Does Linux Lack a Killer App?

Well the days are heating up here in the Linux blogosphere, and FOSS fans are flocking to the Broken Windows Lounge as much for the frosty air-conditioning as for the conversation.

Even Linux Girl, whose days generally involve far more pavement-pounding than she’d like, has found herself seeking solace in the blogobar’s arctic climes far more often than she probably should.

It’s a good thing she has been, though, or she might have missed the latest juicy debate. “What killer app is Linux missing?” was the question that kicked things off, and the discussion has been escalating ever since.

“The Free Software world is incredibly rich, and covers pretty much all bases,” Linux Voice’s Mike Saunders began. “We have a wealth of desktop, server, development and multimedia tools to choose from — some of which are the best in their field.

“But what is missing?” Sanders went on provocatively. “Is there a killer app that prevents you from running Linux 24×7 on your main machine?”

There was a momentary lull in the conversation around the bar as patrons pondered the suggestion. Linux Girl tried to enjoy the fleeting peace, but it didn’t last for more than an instant.

‘Depends on What You Do’

Linux Girl

“A long time ago Linux needed a lot of things,” Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol offered. “These days, when every software and the kitchen sink are migrating to the cloud, everything is going to be multiplatform.

“I would say we lacked games, but that also is being taken care of,” Ebersol said. “So I don’t feel that we desperately need a killer app anymore.”

The killer app “depends on what you do with your computer,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack opined. “If you are drafting, then the killer app is Autocad. But for other industries the killer app will be something else.”

‘The Enterprise Space’

Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien had a similar view.

“There isn’t much left on the consumer level,” O’Brien said. “I could maybe gripe about games or Nvidia drivers, and I don’t really see anything that can replace Quicken. But for me the big difference maker is in the enterprise space.

“Microsoft owns that, and there is nothing that compares to Outlook/Exchange server, Sharepoint, etc.,” he asserted. “I suspect part of the reason is that there are not a lot of open source developers who really care about that stuff.”

‘The Tide Is Changing’

It’s not so much a “missing app” situation as a “not-enough-critical-mass” kind of problem, Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. suggested.

Many more people use Linux today than did five years ago, he noted; at the same time, many are tied to non-Linux-friendly applications.

“‘Everybody’ uses $kype, but we have half a dozen apps for that in GNU/Linux, from the simple and very useful Pidgin (my favorite) to Ekiga and similar VoIP apps,” Gonzalo Velasco C. explained. “Some users still claim they need Photo$hop and don’t take the time to master and suggest improvements for GIMP, Inkscape, Bender and others.”

Games used to be missing, “but the tide is changing, mainly — but not only — because of Valve’s brave SteamOS movement,” he added.

‘Retail Shelf Space’

“I don’t think there are any ‘killer’ apps these days,” blogger Robert Pogson agreed. “In Debian GNU/Linux, there are 40K packages. My main PC has only 3K installed and I lack nothing. I have multiple browsers, editors, compilers/interpreters, platforms, and with virtual machinery like KVM, I can play with multiple operating systems and different versions of software as needed.

“I can treat multiple machines as if they were a single machine from anywhere on the LAN,” Pogson added. “I can access resources on any node on the LAN from any machine. What more do I need?”

That said, “several professionals have told me that video and image editors in GNU/Linux are a bit weak,” he noted. “GIMP is being improved in bit-depth, so that should be covered. Lightworks will eventually be released as FLOSS, so video should be covered.”

Nevertheless, “these are tiny niches in IT,” he pointed out. “Many ordinary folks go decades without using those other special applications, so I don’t think this is anything holding GNU/Linux back.”

The real killer in the market, however, is lack of shelf space in retail stores, Pogson asserted. “Where that is covered, GNU/Linux thrives.”

‘Linux Has Lost Out to OS X’

Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, had a different perspective.

“I don’t think that it is a question of killer apps,” he began. “The real issue is that on the desktop, Linux has generally lost out to OS X, while it is increasingly dominating the server market along with the BSDs. People who use Linux on the desktop tend to be looking for openness.”

What Linux needs is either “the momentum of Microsoft or the smooth UI and attention to detail of OS X,” Travers said. “These may come over time.”

The Documentation Problem

Linux isn’t missing one killer app — “what it’s missing is polish, as always,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza opined. “No desktop environment for Linux has the polish of Windows XP, let alone Windows 7.

