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Survey says: Linux desktop not yet ready for mainstream users

Linux is fine for technical folks as a desktop OS. But not for anyone else.

The Linux Foundation recently released a Linux desktop survey, with over 15,000 respondents. Unfortunately, the data seems skewed toward the sort of person who would proactively seek out a Linux desktop survey with over 70% of respondents being students, IT professionals, developers, or other "gear-head" status and 69.4% working for companies with 100 employees or fewer (and I'm guessing they skew closer to "1" than "100" in the "1-100 employees" category).

Why? Because 57.5% declared that they run Linux on half or more of their office desktops. Call me a skeptic, but I doubt there are many dry cleaning operations with a lot of Linux running. I'm guessing that these are 1-5-person technical operations with at least half the staff having the technical "chops" to work comfortably with Linux. This is borne out by the fact that 49.4% of respondents work for computer companies of some kind or in research/education.

In short, the Linux desktop may be doing well, but it hasn't touched the mainstream enterprise market where a critical mass of revenue is to be found. Don't be fooled by overly optimistic readings of the data: there is no mainstream Linux desktop market yet.

Reading through the survey results, this becomes immensely clear. The respondents aren't big on calendaring (over half suggested that group and personal calendars are, at best, "somewhat important"), for example, which would be a clear "must have" for any reasonably large enterprise. These are people who like to get their hands dirty in the code, with 57.4% suggesting that pre-installed Linux applications don't meet their needs. They want to write their own (and probably have the ability to do so).

Linux Foundation

As for what they're using, it's no surprise that Ubuntu tops the list at 55.2%. But it's more interesting to see that Red Hat, despite putting comparatively little effort into the Linux desktop, comes in second at 40.5% (between Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux). Indeed, this is another indication that the survey respondents aren't working with the Linux desktop in a serious corporate environment: the top distributions from Red Hat and Novell weren't their enterprise desktops, but rather Fedora and OpenSUSE.

If you've used Linux on the desktop recently, you know that it has come a long, long way. But most mainstream users simply aren't going to enjoy the experience. Even Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu's founder, acknowledges this.

But the Linux desktop is clearly more than good enough for the technical folks within an organization. That's fine. Let them have it. The rest of us will use our Macs. :-)