Will Preinstalling Linux Make it more Popular?

September 13, 2006

I was reading an article where the author said the Linux would never be widely adopted on the desktop because it was primarily designed for and by geeks. The author then goes on to explain how geeks are different from ordinary Joes.


In the comments, one person made an astute observation: all software is essentially written by geeks! Those folks in Redmond are geeks! They just happen to be big corporate geeks. But they have just as many problems dealing with the using public as Linux-using geeks.


This is similar to Scoble claiming that the reason Linux hasn’t taken off is because of the poor quality fonts. Okay, so he’s an aesthetic geek. But it just goes to show that everyone is trying to come up with a reason why Linux isn’t making it.


The major consensus seems to be that if computer makers were to preinstall Linux, then the computer buying public would have a chance to see and get used to Linux. And all they have to do is use it and they will see how much better it is and then they will like it and tell all their friends and they will tell their friends who will tell their friends and so on and so on and so on…


I think I saw the tip of the iceburg in making Linux move with the Ubuntu hype, and I eluded to how it became successful. Ubuntu is following an AOL model as well as appealing to altruism with Nelson Mandela as a spokesperson. That is a very slick campaign. Making free disks available (in lots of 5, 10 or more) will have an effect. AOL managed to saturate the market and quickly build up an empire in short order long before it was preinstalled on so many machines. The first distro that decides to just send out a billion live CD’s is going to become THE linux distro that everyone is talking about. Put them in boxes of cereal, have them sitting in check-out stands at Wal-Mart, turn them into stocking stuffers, and make them so ubiquitous that every person in the country will be saying, “Oh, yeah. Linux. You must be talking about Ubuntu, right?” and people may get sick and tired of hearing about Linux.


Like AOL’s former legions, people will eventually seek out other distros and settle on other favorites.


Right now, a Linux desktop is not going to draw people to linux because they will simply avoid the unknown devil in favor of the one they know. Yes, Vista is going to be quite expensive and will render an entirely new generation of machines obsolete just like XP did to the P3’s. I may still buy a new machine and it will have Vista preinstalled. But when XP craps out, what will I do with my old machine?


When XP replaced the Win98 machines, Linux did not seem to have as much to offer. But look how many distros are blossoming up just in the past year? Linux is picking up steam. I think Vista is actually going to hasten and help Linux gain a greater foothold. People will still have it on their new machines but once everything is migrated over they will begin thinking; do they still want to be paying for yearly updates to their anti-malware packages on an old machine, while having to pay for the new one? Do they still want to continue babysitting an old machine?


Placing the OS on a few desktops at the store will not be the turning points to getting Linux on more desktops (or laptops) because people do not know Linux and are not comfortable with it. Make it extraordinarily common, and the common folks will check it out. If they like it, they will adopt it.


Which means giving up the command line.


I’m still trying to decide if I really want Linux to be as popular as Windows. I think that is a question folks might really want to ponder.






  1. Hah. Aesthetic geek…

    A point though… (as usual, my argument will be drawn out, filled with personal opinion, and filled with grammatical mistakes and logic flaws…)

    Whether Linux should be popular – No.
    Linux is only good as long as people contribute back. Users place excessive demands such as “give up the command line” while ignoring some points:
    a) Microsoft has (1) Kernel version per release. Bugs in it are patched, but the API is constant, and no new features are installed. This means binaries that are dynamically linked are pretty portable.
    b) Microsoft’s command line sucks for the home releases. But it provides Unix “stuff” on Windows Server. Linux was a server before everyone tried to make it a desktop os.
    c) Unix is synonymous with command line. It goes hand-in-hand with the one-program-per-function mentality. If everything is done in separate processes, a nice and simple method of argument passing should be used. And the command line excels here.
    d) Communication bus was only just standardized as DBUS… (in it’s own way, a system bus is a way of avoiding the command line, since it allows data transfer without using stdio or sockets)
    e) STDIO provides much more information than a GUI can. You just have to learn how to read it.
    f) GUI’s should build upon the command line. In the same way that a well-coded program has a separate core and GUI, the command line should be a layer underneath the GUI. IMO.

    So here’s what you REALLY want:
    1) Linux kernel development to slow down so that releases are slower. This will take at least 5 years. Linux is popular among geeks because of the fast rate of development.
    2) Linux standards base and freedesktop become more comprehensive – enough that APIs for GUIs are standard. This will take about 4 years.
    3) From 1 & 2, binaries become cross-distribution. This will take about 0.5 to 2 years to occur AFTER 1 and 2 are met.
    4) Abstraction of the graphical toolkits. Hard to guess the time schedule – as the toolkits improve, more pressure to use the toolkits not the abstraction. Could take quite a while to take off.
    5) Less server focus, more desktop focus.

    So, basically, all the things that make Linux Linux are to die. Why not just use FreeBSD? Right, it’s not as popular – and not as fast to develop.

  2. Does Ubuntu come in a BSD version?

  3. …I never answered this:

    No, Ubuntu does not come in BSD. The most BSD-like Linuxes are:
    Slackware, Crux, and Gentoo.

    Slackware for BSD-style init and a few others.
    Crux for having Ports – source or binaries, but unlike FreeBSD no dependencies.
    Gentoo for being source-based with dependencies.

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