Why isn’t Linux the universal desktop operating system?

by Frank 9. September 2012 06:00

I own and run a software company building enterprise content management solutions (RecFind 6) and I have a love/hate relationship with Microsoft Windows.

I love Windows because it is a universal platform I can develop for that provides me access to ninety-percent plus of the business and government organizations in the world.  I only need one set of source code and one set of development skills and I can leverage off this to offer my solutions to virtually any organization in any location. We may say that Microsoft Windows is ubiquitous.

I hate Windows because it is overly complex, unnecessarily difficult to build software for, buggy and causes me to have to spend far more money on software development than I ought to. There are many times each year when all I really want to do is assemble all the Microsoft programmers in one place and then bang their heads together and shout at them, “for heaven’s sake, why don’t you guys just talk to each other!”

Linux on the other hand, even in its many manifestations (one of its main problems), is not ubiquitous and it does not provide me with an entry point to ninety-percent of the world’s businesses and government agencies. This is why I don’t develop software for Linux.

Because I don’t develop application software for Linux I am not an expert in Linux but I have installed and run Ubuntu as a desktop operating system and I really like it. It is simple, clean and easy to use; more ‘Apple-like’ than ‘Windows-like’ to my eyes and all the better for it. It is also a great software development platform for programmers especially using the Eclipse IDE. It is also free and most of the office software you need (like OpenOffice) is also free. It also runs happily on virtually any PC or notebook and seems to be a lot faster than Windows.

So, Ubuntu (a flavour of Linux but a very good one) is free, most of the office software you need is also free, it looks good, runs on your hardware and is easy to use and uncomplicated. So why isn’t it ubiquitous? Why are people and organizations all over the world paying for (and struggling with – who remembers Vista?) inferior Windows when Linux varieties like Ubuntu are both free and better? Why are users and organizations now planning to pay to upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8 when alternative operating systems like Ubuntu will do the job and are free?

I read a lot of technical papers and IT blogs and I notice that the Linux community has been having similar discussions for years. As an ‘outsider’ (i.e., not a Linux zealot) it is pretty obvious to me that the Linux community is the main reason Linux is not ubiquitous. Please read the following ZDNet link and then tell me what you think.


When I read an article like this two terms come immediately to mind, internecine bickering or sibling rivalry. How many versions of Linux do we need? The Linux fraternity calls these distributions or ‘distros’ to the insiders.  At last count there are around 600 ‘distros’ of which 300 are actively maintained.  Ubuntu is just one of these distros. How would the business world fare if there were 300 versions of Windows? Admittedly, most of the 300 have been built for a specialised use and the real list of general use versions of Linux is much smaller and includes product names such as Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Fedora, Mint, Debian, Arch, openSUSE, Red hat and about a dozen more.

But, it gets worse. On Ubuntu alone there are there main desktop environments to choose from, GNOME, KDE and Xfce.  Are you confused yet? Is it now obvious why Linux is not the default desktop operating system? It probably isn’t obvious to the squabbling Linux insider community but it is patently obvious to everyone else.

Linux isn’t the default desktop operating system because there is not a single standard and there is never likely to be a single standard. No software developer is going to invest millions of dollars in building commercial applications for Linux because of this. Without a huge library of software applications there is no commercial market for Linux. Windows reigns supreme despite its painful problems because it provides a single platform and because software developers do invest in building millions of commercial applications for the windows operating system.

Until such time as the Linux community stops its in-fighting and produces a single robust, supported version of Linux (when hell freezes over I hear you say) the situation will not change. The inferior desktop operating system Windows will continue to dominate and Linux will remain the plaything of propeller-heads and techies and old guys like me who really like it (well, the Ubuntu version that is, there are too many distros for me to become an expert in all of them and that is the core of the problem).

Comments (3) -

Chris Langton
Chris Langton Australia
9/10/2012 1:39:54 AM #

Hi Frank,

Due to the amount of feedback and comments I was going to leave I decided to publish it elsewhere and just make one comment here for you.

I believe the version of Ubuntu you installed is old because the current version available on ubuntu.com (in a single click) has LibreOffice not OpenOffice as its pre-installed office suite, Canonical dropped OpenOffice in older versions. This may also account for the confusion you had with the interface because Ubuntu now only has Unity(desktop) as Gnome and Unity 2d/3d desktops have been dropped. The reason behind these 'flavours' of desktop environments is just as you point out, choice.
This is choice that other O/S's can't offer.
But this is all beside the point, it is also by no means necessary that a regular user be faced with this choice because using Ubuntu for example you just login using the default Desktop without being faced with the option unless you go looking for options and therefore you want to see them.

You can read my Article here if you are interested;

I hope this has opened a few questions, answered a few concerns, and clarified some misconceptions about *nix.


