Will Linux Find its Way Onto Your Computer?


While the majority of readers here use Mac and Windows systems, I’m consistently surprised at how many readers also use one form of Linux or another. Judging from anecdotal evidence I’ve seen in the reader comments, the folks who do use Linux use it as an ancillary tool, secondary to the operating systems they spend most of their time in. Recently, this positioning of Linux as an ancillary tool has picked up steam. Even if you don’t use Linux at all now, the trend may affect you.

Over on the OStatic blog, we’ve written about Splashtop, which is Linux-based instant-on software found on many of Asus’ systems. Splashtop isn’t the primary OS on systems that use it; instead, it allows users to flip in and out of a Linux-based OS for on-the-fly tasks, when it’s undesirable to wait for a lengthy system boot-up.

Our sister blog GigaOm recently did a good piece on what’s missing from the current crop of netbook systems. “Instant-on” was at the top of the lengthy wish list.

Today, DeviceVM, the company that makes Splashtop announced that it has received $15 million of Series C venture funding–in addition to the good will it has from Asus. On top of that, the instant-on Linux concept has also made its way into the new Windows-based Dell e4300 laptop, which Mike Gunderloy writes about here.

It’s very useful to be able to access e-mail, the web, and various applications without waiting for a full system boot. This is an ideal space for Linux, where there are many compact, purpose-driven distros to work with.

For some observers in the Linux crowd, this application of Linux may seem to ghettoize an OS that they care about, but especially in the case of the Dell laptops, it could make Linux useful for a lot more people. That’s also true of the Linux-based netbooks from Asus, Acer, and others.

Meanwhile, several blogs today are reporting that Dell’s new sub-notebook will ship with Ubuntu pre-loaded, and Dell has been expanding its line of systems based on Linux. The two large, public companies that have had widespread success with Linux–Red Hat and Novell–don’t build their business strategies around Linux on the desktop. In fact, they both say that they don’t have much focus on the desktop because of the success they have elsewhere. However, whether Linux makes its way to you as an ancillary, on-the-fly convenience, or in a low-cost, offbeat portable computer that might be an adjunct to what you use all the time, it may creep up on you.

Is Linux on your radar or do you already use it?



Until linux can do it right(consistent UI & fix driver issues) it will not be on my pc as my primary nor will i recommend it. Too many times i have attempted to make the switch in the last 10-12 years just to be disappointed with driver issues. Sure it did something neat or looked different and was cool because of that, but when it came down to it, it still couldnt do everything that I need it to do. As much as I hate windows and microsoft, they have a decent enough product for my needs…I use a mac as well, and that serves most of my needs for a laptop.


Sometimes it pays to step out of your sphere and view another perspective. I did that recently when I stayed for a week with a techy friend in Edinburgh.

His house was littered with computers/devices, and a lot of visitors, knowing this, ask to ‘get online for a few minures’. The interesting thing for me was that they rarely even realised or mentioned that they were using Ubuntu. I honestly don’t think it made one jot of difference to them, ‘average users’.

Us professionals may still be faced with client constraints that force the odd XP boot… but hopefully that is getting less. I agree that Adobe could do a lot to help the world in this respect.

However, to all the naysayers and newbs confused by too much choice, I say one thing: download a LiveCD version of Ubuntu, burn it and just try it. There will be a learning curve, but I bet it’ll be less than you thought; persivere and you’ll be converted!

Richard Chapman

“if lesser number of people use Linux then it is the failure of Linux community.”

Please stop “thinking” for a second and listen. The logic of your statement says an OS is a failure if fewer people use it compared to some other OS. So Linux will continue to be a failure, by your logic, until it reaches 51% of the users. Was Windows a failure until version 3.1. Was it measured against Apple or DOS or both? Is Linux a failure on the 500 fastest supercomputers in the World?

“The fact is there are billions like me. Windows (and now increasingly Mac OS) is still within reach for a person like me.”

Is still within reach? When was it not in reach? What else was there to reach for? Windows comes installed on every computer (yet people still wipe it off and install Linux). Is that the kind of “reach” you are talking about? You still have known only one OS and your thinking is completely influenced by that OS. The easiest OS will be the one you’ve had the only exposure to. You cannot comment on which is easier, Windows or Linux. I can because I’ve spent years using both. Can you understand that? Comment on Windows, it’s what you know. I’ll comment on Windows AND Linux because I know them both.

Leonid Mamchenkov

It’s been about 8 years since I used Windows the last time. Never had Mac anywhere around. Linux works pretty good for me. My wife is also using it, and lots of people I worked with across different companies use it as their primary and only operating system. I’ve never been working in the office which forces Windows, Apple, or any other software upon its employees. And I’ll probably never be.

Tom Chandler/The Copywriter Underground

Color me as one of the folks who just made the switch to Ubuntu – and this after buying a new laptop with Vista on it.

After years tolerating XP’s memory management (two restarts a day, that’s all we ask), I just couldn’t see putting up with Vista’s tarted-up, hard-to-find-anything interface for years more (open the control panel, and tell me that’s clear).

