Linux Won't Take The Desktop Away From Microsoft Anytime Soon

I'm always amused when advocates for a certain technology proclaim a dominate player like Microsoft is soon to be replaced. Steven Vaughan-Nichols made such a proclamation about Linux taking over low cost PCs on www.linuxdesktop.com.

First, you should know that I've designed and built many more products on Linux that I have on Microsoft's OS over the past several years. So I'm not biased against Linux and pro-Microsoft. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. But Linux as a desktop OS still has done little to displace Microsoft, despite the efforts of Red Hat, Ubuntu and Novell. Frankly, the most successful non-Windows desktop OS has to be the BSD-based Mac OS X.

I know many a Linux user who moved to Mac OS X as their desktop because of OS X's BSD core. But lets face it, most users move to the Mac because of Apple's ease of use, user interface innovations, and the Apple "cool" factor. That, and the ability to run Windows as a virtual OS allows users full access to Windows and Microsoft applications. The tell tale comment for me was when a very technical user stated that "I love my new Mac Book Pro, but after using if for a while I realize that most of the time on my Mac is spent using Microsoft applications." There is the code the Linux desktop hasn't yet cracked.

The two killer apps Linux must be able to seamlessly replace are; Outlook and the Office Suite. Windows Xp, Vista, etc. could be replaced, especially in a world that is moving to web-based applications (as long as they don't rely on Microsoft proprietary web extensions or plug ins.) But to work productively in an office setting, Linux desktop users must have calendaring that integrates with Exchange seamlessly. I've seen many a Linux desktop user get fouled up when countless Outlook clones mangle or lose appointments, mess up time zone conversions, or are just not able to open Outlook appointments.

Sharing documents is also critical and compatibility between Office apps and Office clones still isn't there yet. I have occasional trouble running Office 2007 in a work group full of Office 2003 users, so imagine the problems Linux Office clones run into. The lesson here is, it's less about the underlying operating system and more about the applications that limits Linux' viability as a Windows replacement.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a Microsoft bigot. I'm pulling for Linux desktops as a viable alternative or replacement in the Office or at home. Why, because I'm a Linux bigot? No, I strongly believe in healthy competition, market forces and the power of customer choice. A viable Linux desktop will make Microsoft a better company and require they produce better products, faster. And more innovation will happen, by everyone.

But proclaiming there's some kind of nexus happening because PC hardware is cheap and Linux is too isn't enough to proclaim Linux the next desktop OS champ. Linux has a lot of ground to cover before that will happen. And Microsoft will have to lose a lot of ground too.

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