Jeff United Kingdom
11/11/2012 6:24:49 AM #

Frank … well said on all counts – an issue that has puzzled me for many years why the world is hooked on Windows and Apple yet there would “seem to be” high quality free-ware equivalents.

As a home user with a few PCs I have been using XP Pro for several years – I know it very well but rather than upgrade to Windows 7 (XP volume support expires in 2014) I have just spent a week trying to get to grips with Ubuntu 12.04 and, I sorry to say, a lot is not working out as I would have hoped.

Here are some points that have emerged – good and bad :

The launcher bar vertical on the left – this is good how I have always run my Windows XP task bar on the left.

Desktop Display – can change resolution and themes and font size but there is no dpi to fine tune global setting to get the display you want.

The Desktop – works well in many ways and is elegant to view and use but menu bar at the top is too narrow, and open more than one instance of any app/programme (like Firefox) you don't get a further launchbar icon.  And I still feel very lost where to find programs but this I guess will come with practice.

Devices – there is no device manager !! I am at a loss where we are supposed to go to find drivers – to note which drivers we have for devices and if need be install or update.

It seems to be that Unix/Linux relies on its own installed drivers but they don't spell this out – in any case I have found it impossible to run my Lexmark 2500 series printer. I tried multiple times using Ubuntu “Printer” set-up procedure, and “Additional Drivers”, and downloading nearest driver from Lexmark but nothing worked. Bottom line it seems clear Lexmark have not made a driver for their 2500 series for Ubuntu 12.04, and Ubuntu have no equivalent generic type driver.

So, following that point through I am left feeling very unsure how many more driver issues will I face if I were to use Ubuntu on all my PCs - for instance trying to network Ubuntu and Windows machines.

Wireless – this worked fine – during install and every time I boot the system puts the PC on line directly so that is good. BUT – there is no in-house internet status activity indicator. I tried one from the download page but it was not so good – did not (like XP) show an icon directly so I could see internet activity directly.

Home folder – I don't believe this is working correctly. “Drives” lists a floppy drive (which I don't have) yet doesn't list my h/drive which I do have – and cd/dvd optical does not show until I put in a disk. Notably selecting “Computer” from “Go” function on the top menu bar gives me a view of “devices”, but they are all “generic” with no further information - all “properties” are “unknown” !!

This then as far as I can understand makes it clear that Ubuntu is working with their own developed generic drivers to connect with devices. That is fine if it gives basic functionality (as with wireless, dvd/cd drive, usb) but then we end up with non-functioning equipment if there is no driver. And that to me is the biggest worry.

Also now using Libre Writer (which works well) I see the format is different to MS Word – this might be okay as we can save in .txt, or .rtf, or MS .doc, but the in-house format is I see .odt. So well done Ubuntu in giving all options but I don't suppose Windows Word will open the in-house Ubuntu format .odt so that is another compatibility issue to have to think about.

And last point Ubuntu “passwords” – I find these hugely worrying. There is an install/set-up “password” which you *have to enter*, unlike in XP full install where you have the option to not use a password. In Ubuntu set-up I did set bootup to be “auto” (no password needed) and that should be okay but then the password is needed each and every time you install new s/ware. And worse and most alarming of all, when I tried to install the printer s/ware I had to enter the “root administrative password” ?? So who knows what that is – not the “user password” (which we put in when we install) but some mystical “root administrative password”.

I did find out in the end what it was – with dire warnings on some web forum pages not to use it ! - but then it would seem to be no more privilege than using XP as an administrator which I have been doing for several years.

In summary I have tried for a full week to set up and use Ubuntu with confidence and is it stands right now I am just not sure. As elegant and straight forward as the system would seem to be, and developers clearly want it to be, Ubuntu seems me very much for the technical minded, as if it is in continues development and we are all happy to go to command line commands (using mystical sudo command) to work round issues. Indeed looking through the forums there are **so many** reported issues it seems to me the system is in Beta - an ongoing community project led by Canonical.

There is then it seems to me something of a double movement in Ubuntu (and I guess in other Linux distros) - lead developers want the systems to be straight forward and directly usable, by all users, but, at the same time, with so many diverse individuals working on open source code we end up with systems that look straight forward but, on close inspection, lead into all manner of complexities, ie, drivers, having to use cryptic command lines,  and the software d/load centre where we can end up overwhelmed trying to work what we need, in relation to a multitude of offerings noften in highly cryptic language.

Bottom line you are then in my view entirely right on the “multi distros” point - and indeed even more multi s/ware packages running to thousands in Linux mystical “main”, “universe”, and “multiverse” categories. So in the end I don't know there is that more benefit from free-ware Ubuntu, or corporate Windows. If you're a technical enthusiast then no doubt Ubuntu or other Linux distros are great to be part of, if (like me) you want a reliable system up and running and easy to use, but with good control, then the best I have found so far is my XP Professional - which I am loath to abandon. Ideal might be for Ubuntu (and others) to make a charge for s/ware (a co-operative approach, rather than freeware, or corporate) - keep the charge modest but then feed back in to speed up development and provide direct technical backup.


