed up with these unnecessary annoyances with all Linux distros today. I seem to remember a company that sounded like “Windows” that tried to make Linux useable even for the average Joe’s without the need for PhDs. Ubuntu’s Hardy Heron is “getting there” but when? Fedora 9 too.

    Back to the “convenient” factor. A Mac or Windows user (count me as one) already posses in front of us two of the best OS on the planet. I consider myself above average experience when it comes to tinkering with OSes - *Nixes, included - but I’d rather not mess with Linux unless I have a need to spin the LiveCD or USB stick version just to run my hardware debugging tool.

    So, Linux’ past, present, and future acceptance rates will not expand greatly as some *Nix adherents and proponents would think due to Windows and Mac’s separate trajectories in the same pool. As we know, Mac’s assimilation rate is today is 10x faster than Windows and Linux is way down the bottom.

    In any case, I admire the Linux and FOSS efforts to counter-balance those products offered at high costs - Vista? Exchange? SQL Server?

    Thanks, FOSS guys and gals, for your efforts are well appreciated by many shelled coders out there, including myself and Devanshu ^^ wink

    Robomac had this to say on May 19, 2008 Posts: 846
  • “You’re also right about that fact that “most of this article could be re-written from the perspective of a PC user by replacing Linux with Mac, replacing “server admins and nerds” with “artists and elitists””. Yes, it could.”

    I agree with this and appreciate your acknowledgement of his point, Aayush.

    That said, I downloaded a copy of Ubuntu and installed it in Parallels on my Mac.  It was a painless installation, easier than either Windows or OS X, IMO.  I had it up and running in no time.

    And I thought to myself, “Now what?”  Everything I’d be interested in running I already have on my Mac AND my PC.  Photoshop, Maya, After Effects.  Some of that either doesn’t run on Linux at all or costs the same as it would for one of the other two platforms.  Firefox?  Already got it on two other platforms.

    I’m willing to give Linux a shot, but what does Linux offer on the desktop that I can’t get for OS X or Windows?  What is the Linux killer app?

    Beeblebrox had this to say on May 20, 2008 Posts: 2220
  • ...And I thought to myself, “Now what?”


    Robomac had this to say on May 20, 2008 Posts: 846
  • A few things to point out..

    1. Linux Developers can earn a whole lot.. As someone already said n I would like to repeat.. firms like Mozilla,Novell pay u a lot!

    2. RHCE(Red hat certified engineers) are most sought after professional these
    days.. Paid really well.. n professionals with similar skills are valued a

    3. Linux has such a big market on Server side OS.. And its growing day by day
    Certainly Linux cannot be ignored!

    4. You never heard of a real story where a guy switches from Windows.. Its
    me who did tht!(Yes I have a genuine copy of win xp too! raspberry)

    5. Regarding device compatibility..I have a ages old cyrix pc(735mhz)
    still i mange to configure stuff on it..It sometimes crawl in xp..but not so in Linux.With community help at your footstep you just need few hours
    to get your device work even if its not supported!

    6. Havent FOSS like Firefox done equivalent to their paid counterparts?

    7. My dad who is just another user with no real knowledge of ‘tech’ uses FOSS softwares like GIMP, Open Office and ya you guessed it right.. FIREFOX!

    8. When it comes to usage on desktop, linux is mostly used by ‘power users’
    n i agree…Have a look at distros like ubuntu..evrything comes ready and
    working..gone are the days whn u had to mount a partiton n do all such stuff
    on terminal….. Expereinced users can still enjoy messing up the conf files
    while others do it frm GUI.

    Finally Its on your personal choice… My exposures with macs has been
    quite low..maybe this is the reason I am not able to appretiate their beauty.
    Although I would love to use them.
    (The only mac I used was the one in my school MAYO! Ask your brother, mac
    being so costly our admin made sure nobody messed with it.. n it was mostly
    kept closed in its cozy box…)
    I agree, am not a good writer..So do comment… Thanks for taking pain and
    writing the article.

    nitish_mythology had this to say on May 21, 2008 Posts: 1
  • I don’t think that a big cooperation like Microsoft, that will lose a customer by their switching-and a lot of them just get bored and switch back after a couple of weeks anyway. Also you have made a very useful and informative post. Thanks a lot for sharing.
    <a >chase personal loans</a>

    dscdxv had this to say on Jun 17, 2010 Posts: 1
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