“Move away from the bloat and oversimplicity of GNOME or from the widget salad of KDE to what, Xfce or LXDE, with their perfectly horrible file managers and primitive panels?” Espinoza added. “GNOME is the only DE that ever got close, and then they decided to remove all the complexity and eliminate their reason to exist.”

Windows is just “a nicer place to hang out,” he asserted.

Still, if Linux is missing anything for broader acceptance, “that is games,” Espinoza said. “If you were trying to narrow it down to one app, it would probably still be Photoshop. For all the talk of how great GIMP has become, usability is still an abject nightmare, and in spite of the OSS community’s self-back-patting regarding documentation, there is no documentation for GIMP which is not pathetic.”

GIMP “might be able to do most of the things Photoshop can do, but I’ll probably never know,” Espinoza concluded. “I suppose if I spent hours trolling fora I could find out how to use GIMP. This failing is shared by most OSS projects, including the ones that think they’re really well-documented.”

‘Ease of Use and Support’

Ease of use and support are the “killer app” SoylentNews blogger hairyfeet named.

“Oh, a freshly installed Linux distro LOOKS nice, it works great; the problem is it doesn’t CONTINUE to look nice or work great,” he explained. “First update and whoops! Wireless no longer can use WPA V2. Second update? Whoops, say goodbye to sound, as Pulse has puked. First ‘upgrade’? Uh oh, hope you didn’t need that!

“THIS is what Windows and OS X have that Linux doesn’t: the ease of use and support,” hairyfeet concluded. “As long as it takes 15+ Linux releases to equal the same support cycle a single Windows release gets? Then I’m sorry, but your product is just not in the same league — you are comparing HS baseball to the majors.”

‘Windows 8’

Last but not least, Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone had a surprising suggestion.

“The killer app that Linux has been missing all these years is Windows 8,” Stone quipped.

“Seriously, I don’t think there is a particular app that can be the ‘killer app,'” he said. “Linux needs to have more mainstream application support, and that’s going to mean Photoshop and Microsoft Office at the minimum. Thankfully, Microsoft has done their best to make Office less relevant, and most people don’t need Photoshop.”

Linux “could be reaching critical mass, and I was only partially joking when I said Windows 8 earlier,” he concluded. “The application base in Linux is starting to arrive, and the current version of Windows is remarkably unpopular. Fingers crossed we see some motion here soon.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • I personally like substance on my computer. I like to download software, not a downloader and other bloatware to download the software. I want my stuff on my hard drive on my computer, not in a cloud. Besides that, I do not have huge bandwidth to be online every time I need something.

    Cloud is a curse! I hope Linux does not embrace it. Another thing. Windows shop and Mac shop and now Android shop, for want of their official terms. Let linux stuff be freely available whereever, not just on one site!

  • How did MS Dos get a user base? Why did Windows win over OS2? How come Mac suddenly is so hype?

    Linux needs to get a user base that can sell it to the rest of the world. Either by some specific hot hardware or some functionality that nobody else can supply.

    I converted to Linux a year ago and have never looked back. I was solid Photoshop and Lightroom fan but the new license policy was simple not what I wanted.

    I try to tell the world how good end easy Linux is to use but Linux need more than that.

    Linux needs to get loose of the nerd reputation and get burning HOT!!!

  • As far as I see it, I don’tthink Linux NEEDS a killer app. Everything you could ever need exists within repositories with software for all types of professions and fields of work. From engineering, to open heart surgery through to deisel mechanic. This is on par with the "never ending" saga of whether or not there will ever be a "Year-Of-The-Linux-Desktop"…to that I also say….Linux doesn’t need one. Granted the various Linux OS’es aren’t for everyone, and some people might actually be better off STAYING in their world of Windows and Apple, as they seem to have problems finding / using / moving around on the desktops and using the applications there. Linux exists for those who need it, want it, and are willing to change their mindset as to how OS’es should funsction when it interacts with whatever hardware its installed on.

  • There are two problem that will continue to confound the widespread adoption of Linux.

    The first of which is simplicity. It needs to ‘just work’ and have an interface that is not only attractive, but also usable. It needs to have everything needed to be shoved in the user’s face and ready to go. My mom/dad/uncle needs to be able to turn on the computer, poke a button that looks like it might be the internet(who knows if they’ll even read the text) and away they go.

    Point one even bleeds slightly into point two, which is marketing. Linux’s complexity and open source nature has led to an over-abundance of same-task applications that are irrelevant to the average user. They want to know what will work and they want to know by having marketed it to them. Whether that’s a pretty icon, a nice website, or a decent-ish review: it doesn’t matter. But it needs to be centralized and easily searchable.

