Recently, Linus Torvalds made some comments on why Linux has not found the level of success on the desktop as it’s rivals Microsoft Window and Apple. Much of his reasoning comes down to fragmentation, to many desktops competing with each other giving to many options for its users. Apparently, this competition and diversity has been holding the OS back on the desktop (and yet Linux has had the opposite success everywhere else).
These arguments don’t match my own experience with Linux on the desktop. When I started using Linux in the 90’s, there was twm, the open motif toolkit and xterm. Gtk and Qt were just fledglings. It was a very barren landscape to say the least. It’s because of the competition with the other major operating systems and with each other we have, in my opinion, some of the best desktops on Linux.
If this is the case then why is Linux being left out in the cold on the desktop then? The answer is simple. You can’t just go out and buy a Linux desktop. Here’s where the lack of choice starts with all the major retailers. There’s Windows, Apple and now Chromebooks. Ask for a Linux system and the answer will always be the same, it’s not an option. The only way today to get a Linux desktop is to replace the an existing (and paid for) OS, build your own system or order direct from the manufacturer. To this day the majority of people still prefer to buy a working computer off the shelf.
Chromebooks and Android are finding success because you can buy them right from a retailer. If Linux does want to become a true desktop factor, then the big commercial companies (Canonical, Redhat, IBM, and others) need to make it available at the till. There is no need to unify projects, remove options, choices or competition (these are strengths). Any other action than making it easily available to the consumer will have a detrimental effect on the Linux ecosystem without improving it’s desktop usage.