Jeff ... in Poole ... UK ...



Chris Langton
Chris Langton Australia
11/11/2012 10:33:43 PM #

I'm happy you gave Ubuntu a go, and pleased of your thorough review.
I see your goals are:  you want a reliable system up and running and easy to use.
Unfortunately i got the impression you were looking for a customised experience in many regards which led you to forums who talk technical when you might have had better luck on official Ubuntu supprt like AskUbuntu where they dont get too technical unless there is no alternative. For example, they will refer you to UI point-and-click options before the terminal solutions.

The Desktop – just like windows, you need a Nvidia or ATI driver to do advanced things, windows has never included these and Ubuntu is no different. Good news though, Nvidia have new Linux/Ubuntu driver that double performance Smile

Devices – there is no device manager because its called "hardware".

TIP: use the HUD to search for 'windows' like terms, i.e. the word 'device' shows the result "Hardware".

Home folder - this is the same as in windows, use it to store your documents, music, pictures, ect. Applications may also create a folder here that will be used specifically for that application.
Devices is not part of the Home, but rather is 'mounts' devices that the Linux kernel detects from your bios. If you have your bios settings to provide details of a Floppy Drive, then Ubuntu will see that and provide you the same information, i removed the Floppy Drive from Ubuntu by changing a bios setting that forced the existence of the floppy drive mapping to an A: drive, but note that windows will break if it is a duel-boot machine, therefore the bios setting to force the floppy drive existence to me seems like a Microsoft requirement forced on hardware and OEMs.
Optical and Hard disk media will only mount (appear in devices) when the media is detected. by default optical devices have no media, but some applications you install may change this so that you can have an empty optical drive available to send file to and then burn to blank disks.

Libre Writer - uses the only multi-platform document type standards, Open Document. These formats are supported on all O/S's and Microsoft Office will read/save as Open Document formats. the fact that Libre Office also reads/saves to platform specific formats like .doc (MS Office only format) is just a bonus.

Ubuntu “passwords” - If you need to get a root password from the internet then i will assume your Ubuntu install is a VM appliance, i.e. you shouldn't compare this to Ubuntu because the applicance came with that password, not Ubuntu.
If Ubuntu ever asks for a root password, then it is asking for the administrator account password in Windows terms, i.e. it is the user you created in the Ubuntu install process. There is no mythical or magical user. the root priceless are identical to administrator in windows terms and can be granted to any user just like in windows.
Security is the reason the rot password is required for application installs, and if you are being asked for the root password then it is apparent that you told Ubuntu you dont want to use the "Keyring" which protects your root password and allows you to not have to enter it when you want to install applications.
Ubuntu itself explains this but many users such as yourself dont read it and just hit "Ok", then when it asks if you are sure you hit "yes". Doing this disables the Keyring and changes the Ubuntu security features off, thus your passwords are not encrypted, and you cannot use the Keyring to remember them all and provide you the ability to use the master keyring password feature that allows all the encrypted password to be authenticated with the use of the master password.
In short, if you chose to disable the Keyring, you shouldn't expect security and you should expect to have to remember many passwords and enter them frequently.

Usability will become better for Ubuntu and Linux in general when more companies follow the likes Nvidia and provide Linux drivers. Many do already but the complexities you talk about are there because the companies that make the products you want to use are not providing the drivers and thus means for you to easily use them.
This year we have seen the largest company in PC gaming announce they will not support Windows 8 and have already released their platform for Linux, which in turn got Nvidia to make the best driver for Linux that they are capable of providing. Other companies have made this move as well and as we see this trend unfold you will get the device support in Linux as easily as you do in Windows.

With Microsoft abandoning support for XP, we will see an increase of Ubuntu users who are finding an alternative now that they can't securely use XP and have read that companies are publicly stating they wont be on Windows 8.
If you are wondering why companies are publicly against Wondows 8, it is all about Microsoft pushing for software companies to pay Microsoft to be included in the App store, where software has never needed to pay Micorsoft in the past O/S's, if they dont pay, then as soon as Windows 8 is fully sandboxed (which will happen) then their software will not work at all. Currently software can be installed on Windows 8 but unless it is via the App store is is not technically a Windows 8 software and cannot access Windows 8 features essentially it is running in windows 7 compatibility mode, which will soon prevent it operating at all once the O/S is fully sandboxed in later releases.

This sandboxing is the reason software and games never took off on Apple.

Linux offers software developers and gaming the environment they desire, because windows is becoming to like Apple!


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