    For Linux to move into living rooms and laptops around the world, it needs to be available and accessible to the lowest common denominator as well as the advanced user. ChromeOS *almost* has it right. Make it big, pretty, and give people fancy icons for the software they think they want.

    The average person will never want to understand anything about software repos or kernel updates. They want to turn on and tune out. If they want to add hardware they want to plug it in to their USB port, drop in a CD, and call it a day. If they want a new application they want a pretty icon, a four and a half star review, and an install button. If they want to get online, they want to push the button that looks the most like Internet Explorer.

  • As a heads up, we are in the process of putting together a catalgue of games for In doing so we are rather keen to know what titles would be most appreciated from the community. Along with non-Linux titles people want to see brought to the platform.

    Oddly enough, we have asked a few developers about upcoming releases and native ports, most are not only receptive but have content in the works. Deluding the myth that dev’s do not want to port games to Linux.

    Let us know your thoughts at [email protected]

  • Linux needs IBM, Ubuntu and Redhat to put some money into an advertising blitz. Or perhaps the Linux foundation can do this. The original IBM Linux TV ads would only make sense to a computer geek. We need ads that speak to the average consumer.

    That will be the killer app.

  • After several years through college and now in the medical field Linux is missing a tonne. None of the management software exists. at all. There is no zero touch replacement at all, let alone anything that can touch Epix. OpenEMR is an ongoing joke. What is the point of having OpenEMR client if you STILL NEED WINDOWS SERVER TO RUN EPIX CALL CENTER? The license for Epix covers everything. You buy the package, which comes with thin clients and all the software set up, all you have to do is plug it into the network and it works! You can also install from CD or thumb drive to PCs with no hassles at all.

    What Linux needs is for people to stop making 700 differing desktop distros and focus on a few and the rest go make some apps worth using!

  • First of all, define "Killer App".

    You can’t.

    The closest you can come is by giving examples. The only "true’ "Killer apps" were what got the IBM PC acknowledged and accepted by business: VisiCalc/Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, and dBase.

    ALL businesses NEEDED these tools–or thought they did–in order to greatly improve productivity, BUT..when was the last time you heard of the average Joe/Jane absolutely needing a database program?

    I submit that there is no potential for a "Killer App", if, by that term, you mean a program which solves a critical problem of the general population, and for which the general population is willing to pay big money (overall).

    The only "Killer Apps" left are those which solve a specific problem for a specific industry, and in the process save that industry a LOT of money, such as laser-scanner checkout systems which process an entire large purchase faster than one can unload the shopping cart, and perform automatic inventory and order control.

    Oh, I almost forgot: there ARE "Killer Apps" out there! The only problem is that they are artificial–mainly hardware–"Killer Apps", created by the rocket scientists at companies such as Google, Apple, et al; and then handed over to the marketeers to convince us that THIS IS THE NEW KILLER APP WHICH YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE!

    Does the word "Chromebook" (code for "not-really-a-computer) ring a bell? How about "Ultrabook", a $2000 computer with no ethernet? How about the ‘smartwatch’, Google Glass, Google+, "wearable" computers, "cloud computing", and on and on and…? Utterly pathetic.

    I am continually amazed at how often this subject of "Killer Apps" comes up in the press.

    But it is understandable, given the sorry state of the technology we now find ourselves faced with. You HAVE to make up SOMETHING to write about. You are like older people pining for ‘the good old days’.

    I’m an old(er) guy, and I’ve got a big clue for you: the only thing good about ‘the good ol’ days’ is that they’re gone.

    Just as most of these artificial killer apps should be.

  • hi Katherine, most bloggers are just posturing; including me.

    Linux IS the killer app.

    That includes the gnu toolset, development tools all, and a fully configurable open and free platform for doing what-ever-suits-my-fancy.

    The days of the killer app are, well, long long long gone.

    First off, what does the term mean? It goes back to the days of DOS (think SC3, Lotus1-2-3, WORD, and so forth). The disk operating shell was single session, single thread, and could only really do ONE thing a time. So, the killer app was an app that had tons of stuff rolled up with it (again think Lotus1-2-3) if you go back that far and can still remember you’re in your fifties.

    Anyway, we now have a free open fully configurable platform that multitasks, is threaded, and runs as multiple (many) small tasks. There is no need for a killer app.

    Again, gnu/linux IS the killer app.

    Thanks for the article.


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