2 min read

The joy of Linux

The joy of Linux
Photo by Gabriel Heinzer / Unsplash

As the 1990s flicked over into the early 2000s, Linux briefly looked like it might challenge Microsoft Windows as an alternative operating system for everyday PC users.

The open source operating system has come a long way since then. And Microsoft scored a huge own goal with the confusing, incomplete and often downright annoying Windows Vista.

Yet Linux has barely managed to break out beyond its hard-core following of geeky devotees.

Windows now faces bigger threats to its monopoly than Linux.

Meanwhile Linux struggles to gain traction. It isn't hard to see why.

It is almost a decade since I wrote for the now defunct Australian Linux Today website run by Internet.com. At its peak, posts would attract tens of thousands of reads, and hundreds of comments. Being slashdotted is addictive.

Linux doesn't pay

Apart from the odd loon, most of the discussion and debate was informed and intelligent. Internet.com couldn't make Linux Today pay, at least not in Australia. The parent Linux Today site lives on under the Jupitermedia banner.

The demise of Australian Linux Today echoes the broader problem with Linux and its inability to reach a wider audience. We had bankable traffic, but nobody in the Linux business bought our advertising.

That's because nobody in the Linux business has much of a marketing budget. That's because hardly anyone in the Linux business makes money from the open source operating system. Which is turn is down to the fact that Linux is given away.

There was no profit to support the kind of thriving ecosystem that underpins Microsoft Windows.

There's not much today either.

Or, more to the point, there's not the money to fund the kind of thriving ecosystem underpinning Google, mobile computing and the world of Web 2.0 websites-cum-services-cum-applications now  threatening to outflank Windows.

Linux, open source software, or something similar, underpins most Microsoft challengers. And Vista's annoyances aside, the threat of Linux and open source did much to prod Microsoft into improving its act. Today the company and its products are massively improved.

Linux is good, but unpopular

Today's Linuxes (is that a permissible plural? Perhaps we should write Linuxen) are good. There's not much in Vista that the latest version of Ubuntu, 8.10 fails to deliver. Kubuntu is possibly better. Fedora and OpenSuse maybe less consumer-friendly, but are still plausible options.

It's great that companies and people freely give their own time and energy to open source projects. Long may that continue.

Linux users operate at the frontier and continue to pioneer new ideas and technologies that will permeate into the mainstream. But I can't see Linux ever climbing out of its geeky gravity well and being truly mainstream. That day has passed.

Linux may find its way under the bonnet (hood if you're American) of mainstream technologies, but I doubt it will ever be the face of day-to-day computing.