On a whim, I test-installed Ubuntu, used it for a day, then re-installed it in its own partition, and I’m running my freelance business atop it.

Faster & more reliable than Vista, but the real key is the nice, clean interface.

That said, a decision to use Linux today is largely a philosophical one; it runs well, but still has issues dealing with some audio & video formats.

Ubuntu Linux is close. If most Windows users were handed a PC with Ubuntu already installed (including the audio/video/DVD stuff), they’d do just fine.

Blake Schwendiman

I use Ubuntu as my primary workstation, but it is side-by-side with Windows for some of the legacy software I still need to run.

I’ve been a fan of the concept of Linux for a long time, but unfortunately it’s still not quite ready for prime time with the general masses, in my opinion. For browsing, email, office applications, there are no problems at all. But I still have strange random audio and video problems. I reboot more often than I would have expected (due to the windows manager locking up) and I still feel like knowing a bit about command-line Linux is best if you’re going to run the OS.

If I had to choose just one OS with the requirement of running all of my current apps, I’d choose XP right now. If I could dump my legacy apps for equivalent apps, I’d choose Mac OS X for sure. Linux is still relevant, though in many ways. And it is getting closer to being the kind of system you would recommend to your father-in-law who only browses online, writes a few letters but who consistently installs and runs every toolbar, “performance booster” and other malware program targeting Windows.


@Richard Chapman:
Yes, you are right in saying that I am sounding ‘like a person whose only exposure to OS is Windows’. It is true.
The fact is there are billions like me. Windows (and now increasingly Mac OS) is still within reach for a person like me.
You are also right is saying that more people use Linux today than in the past. However, when in spite of being capable and free, if lesser number of people use Linux then it is the failure of Linux community.
Believe me, choosing from even 12 (12!) distros can be prohibitive for a common user (look at how windows gets beating for having 4 (‘4!’ Mac lover says) variants of Vista).
You can be niche or you can be mass. Linux is a niche product today – not yet ready to go mass-based.

Richard Chapman

“There HAS to be a ‘One Linux’ movement, if Linux wants to stand up to compete Windows and Mac.”

You’re are thinking like a person whose only exposure to operating systems has been Windows. It’s only “common sense” that tells us that there must be one and only one operating system for the masses. But that “sense” is based on only one experience. There has been no scientific study to prove that there should be one monoculture OS. Now to add to that, there may be 500 distributions of Linux but when you subtract all the special purpose distros, dead distros, and marginal distros you are left with about a dozen to chose from. Also, the biggest differences are the names, desktops, application choices, repositories and a few specialized applications. The underlying structure is the same. The worst side effect for 12 distros “running the world” would be that malware would not be effective across the board immediately. As in zero day immediately.

To say that there “HAS to be a ‘One Linux’ movement” is not unlike the Hollywood studio executives in the 1920’s saying “Who would want to see a talking picture?”. They could not imagine anything but silent films because their only exposure to film from the beginning was silent. As far as “competing” with Windows and Mac look how far Linux has come and when it started. Look how fast Linux is developing. People, organizations and companies are piling on, not jumping ship. You may be looking at the last year when Windows and Mac will be considered equals of Linux. Every day I notice more and more bloggers are saying how Linux just doesn’t cut it for the desktop and more and more I see Linux growing and making its way into every aspect of computing. I think something’s getting squeezed here, and it’s not Linux.


I’ve run Ubuntu as my primary OS on my personal laptop for about 2 years. I go into XP only for Windows Movie Maker, as the Linux alternatives for video editing just aren’t there yet. I am still stuck on XP at work though.


Linux? I am thinking about making the switch to Linux for an year now. That’s the problem here for common users like me (or is Linux community content in catering only to fraction?).
When I search for Linux, I come to know that there are 100’s of them. When I try to search which is best – there are 100’s of opinions.
There HAS to be a ‘One Linux’ movement, if Linux wants to stand up to compete Windows and Mac.
Otherwise, the consumers don’t care whether Linux is good or bad or exists or not.

nicholas butler

Ive been using Linux as a Desktop system for since 10 years now.In the last few years the desktop experience has rocketed ahead of where it was thanks to Ubuntu.

However the Internet has also jumped ahead and in doing so Flash and Video have become an important part of the experience.

Until the OSS Community have that warm and fuzzy talk with Adobe to settle the constant development Lag then the desktop no matter how pretty and usable will be a few years behind the windows and mac clients.

There are work arounds and there are a few cameras currently supported but the results have been less than stunning.

Add to this the lack of SaaS replacements to core applications for some users and the occasional kernel upgrade which can break a bespoke system them we have a constant level of uncertainty for any but the more experienced user.

Further Dell and Asus are not running a clear platform of repositories woring with the OSS Community. Leading many of the core developers of the community asking those companies for specs and information to aid with support , creating more LAG.

