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Linux in the Mainstream: Why Does It Matter?

Linux in the Mainstream: Why Does It Matter?

"Linux is an excellent alternative to Windows and, as a Unix flavor technology, competitive with other Unix offerings," Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider. "It's not for everyone, but unfortunately large numbers of users for whom Linux would be perfect don't even know what Linux is," he said.

By Katherine Noyes
03/17/08 4:00 AM PT

Ah, Spring. It's the time of rebirth, renewal and hope, and it's almost here!

Too bad, then, that so many hopes were dashed last week when Wal-Mart announced it was pulling the Linux-driven Everex Green gPC from its retail store shelves. That PC's original inclusion at Wal-Mart created enormous excitement throughout the Linux world -- it was taken by many as concrete evidence that Linux had finally arrived -- so this latest news came as something of a crushing disappointment to many.

The sold-out machine will still be available online at Walmart.com, but its apparent failure in the brick-and-mortar mainstream world unleashed a fiery storm of comments in the blogosphere far and wide.

A Chance Denied

"Although I can see how a decision like this would be made, if you ask me, they jumped out too early and did not really give Linux a fair chance," charged Thomas Teisberg on the Linux Loop.

On the other hand: "Wal-Mart is not in the business of building new markets for products," countered NoDough on LXer. "They sell products that already have a market. So, to expect them to give any product a chance is a little silly."

And the inevitable: "I bet Microsoft was threatening them," wrote lnxpilot on Slashdot, where almost 300 comments appeared on the topic. "Otherwise, what kind of business discontinues a product that sells out?"

lnxpilot adds: "Business question for 3rd graders:

You run a lemonade stand. Your pink lemonade sells out every day. You:

A) Make more pink lemonade

B) Stop making pink lemonade

Explain your answer."

Who Really Cares?

Now, we here at LinuxInsider were as disappointed by the news as any, given that Linux is what we're all about, but we also like to practice hard-hitting journalism. So we couldn't resist asking: Why does it really matter, anyway?

Turns out that question was actually asked from a slightly different perspective a few weeks ago on the Linux Loop by the apparently prescient Teisberg in his article, "Why Attracting More Users to Linux Matters."

Our sharp-as-a-tack thinking apparently preceded us, but no matter -- it's just further evidence that the question is an important one.

Some 45 comments followed Teisberg's ruminations on the topic, touching on proneness to viruses, community and, of course, the sheer evil that is Redmond.

All About Choice

"Linux is an excellent alternative to Windows and, as a Unix flavor technology, competitive with other Unix offerings," Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider. "It's not for everyone, but unfortunately large numbers of users for whom Linux would be perfect don't even know what Linux is," he said.

"Therein lies the problem and why it is important to attract people to Linux -- not to convince them to use Linux, but to give them choice," yagu added. "This is the underlying problem with Microsoft's monopoly and domination of the computing world. Ask any person on the street and they've heard of Windows, and know it's from Microsoft. Questions about Linux bring blank stares."

Bad-mouthing Microsoft is just counterproductive, yagu added. "Microsoft may be a bad actor in the big picture, but people trying to just get by with PCs at home don't care that you hate Microsoft," he explained. "Save the rants for your User Group meetings. Be positive about Linux, it's the most important point. It's not the solution, but it's a start."

Better Support

Attracting more mainstream users to Linux is very important, Adam Kane, a blogger on Foogazi, told LinuxInsider.

"When the Linux desktop becomes mainstream, demand will increase, which in turn will bring an influx of good (and of course, some bad) things to the Linux operating system," Kane explained. "Better hardware and software support and faster kernel development, to name a few."

Linux already has a giant footprint in the corporate server industry, Kane added, "so it's not like giant companies don't know about Linux. It's the desktop that needs to be proven, tried, and tested by everyday users before it can become mainstream," he said. "However, the fact is, the Linux desktop is still very young in development."

Linux on the desktop needs to be marketed in a new and better way, "maybe with some corporate backing, before anyone can ever expect to have a huge demand in stores," he added. "I don't think throwing a few cheap PCs on a shelf in Wal-Mart is the right approach."

Need for Freedom

A better approach than promoting the widespread adoption of Linux would be advocating more free software, Kevin Dean, a blogger on Monochrome Mentality, told LinuxInsider.

"I firmly believe that aside from being free software, GNU/Linux offers very few advantages over its restrictive counterparts (Windows and Mac OS, specifically)," Dean explained.

"When people discuss 'mass market' or 'Linux adoption,' it's typically based on the desire for support for non-free software," he added.

For most people, "support" means mainstream software publishers like Adobe releasing Photoshop that runs on GNU/Linux natively, he explained. But "the addition of non-free software to the GNU/Linux ecosystem is actually harmful to the very values that we associate with Linux," he said.

Instead, the Linux community "should advocate Free Software adoption," Dean said. "In my nearly half decade as a part of that community, I've never heard someone say, 'That's free software, so I will not use it.'

"GNU/Linux users who want to play their 3-D games with the latest drivers would benefit more from the release of the source code than the release of a GNU/Linux native version of those things," Dean concluded. "They would also regain control over their systems and assert their power as customers -- and everyone likes feeling in control of their own buying decisions."


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