Linux-for-the-masses narratives

October 14th, 2008

I’m going to present you with several possible narratives that outline how Linux could be adopted by “the masses” in the future, if ever:

Narrative 1
People continue to buy Windows-preinstalled computers but at one point the Linux developers are such geniuses that they are able to make a foolproof installation that detects and automatically works with 100% of peripheral hardware, even the hardware from companies that refuse to port their drivers to Linux or open source their drivers. Suddenly, self-professed computer illiterates and non-tech-savvy users everywhere will download .iso files, burn them as disk images, set their BIOSes to boot from CD, install Linux on their hard drives and be glad to be rid of Windows. Microsoft declares bankruptcy and everyone starts dancing and singing the last part of “The Age of Aquarius.”

Narrative 2
The thousands of Linux developers of various versions of desktop Linux decide to abandon all of their projects and create one unified Linux distribution. To keep it unified, they change the licensing from the GPL to strictly closed source, so that others won’t fork into disunified Linux distributions. Since there’s no such thing as having too many chefs in the kitchen or any loss of efficiency through needing a consensus before action, this unified distro quickly surpasses Mac OS X and Windows in terms of looks and functionality. Once again, preinstallation and proper marketing are irrelevant to consumer Linux adoption. Everyone, even those who consider themselves computer illiterate, decides to download and install this new operating system. Open source developers everywhere can rejoice because yet a third proprietary operating system has won a place in the market. Hurray for open source that’s now closed source!

Narrative 3
Ex-Windows power users keep downloading and trying various Linux distributions. Some abandon Linux at the first sign of trouble. Others stick with it or happen to luck out with very Linux-friendly hardware. They build up a solid user base for consumer Linux and buy the very few Linux preinstalled options from large OEMs like Dell and HP. The large OEMs realize there is money to be made in selling preinstalled Linux computers to consumers. One model in particular seems to sell extremely well and the distro that comes with that model becomes the de facto standard Linux distro. Any commercial software ported to Linux has a software package easily installable for that distro. All non-commercial Linux applications are also sure to provide, along with the source .tar.gz file, packages compatible with that distro. Whenever non-tech-savvy users ask their Linux-using friends what computer to buy, if the Linux-using friends know the needs are basic enough (email, music, web, word processing, photos), they suggest a Linux preinstalled solution. Eventually a large enough contingent of tech-savvy and totally-non-tech-savvy Linux users has to be recognized by hardware and software companies, and Linux ports become a necessity for economic viability for these companies. The only reason to use Windows is if you like it better than Linux, not because you’re stuck with some Windows-only hardware or Windows-only software.

Narrative 4
Ex-Windows power users keep trying to migrate to Linux. Some try and fail. Some try and succeed. Linux users keep begging large OEMs to preinstall Linux. When they see Linux preinstalled, they rejoice for a little bit but then most of them continue to build their own computers and install Linux themselves or buy Windows-preinstalled computers and install Linux themselves. OEMs say “We’re not going to offer preinstalled Linux any more, because it’s clear that Linux users would rather buy Windows computers anyway and install Linux themselves.” So all potential Linux users have to install Linux themselves or find someone to install and troubleshoot Linux for them.

About the narratives
If you read a lot of disgruntled Ubuntu users experiences, you’d think that narrative 1 and narrative 2 were really how Linux would make a place for itself among “the masses.” Right now, we’re stuck in narrative 4, and really it’s narrative 3 that would make Linux successful with “the masses.” Now I know some Linux users don’t care about the masses. They say as long as Linux works for them, it doesn’t matter who else uses it. That’s fine. But then don’t celebrate when you get more hardware support and more applications ported to Linux because of an increase in Linux consumer use. And don’t pretend that all Linux distros share your values. Ubuntu’s first bug has precisely to do with taking market share away from Microsoft.