Meanwhile Linux on the server has been and continues to be a boom with benefits of scalable and manageable tools that make a sysadmins life far easier however the growing lack of “net” awareness of many conventionally trained windows sysadmins is causing the occasional break and interrupt in that growth.

Overall theres a bubble of interest and the instantOn will prove more a gimmick than a gateway OS and result in many consumers perceiving linux as “that thing which runs Firefox”


Let’s face it. Linux rocks, but it is not yet user-friendly enough for everyday use, and the bulk of the market – the mainstream, if you may, still camps out on Windows. A small, growing fraction, is now using a Mac. Does Linux run mission critical stuff? You bet your ass it does. Is it ready for the novice user on the desktop, given its driver issues, compatibility issues, lack of solid productivity tools, etc.? Unfortunately not. Hey – I love Linux as much as the next Linux lover – I have Hardy Heron, Fedora, RHEL, Debian and Unbreakable on different test and production environments. But, I see its woes. I understand why Novell and RedHat have canned plans, and Ubuntu fights alone. A long way to go for Linux. Fight on. But, be real for now.


@42gems, Mikey, and Robert. I don’t mean that Linux is an adjunct if you’re a dedicated Linux user. I mean that most people use Windows or Mac systems, and a small percentage of people use Linux. What I’m saying is that something good–Linux–could start to accentuate what people get done with those dominant operating systems.
Also, when I say “most people” I don’t mean that mean that there are no Linux users out there. I mean most people.



I gotta agree that “ancillary tool” is a little offensive. If anything is my ancillary tool, it’s Windows. I boot it up when I’m finished working and it’s video game time. That’s it.

Richard Chapman

“Every new release of GNOME or KDE incorporates one or more “features” lifted from other operating systems”

You mean like multiple desktops? I think it’s called “Spaces” in OS X 10.5. Amiga had that capability in 1985. How about the core of OS X itself. Does BSD ring a bell? You say you use your Mac at work. Did your employer buy the Macs for you and your buddies? But the deal breaker for me is: Is the Mac an open system or closed proprietary system? I don’t care if it flosses my teeth, if it’s closed then I’m just paying for the rope that will eventually hang me and you too by the way.


“…the folks who do use Linux use it as an ancillary tool, secondary to the operating systems they spend most of their time in.” maybe visitors to your site do, but its debatable whether the majority of linux users are ony “part-timers.”

Wow – the voice of ignorance. Thanks for your well thought out and insightful comments. I didn’t know I have been using an ancillary tool these past few years. Please keep up the shoddy work. I guess this blog proves that blogs need not be concerned with those messy facts.


“…the folks who do use Linux use it as an ancillary tool, secondary to the operating systems they spend most of their time in.” maybe visitors to your site do, but its debatable whether the majority of linux users are ony “part-timers.”

its been quite some time since i’ve actually used windows, or a mac for that matter.


Confessions of a former Linux system administrator and embedded Linux developer:

I used to love Linux. I used it on over 100 servers at my workplace, ran it on my desktops at both work and home, and installed it on my non-techie sister’s PC for awhile. I wrote embedded software for Linux, and worked to port various Linux distributions to small handheld devices such as web tablets and PDAs.

I hardly use it at all now. I run OS X on my MacBook Pro. Of 12 former coworkers (sysadmins and developers), 10 of them run OS X now as their primary OS, 1 is just about to switch to Mac, and the last guy, well … we’d never be able to pry Linux from his cold dead hands.

You wrote that various embedded distros of Linux might “ghettoize” the OS. I submit that something else has already done that: poor, inconsistent user interfaces. I’m not just talking about the GNOME or KDE desktops. I’m talking about Linux UIs across the board – both at the operating system level and application level.

One of the reasons I switched to OS X was that there was a consistency to the user interface. Moving from one application to another required very little adaptation. Most OS X software developers seem to either recognize the usefulness of a consistent, attractive user interface, or something about the platform’s developers toolkits helps in designing one. Or maybe both.

Compare and contrast to Linux, where there are no good usability guidelines. Every new release of GNOME or KDE incorporates one or more “features” lifted from other operating systems (eg: a spotlight-like search feature, or a dock with big shiny icons, or a Windows Sidebar-like widget system, etc). Don’t even get me started on Beryl/Compiz … how an Open-GL accelerated flame or water-droplet desktop effect enhances your productivity is an entirely separate debate.

Linux developers suffer from featureus-grabus-incorporatus. Anything that looks remotely interesting in another OS is subsumed into the Linux environment, with little thought as to how it will all work together. The end result is a bunch of different distros and applications that work well, but with no consistency or elegance to them.

Another thing: I think that Linux developers and companies spent a little too much time in 1998-2002 focusing on competing with Windows, and completely missed Apple’s resurgence. A lot of geeks like me were lured away by Apple … and now we don’t look back. I know I’m not the only one – at the last 3 developer conferences I attended, there was a veritable sea of Macs out in the audience.

When non-techies ask what computer to buy, I used to tell them to install Linux. Now, I point them at a Mac.

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