Are there too few people who understand desktop Linux ?
I just read the ComputerWorld article "Are there too many desktop Linuxes?" and once again I think the author is missing something very obvious and important.
If we are talking about Desktop Linux, we are talking about the consumer and enterprise market. If we are talking about the consumer and enterprise market, we are talking mostly about non-technical people and not me or you (since you are reading my blog, I do not consider you the average computer user).
I usually describe the consumer and enterprise market to be 99% of the population, which I often visualize as: my mother !
For those that are already confused, my mother is non-technical and not a power user. She uses applications and often struggles with tasks I consider basic. But this mostly means I too have a skewed perception of computer users and basic computer skills.
(If your mother is too distracting as an example, consider you are a support engineer of a big enterprise and you are in charge of the enterprise desktop systems of the company's management including the CEO.)
A desktop Linux system is a means to a goal, and not the goal itself for 99% of the people.
Now the following list of facts exists and may be inherited in the consumer and enterprise markets:
- Technical people have little time or patience to upgrade, maintain or provide support for the 99% of other people. I can do it for a selected few only (in my spare time).
- My mother (or your CEO) is only interested that her applications work reliably, she does not need the latest bleeding-edge features, nor does she want new versions of applications or a new OS every 6 months that may look or behave differently to what she is used to.
- I am not interested in updating/upgrading my mom's computer whenever I pay a visit because the OS demands that from me. I'd rather do other things with my time.
- The longer I can have my mom's computer running (think years) in a secure manner, the fewer worries I have.
- Every intervention that can be avoided, is time I can use for something else. Or is money saved for the company.
This means that high-maintenance, bleeding-edge Linux distributions, while very useful to the selected few, are not a nice fit for 99% of the market because they change too often, require work to update them and change often spurs breakage, instability or behavioral change.
"If it ain't broken, don't fix it." applies in the consumer and enterprise market very well (unless maybe when you make money by fixing).
So, we end up dismissing all distributions that:
- have less than 5 years of support (security updates)
- have a new release (and forced upgrade path) that is less than 3 years
- update applications during the course of the lifetime with little consideration to support/stability
Which means most Linux distributions are not suitable as a Desktop Linux for the majority of the population. So not Fedora, not Ubuntu, not OpenSUSE, not any of the other distributions except:
- Ubuntu LTS
the Enterprise distributions. And I have nothing against the Fedora/Ubuntu/OpenSUSE/whatnot distributions of today, they are very needed for driving progress and for fostering the Open Source community. But please, not at the expense of the non-technical end-user.
I know that many of you have compelling reasons to like and use bleeding-edge distributions, and that is fine. But please also consider that your requirements are not necessarily the same requirements as my mother or your CEO. And the way you manage your own computer does not scale very well if you need to support 10, 100 or 1000 end-user Linux desktops.