I was reading through a Harvard Business Review article and I came across a distinction made by a Harvard professor which essentially says [in my own words] … “people don’t want a car, they just want to get from here to there”
I was struck by how true this is and how often we geeks fail to understand that subtlety. Linux is doing very well in the data center for this reason [plus the fact that it is free and libre] : organizations want a website, a mail system etc, they don’t want a server OS. Since Linux does this well AND is free and libre, then it is very compelling in many scenarios.
In the same vein, enterprise IT admins want to be able to control desktops and laptops, what applications are installed on them and enforce highly granular control of access privileges – it is only natural that they turn to Microsoft’s Active Directory in Windows Server and hence Linux hasn’t made a dent in that portion of the data center.
Now for the desktop – Linux hasn’t gotten this quite right [yet] because people just want to
- Type notes, resumes etc and share them with others.
- Edit photos and movies and share them.
- etc etc
They will use the tool that helps them do these things in the easiest and cheapest possible way.
While it is generally believed that the Apple Mac is the most elegant computer out there, its high cost keeps it out of the range of most people but most of those who can afford it do get it. This perhaps explains its popularity in the high end desktop publishing and graphics space.
Windows has evolved to be easy to use [perhaps more accurately, Windows is familiar and popular] and has surpassed MAC OS by supporting a large ecosystem [applications and hardware] which gives users a greater range of options to get the job done and painlessly share their work.
For all its virtues, desktop Linux is not as elegant [visually and usability-wise] as Windows or Mac OS X. Yes it is getting better but consider these things that the typical person needs to do but can’t do easily on Linux:
- Play DVD movies.
- Manage and synchronize digital media on their ipod or Zune/Zen etc.
- Create documents and share them with others in their native format [aka file format agnostic]
- Connect and use the latest peripherals [printers, scanners etc]
Some of these limitations on the part of Linux are due to vendors and manufacturers not opening up their devices or applications for whatever reason. Such practices are evil but guess what? – the user doesn’t care – she only cares that she can’t play that new DVD, use that photo printer or sync her ipod.
The key then is to orchestrated the average user’s Linux experience well: A geek with taste takes the vanilla desktop Linux and
- Installs some good eye-candy and fonts.
- Sets up a cool media player with any plugin and codecs for using the popular media formats and working with the latest ipod, zune or zen.
- Sets up drivers especially for wireless networking and wireless WANs.
- Configure such things as hibernate and suspend etc etc.
…… and viola!!! when a user starts their PC, they can go straight to gratifying themselves. Now for the hard part: how do we do this and still give the OS for free?