The Slow Unyielding Tide Of Linux

It's getting up there. Whether you realize it or not Linux is steadily becoming a major presence in consumer technology. While the professional world has been hype on Linux for some time now, it's been slow to break into the general consumer market. An article from ZDnet seems to suggest that the nature of Linux is its own barrier for consumers. The Linux ecosystem is based on the principles of Open Source and leads to a democratization of software development; however, as the article points out, it also leads to a democratization of finding and fixing issues. A lot of software, and support for it, is made for free in the spare time of its contributors. When a bug creeps up someone has to go and fix it, and that someone may often have to take the time out of their day and likely won't be compensated for their efforts. 

This creates a self feeding loop where professionals and enthusiasts build software, effectively, for themselves and for each other. And it's exactly this kind of free form environment that may seem alien to a general user who just wants to play some videogames.

Nevertheless, Linux adoption rate is picking up speed, especially as the competition continues to shoot itself in the foot. As Mac is steadily losing market share in the personal computer market, Linux is crawling up there with 2.5%. Frustrations with Mac will also inevitably cause many consumers looking for alternatives, as we can see from the mobile market where the Linux-based Android is dominating with 65% of all mobile devices. 

And it's perhaps mobile that provides the model for getting more users under the Linux dome; ample support for the everyday end user. Certainly, this is something we make a priority with ServerSuit. All our efforts into preconfiguring software packages, or providing clear, intuitive server metrics; we made everything from the bottom up to make sure we can support the non-IT crowd as reliably as we support our professional customers.

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However, there are still barriers to a widespread adoption. Again, mobile gives a glimpse of the problem. It's not that Linux is the alternative to the iOS, but rather that Android phones are alternatives to the iPhone. Hitching to hardware is still one of the most effective ways to sell software, and very few non-mobile devices come loaded with Linux. Using Linux, in most cases, means installing an entirely new way to operate your PC. This comes, of course, with no support from PC manufacturers, so consumers are forced to troubleshoot and go through the process themselves. As much fun as it is for me to set up my PC for dual booting, it's not quite for everyone.

Valve had a plan for providing alternative, Linux-based, quasi-gaming-consoles. So far, the adoption rate has been slower than Linux in general, and the future for their experiment is uncertain.

Finally, the general consumer doesn't really know what Linux is. The fact that Linux's biggest issue could be branding is certainly uncomfortable, but it must be said. A non-enthusiast, non-professional, consumer does not understand the value proposition of Linux. All they know is what they'll lose; the familiarity with their system, the ease of use. Being able to configure, write and debug your own applications is (surpirse?) not a huge draw for everyone. Free software is great, but there's plenty of free software that runs on Windows. The fact that many popular applications- whether professional or recreational- still have nonexistent-to-limited availability on Linux is also an undeniable hurdle. 

As Linux practicioners, if we want to expand Linux we need to be more open and supportive of the mainstream consumer which, I believe, should mean designing apps for the mainstream audience from the ground up. 

January 10 2017

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