Ask the average user why they prefer Windows or MacOS over Linux, and they will likely stare blankly at you before asking “what’s Linux?”. Obviously, for those of us interested in tech, it is relatively an easier question to answer. But the fact is, a large majority of people probably haven’t heard of Linux, nor would they be able to give a detailed answer regarding their choice of operating system. The reason being the choice of operating system for the average user isn’t really something they give much thought to. They may not even have control over it. It’s likely just a consequence of where they work, choosing the computer that everyone else is using, or buying the workstation that has software they want or need to use. This is really important when you’re starting a business and you need a website. A company like SearchUp gets in charge of making your business beat the competition online.
Most Android and ChromeOS users are probably unaware that their device is running on a Linux-based operating system. Many other devices and services they use each day such as smart TVs, traffic control systems, websites, Kindles, etc., also have Linux running in the background. Only desktop computers leave Linux out. This isn’t due to any particular flaw in Linux but has more to do with how Linux was introduced into the market and how it has evolved since.
In 1991, Finnish computer science student Linus Torvalds announced the Linux kernel as a free operating system, which he had created as a hobby. Over the years, the Linux project has fragmented into a massive number of different distributions, each with their own difference and niche purpose. Thus, the Linux development model, with no overarching control or direction, has made the creation of a consistent product suitable for average users just about impossible.
“Linux is still this giant sandbox in which a lot of people keep “playing” in.” (Quote from Julie-Haugh, Quora)
Bill Gates announced Windows on November 10, 1983, around 10 years prior to Linux. Moreover, the introduction of Windows was through a company with the sole purpose of making an operating system that was intuitive and easy-to-use for the average user. There are also a lot of advantages in being the incumbent. Users become used to the software, and it takes a lot of marketing (read: money) and focused effort to change their habits. Two things which Linux lacks.
A great deal of the code written for open source projects is written by teams of volunteers, likely as a hobby or out of a desire or need to create something for a niche task or specific community. Take Sabily Linux, for example. Sabily, now discontinued, is a Linux distribution designed by and for Muslims. Accordingly, it features “out of the box” Arabic language support, and a slew of Islamic software and tools including a prayer times tool, a Qur’an study tool, a Hijri calendar, etc. While this is great in its own right, serving a worthy purpose, it’s not particularly useful for users outside that community.
On the other hand, at companies like Microsoft or Apple, there’s oversight and guidance from above ensuring that the product is matched to the basic needs and capabilities of the widest possible range of users. If it doesn’t, it won’t sell and the company will fail to survive. The business models are clearly different.
Another key area in which Linux falls behind is in software. For the average user, this is perhaps the most compelling reason for choosing one computer over another. When I was younger, the most important thing in a desktop computer for me was the ability to play games. Windows was the only viable option for this. When I got older, I needed Microsoft Office to complete my work at a university. And all of these applications worked flawlessly out of the box; no extra tweaking of the operating system was required.
“The “killer” app with GNU/Linux is Linux itself … but that fact alone only appeals to us nerds/geeks who like the freedom and fluidity that Linux provides.” (Quote from Christian-Glahn, Quora)
Despite there being some paid applications available for Linux, the operating system remains primarily a platform for free software. For the average user, this is perhaps Linux’s biggest drawcard. For commercial software creators, however, it presents a large barrier: the consumer market for Linux is exceedingly small (Linux accounts for a mere 1.71% of desktop machines around the world). Within that market, there are also users who made the change to Linux due to anti-Microsoft or anti-commercial sentiment. Thus, it just doesn’t make economic sense for commercial software developers to spend the time porting products to Linux. The majority of users won’t move to Linux as there’s no attractive software, and software producers won’t develop for Linux because the user base is too small. The only way to change this is through a great deal of marketing and disruption of the status quo, which would again require a large sum of money and a coordinated approach – something out of reach for Linux.
The average business user wants a workstation that is straightforward to use and does what they need. Nothing more, nothing less. If they have a problem, it must be easily fixable by either them or their technical support staff. For this reason, technical support requirements are also high in the list of reasons why many users are exposed to Windows and not Linux. Simply upgrading regular business users from Windows 7 to 10 is a monumental task. Imagine trying to do it with a completely new operating system and every piece of software running on it.
In this article, I touched on a number of reasons why Linux is not the operating system of choice for the average user, including a lack of direction, a small software market, marketing
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