Linux on the Desktop

August 8, 2008

The one market Linux has had trouble cracking is the desktop market, dominated by Microsoft and its Windows systems like Windows XP and Windows 2000. The failure of Linux to make any inroads on the desktop is a complicated subject. Part of it is the maturity of Windows: While it’s relatively easy to catch up on the server-side, end users expect a system that is simple, easy-to-use, and, above all, compatible with what they’re already using. Today, Windows XP is the result of over 15 years of Microsoft GUI experience, and though modern Linux distributions have matured dramatically, few offer the ease-of-use of XP, and none offer the performance and compatibility.

However, Linux offers an interesting middle ground between XP and the Mac OS X. That is, while it offers little in the way of Windows application compatibility, ala the Mac OS, Linux does offer many advantages over Mac systems. First, Linux is compatible with PC hardware and can run on the same PCs and notebooks as XP does. You can even install it in a so-called dual boot configuration, allowing you to choose between Linux and Windows when the system boots. Or you can simply repurpose an older computer for Linux, taking further advantage of your hardware investments. With the Mac, you must buy a new, more expensive, system.

Second, Linux offers a variety of user interface choices, many of which can be configured to look like Windows or any other system with which you’re familiar. The highly configurable nature of Linux is desirable to many people and stands in sharp contrast to the non-configurable Mac OS X, which offers the bubbly "Aqua" UI whether you want it or not.

Third, because Linux is free, an astonishing collection of free software applications and servers has grown up to support the system. You can wonderful free office productivity suites, like and Mozilla Firebird, for Linux, many of which are unavailable on the Mac. While Apple has paid lip service to the open source movement by creating a stripped-down Mac OS X version called Darwin, Linux walks the walk, and the entire system is free and open.

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