Microsoft’s Big Gamble Could Be Linux’s Big Shot

Now that Windows 8 has made its long-awaited and widely trumpeted debut, there seems to be a fresh air of excitement and purpose here in the Linux blogosphere.

This, of course, is not to say that many of us here are particularly excited about Microsoft’s new OS, per se. Quite the opposite, in fact: Many of us are excited about the opportunity Win 8 means for Linux.

“In the past the Linux has failed to capitalize on Microsoft’s errors and capture new users,” explained the TuxRadar crew in a new Open Ballot poll, for example. “We want to know what you think the Linux community can do this time around to bring dissatisfied Windowsers into the Linux fold.

“Is it all about the hardware, or should we emphasize the community? Should Linux users or Linux companies lead the charge? Should we target businesses or home users?” TuxRadar wondered.

Down at the blogosphere’s Broken Windows Lounge, bloggers had no shortage of ideas.

‘Its Interface May Seem More Familiar’

“This is the question that’s often on my mind,” Google+ blogger Linux Rants began.

“At this point, Linux is in an interesting position in that its interface (which before was considered ‘foreign’) may actually seem more familiar to the average computer user than the interface for Windows 8,” Linux Rants explained.

At the same time, “our ever-present problem is still there, and that’s the fact that Linux has a reputation for being hard to install and even harder to use,” he added.

‘Linux Lacks an Advertising Department’

“Linux needs to push OEMs to ship computers with Linux pre-installed and configured, and then those same OEMs have to be convinced to tell people about those computers — often,” Linux Rants suggested.

“The one thing that Linux really lacks is an advertising department,” he noted.

“Even OEMs that support Linux tend to push it to the back shelf, where it’s hard to find,” Linux Rants concluded. “Linux needs to be shown to the general public and compared to Windows 8; that alone could easily double Linux’s share of the market.”

‘Retailers Have to Wake Up’

Indeed, “today GNU/Linux runs on just about every kind of computer, from gadgets to clusters of mainframes in every part of the world,” blogger Robert Pogson pointed out.

“The only problems are retail shelves in North America and Europe, where all one can find that’s a PC has that other OS,” he noted. “That’s nothing that GNU/Linux can solve.

“Retailers have to wake up and look at the shelf-space that’s stagnant with Wintel PCs not selling,” he asserted. “They’ve had three quarters with much reduced turnover of Wintel PCs as Android/Linux is selling like hotcakes on the next aisle. Wake up and sell some GNU/Linux PCs!”

‘It Won’t Last Long’

Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien took a similar view, but with a caveat.

“I think there is an opening, but it may close quickly,” O’Brien told Linux Girl.

“People who try Windows 8 on a desktop or laptop will hate it, but that is what will be pre-loaded,” he pointed out. “If they want Windows 7, they will have to actually purchase it, which most of them have never done.

“That is where Linux has an opening,” O’Brien explained.

That opening, however, “won’t last long,” he predicted, “for two reasons: 1) most of the Linux desktops use desktop environments that will be at least as foreign as Windows 8 (e.g. GNOME, Unity); and 2) if there is any noticeable movement to Linux, Microsoft will enable some kind of free ‘downgrade’ to Windows 7.”

Linux distros need to concentrate “more on ‘familiar’ and ‘works’ than on being innovative,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack opined. “Otherwise Windows 8 users will take one look at Unity or GNOME 3 and simply buy an Apple.”

Five Easy Pieces

Along similar lines, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet rattled off five requirements:

1. “Within five years, 100 percent of drivers must work on update, as we retailers can’t sell systems that are gonna break in six months,” hairyfeet began.

2. “CLI HAS to die, NO excuses,” he said.

3. “A ‘HELP ME!’ button that will allow Suzy the checkout girl to easily connect to a volunteer to work on her system, similar to Windows remote assistance,” hairyfeet suggested.

4. “NO hardware roulette!” he added. “The era of ‘let the devs do it’ with regards to drivers is over; it’s time for the hardware makers to supply drivers — which they can’t do as long as Torvalds and friends constantly futz with the guts.” Still, “if Suzy can’t walk into ANY B&M and buy add ons for her computer with 100 percent confidence, you have FAILED,” he said.

5. Finally, “settle on a DE and STICK WITH IT,” hairyfeet concluded. “No more switching horses mid-stride, no more ‘Distro A uses B, Distro Foo uses bar.’ If you want to have OPTIONAL DEs that’s fine, but the defaults for everybody need to be the same so that resources can be focused on making the defaults as trouble- and bug-free as humanly possible.”

‘Android Is What Comes Closest’

Then again, in some ways, Linux has already won over the masses, Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol pointed out.

“Not the traditional GNU/Linux — not Arch, nor Debian, nor Puppy — but Android, which is the best commercial Linux distribution,” Ebersol explained.

“The average Joe is waiting for something like XP,” he noted. “Android is what comes closest: easy-to-get apps, a big number of apps, and Google to back it up.”

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza saw it similarly.

“If Linux wants to lure more users, it can be Android,” Espinoza told Linux Girl. “This is so far the most popular Linux-based system with the users, and they’re the ones who give the computers a reason to exist.

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • Actually I think most will cry to Microsoft or their OEM PC maker for a solution. I am not saying Linux is not a option but as we know Ubuntu’s Unity desktop is not so popular either. But yes a distro like Linux Mint could actually work with a lot of Windows users. But many most likely do not even know what Linux is let alone its a option.

    • I have been posting that link since it originally came out in 2009, as well as pointing out what we retailers HAVE TO HAVE to put Linux machines right beside the Windows ones and what happens? We get ignored, year after year, and it comes down to ONE thing…arrogance.

      The Linux devs have decided they LIKE things obtuse and fiddly, because it means they can treat critical system files as their own personal projects, not critical internals that millions count on. They can get away with this in the server space, because not only do corps pay 6 figure salaries to admins to "deal with it" but they will often hire the devs to fix their own messes, so it works great for THEM.

      But this attitude will NEVER work on the desktop, and hasn’t had a prayer since XP got SP2, because people frankly got used to having hardware that worked, software that functioned after an update, this is why MSFT has had to worry about previous versions more than Linux, because frankly 11 year old XP runs more stable and lasts year after year whereas thanks to the devs Linux is if anything more obtuse, fiddly, and breakage prone than ever!

      So you are right, people will either wait for Win 9 or the more likely outcome is Win 8 will tank, just as Vista did, so the OEMs will demand and get Win 7 to sell. This is another advantage over Linux as I can FIRE the Windows guys, if enough agree like me the OS doesn’t sell, the devs get replaced, and the new devs listen, just as they did with 7 over Vista. How do we fire Torvalds? How do we fire the Pulse or DE guys? We CAN’T, no matter how nasty they get we simply have NO way to affect them, as they get paid for servers, not desktop.

      I’d love nothing more than to have Linux HTPCs and laptops next to the Windows ones but until these glaring issues are fixed it simply can’t be, Linux costs MORE than Windows due to the time wasted fixing messes. A wise man said "Linux is free if your time is worthless" and since mine and the other retailers time is anything BUT worthless Linux gains no share.

  • Yep, "could be" – we had almost the same situation with Windows Vista, and most users just waited until the next Windows version came out.

    This time they’ll be waiting for Windows 9.

    The reason why Linux won’t take off now or in the nearest future is because it has damn too many problems –

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