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Is Linux too hard?

Some claim that Linux is too hard, but its difficulty stems from application developers not yet giving it the attention it arguably deserves. This may be about to change.

Despite booming enterprise server sales, some in the industry continue to grumble that Linux is too hard. Designed by geeks for geeks, the theory goes, Linux will never be mainstream.

Reality hasn't been kind to such arguments.

Consider the fact that Linux-based Google Android saw 350 percent growth in 2009, according to Myxer data. I've yet to hear anyone talking about Android being hard to use. My teenage neighbors bought their Android phones and have had little trouble texting, browsing the Web, and installing applications.

It's Linux. It's not hard.

Where Linux does sometimes fall down has little to do with Linux, and everything to do with the focus application developers place on Linux.

Some report having trouble installing applications on Linux, like the cutting-edge Firefox release. While some Linux defenders suggest that an easy way around this is simply to wait until official support/packaging arrives within Ubuntu/SUSE/Fedora/etc., that won't do for those of us who sometimes want to veer off-piste and use beta software.

Application developers make sure their beta software installs easily on Windows and Mac OS X. They don't pay as much attention to Linux.

The same is true for hardware vendors. Linux works very well when pre-installed on Dell hardware: just as well as Windows does. The difficulty is in getting the hardware vendors to pre-install Linux with all necessary drivers.

This, however, is an opportunity for the Linux distributions. The distribution with the best application and hardware support will win.

Red Hat demonstrated this in the enterprise server market, and is approaching $1 billion in revenues for its trouble. Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, is taking the initiative to determine for which third-party applications the Linux community wants easy installation.

Google, of course, has already done this with its Android platform. No Android user is ever going to have to learn about "sudo" or "apt-get install" or any other elements of the Linux command line.

That's how it should be. At least, for the mainstream.

Google also promises to be good for "the Linux desktop" by removing the need to worry about the operating system at all, instead focusing on Web applications. I've already had a taste of that this past week as I've been installing Ubuntu Linux on different hardware, running a range of Web applications as easily as I do on Mac OS X.

We're rapidly approaching this future when the OS takes a backseat to the applications that run on it. It's going to be an awesome time for consumers, as Microsoft, Apple, Google, and others duke it out for supremacy on the proliferating range of hardware devices that consumers and enterprises use: desktops, laptops, smartbooks, Netbooks, phones, etc.

Linux has a starring role to play in such a future. The company that makes Linux easiest will win.