And to those disgruntled migrants who think they have great suggestions for how to make Linux accessible for the masses, know that the Linux developers are all working as hard as they can to make good software, and recognize that good software alone won’t bring Linux to the masses. There are market forces at work. In the computer industries, money talks. If you want to do Linux for the masses some good, buy Linux preinstalled.

I believe in choice. I will celebrate the day when Windows users can actually choose Windows instead of just being stuck with it. I will celebrate when you can go into Best Buy and see Linux preinstalled computers there to try out, and the sales staff will be able to talk intelligently about the differences between Windows and Linux. I will celebrate Dell recommending something on its website other than the latest version of Windows. I will celebrate TV advertisements explaining the advantages of using Linux. I don’t want all the masses using Linux. I just want them to be able to buy a Linux computer and use it right away without having to worry about hardware compatibility and burning .iso files correctly.

9 Responses to “Linux-for-the-masses narratives”

  1. themcp Says:

    i will be satisfied when phone support monkey for my internet provider doesn’t blow me off immediately when i mention i’m using linux. that’s all i really want!

  2. lucky Says:

    this is ridiculous. but one thing should happen if linux has to reach masses…all linux distribution developers sit down and decide one linux distro to develop in open source manner and that becomes the defacto standard for people to use.. ubuntu is in its way to that point…

  3. ubuntucat Says:

    all linux distribution developers sit down and decide one linux distro to develop in open source manner and that becomes the defacto standard for people to use

    I don’t think that’ll ever happen.

    The only way one distro will become the de facto standard is through “winning” healthy competition. It won’t prevent others from developing other distros, but it will give incentive to third-parties to package specifically for the “winning” distro, and it will also behoove the other distros to base their future releases off the “winning” distro.

  4. Steve Says:

    Hi,

    I saw this today:

    http://www.thevarguy.com/2008/10/13/dell-launches-consumer-advertising-for-ubuntu-linux-pcs/

    That’s quite a coup.

  5. Adam Says:

    I was at “The Source by Circuit City” (ie what we used to call Radio Shack in Canada). Not only did they want to show off their EEE PCs with Xandros but they had a new Acer desktop set up with Ubuntu. They did the install themselves just to show that it worked with the hardware. They we happy to point it out to anyone who was shopping for a PC and used it as an educational wedge. I told them “good for you, keep at it”.

  6. Jeffrey Says:

    “I will celebrate when you can go into Best Buy and see Linux preinstalled computers there to try out, and the sales staff will be able to talk intelligently about the differences between Windows and Linux.”

    I just saw an ad in the Sunday paper of Best Buy for an EeePC 900A. It even said in bold “Linux operating system”, the first time I’ve ever seen those words in a Best Buy ad. The 900A is the same as the 900 but instead of a 20GB SSD it has a 4GB SSD and it’s $330. I was surprised to see it there (they also had the EeePC 1000H which is WinXP with a 120GB hard drive). I didn’t have a chance to drop by Best Buy to see if it had the EeePC on demo but I’m going to do that soon. At least Best Buy is starting to sell the EeePC.

  7. 42gems Says:

    the probabability of #2 happening is exteremely unlikely. so unlikely as to be considered improbable. and if it did happen, i wouldn’t be using linux anymore.

  8. meganox Says:

    “one thing should happen if linux has to reach masses…all linux distribution developers sit down and decide one linux distro to develop in open source manner and that becomes the defacto standard for people to use.. ubuntu is in its way to that point…”

    This is so wrong. Linux is strong because any distro is free to use and adapt anything created for another. It may be difficult for new users to find the right distribution, but taking away their freedom to choose is not an answer. If one distro rises to the top of the pile, then all well and good, but there’s no need to abandon all the others.

    Linux happens by evolution. Proprietary OSes happen by “intelligent design”. Evolution will win every time. Trying to create the “one true distro” is about as productive as trying to create a master-race by eugenics.

  9. LinuxGeek Says:

    We are getting closer to Narrative 3 with Ubuntu. Mint (based off Ubuntu) and Ubuntu are the 2 top distros on Distrowatch.

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