Why Hasn't Linux Been More Successful On The Desktop? Blame Ubuntu?

By being too cutting edge the makers of Ubuntu might have actually set back wider adoption of Linux on the desktop. Why don't we see Windows or even OSX numbers for Linux on the desktop? Some are blaming Canonical.

I for one am tired of hearing every year that this will be the year that Linux on the desktop takes off. In spite of projections that Linux would capture 6, 10 or even 12% of desktops by now, it is still hovering somewhere between 1 to 2%, perhaps slightly more. Caitlyn Martin over on the O'Reilly community has gone off the reservation and writtenwhat many in the Linux community would think heresy. Ubuntu may be the reason why Linux desktop OS has not grown as projected.

I know even here on Network World, in fact in this open source subnet they have canonized Canonical. And for some good reasons. Ubuntu has come a long way over the years. Support for peripherals and the install process are great. The desktop itself looks great, even a little too much like Windows. But it still remains too hard, too buggy to win over the hearts and minds of the market beyond the hard core Linux lovers who use the OS on servers.

Martin's post raised a hailstorm of controversy, both pro and con on Ubuntu. She wrote a follow up post based on many of these comments. Her consensus indicates that the biggest problem is that Canonical is releasing updated versions of Ubuntu too quickly and without enough Q&A. Releasing new versions of an OS every 6 months may keep it cutting edge, but puts too much pressure on the development community to properly put it through its paces.  As a result, instead of patching bugs, the tendency is just wait for the next release. Waiting for the next release is not an adequate alternative for a desktop OS.

One suggestion by Martin is for Canonical to adopt more of a Red Hat approach. Release a long term release (maybe every 18 months or 2 years) that is very stable with patches for bugs, etc. and then have a more cutting edge version that is updated often for that section of the community that wants to use it. Take what is developed and refined in the cutting edge version and let it find its way into the next long term releases.

That would seem to make more sense to me too. Beyond what Martin says I think there is another problem though, it is not only Canonical. Hard core Linux users always want the greatest, latest release and they pride themselves on having an OS that has just come out.  The same Linux community that says Linux should rule the desktop in addition to the server racks, may also be guilty of holding Linux adoption back. Canonical views them as their constituency and is trying to please them.

A dual release Ubuntu may both feed the Linux community tiger and allow a tamer, easier, smoother Linux to reach the mainstream.  If Canonical can't make that happen with Ubuntu, perhaps it is time for another Linux distro to step up.

What do you think?

4/16 update- In response to some of the comments, I wanted to update the post on a few points:

1. I am well aware of the long term releases. However, my point is that they should in fact be the primary releases with the other releases being labeled betas or developer releases.

2. Yes I did take a lot from Martin's article.  My point is that Linux has not done well on the desktop. Is Martin's point the reason? That is why there is a question mark at the end of the title.

3. I appreciate the passion of the Linux community. But sometimes you have to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself honestly what the issues are.

I appreciate all of the comments, even the ones calling me a sensationalist idiot. Sorry I upset you.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in