What will it take for Linux and Open Source to dethrone Microsoft?

Posted on January 3, 2010. Filed under: Linux, Open Source |

Will this be the year of Desktop Linux? I really doubt that. I think it will take a few corporate success stories about deploying Linux desktops to get the ball rolling. Let’s face it, most IT managers prefer to make safe decisions. Maybe you have heard the saying, “Nobody gets fired for using Microsoft products”? In the industry I work in, we compare the technology we use to everyone else when the yearly trade journal stats are released. Before you go flaming me over this, keep in mind that all of us answer to someone. If I want to use technology X, I have to sell it to the CIO, and he/she has to sell that to the Board or CEO. I don’t just go and do anything I want to, I must first present my plans and get approval, and be prepared to defend each step of my proposal. That’s just the way it is.

When I first started working for my current employer, I found that I wasn’t the first engineer that had worked there that was pro Linux and Open Source. At first they heard the word Linux and said “here we go again”. I found that I had to pick and choose my battles. If there was a Microsoft solution and a Linux solution, I had to present clear facts that Linux was the better choice, and why it was so. I found that “free” and “better quality” didn’t necessarily matter when you have a Microsoft Data Center License and can deploy a new server from from a VMWare template with a GUI that everyone is already familiar with, and at no additional cost. My employer will frequently choose proprietary over free despite the cost if it was a “standard”, unless the open source solution clearly provided better functionality. If the average user would require retraining to use a different desktop O.S., or our existing applications aren’t compatible, that was like tethering a ships anchor to an airplane. It clearly isn’t going to fly.

We are currently in one of the best situations ever to think about moving to Linux on the desktop. With Windows XP’s end of life, many companies are already considering upgrading to Windows Vista or 7. The user interface has changed, and many existing applications aren’t compatible. I am currently reviewing a list of hundreds of applications for compatibility with  Windows 7 to decide what will have to be upgraded or replaced.

What is missing or needs improvement on Linux from an I.T. perspective? Please forgive my ignorance if I left something out or overlooked a solution. I don’t know everything. That’s what your comments are for. 🙂

  1. A desktop management framework similar to or better than MS Active Directory and GPO’s.
  2. Easy to understand server management tools. In this economy, I.T’s are increasingly being called on to be a jack of all trades. No time to become a Linux specialist for many overworked admins. I think that Webmin and E-Box are great steps in the right direction.
  3. Wine needs to offer professional grade support. With Windows 7, if your old application isn’t compatible, Microsoft’s Application Compatibility Toolkit can be used to create shims to get your app to work correctly. If your app isn’t already working under Wine, why can’t a team of support professionals charge for support to create a shim? Or better yet, if your new year’s resolution is to get involved with an open source project, this would be a good place to start. What specialized applications does your company use that may need work to function under Wine? Have you tested all of them to see if they work on Wine? Edit- While checking my sources I am happy to say I discovered that CodeWeavers offer paid support for Wine. Yippeeee!
  4. Don’t confuse your users with too many changes at once. Linux Distributions Mint, Easy Peasy, and Puppy do a great job of making things easy or familiar for most users.

What can be done to speed up adoption of open source systems?

  1. Volunteer your time. Even if you can’t program, if you have the time you can at least test and provide feedback to one of many great open source projects.
  2. Stop selling Linux. That is, configure a system that meets user needs and offer a free one month test drive. If you did a good job ensuring that the user’s application needs are met, the system is useable, and doesn’t force too many confusing changes on them at once, then chances are they wont want to give it back. Let it sell itself.
  3. I think that there is a great opportunity for the Linux Desktop just waiting for someone with the right resources to snap this up. Most of the average business users I speak with just want a simple business computer system that just works, without too many confusing bells and whistles. Make the user interface simple, and the system responsive. Business users don’t necessarily want flashy systems with a gazillion ways of doing things, only to see the system lock up and crash. Give them a simple system that meets their needs so they can get the job done. The industry has been stuck in a downward spiral of increasing computing power only to subject users to increasing complexity and problems. Think along the lines of Easy Peasy and getting things done in the most efficient way possible. Business users typically want simplicity and efficiency. Build a system like this, and provide support. Market it only to businesses and make the support plan too good to pass up. Let them have a free one month test drive. Make your offering viral by giving discounts or a free month of service for referrals.

Before you unleash the flames, please keep in mind that criticism backed up with fact or references is welcome. Profanity, or trolls who say “you suck”, etc. without providing us with anything substantial will make it into my Spam folder. That being said, don’t look at this article as an attack on FOSS, but as a call to unify and think outside the box to speed up open source adoption.


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13 Responses to “What will it take for Linux and Open Source to dethrone Microsoft?”

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heh, was not the statement once “nobody gets fired for using IBM”?

Why should Linux ever need to “dethrone” M$? I think that eventually, Linux will replace M$ on the desktop, but it will take time. M$ will probably always have smoe sort of niche, but they can never stop Linux or open source. Especially as long as they continue to use policies and tactics that are questionable to say the least!


I’ve used MS since 3.01, and Linux (Ubuntu, SuSE, and Mint) for about 10 years.

The Linux Desktop is here! I use it daily, as well as, open sources for Web Site, Forum and Blog development.

I’m not an IT type of guy. I just see how everything becomes that much simpler. Plus. I’ve lived and worked in over 80+ countries around the world, and got tired of my notebook asking to insert an original MS CD as proof of purchase. I got tired of playing MS engineer. Scanning for virii, deleting things, running this that and others.

I run Linux.

In the end it will be dominance in the database that makes Linux win.

Collecting data, and saving money is what it is all about, and using free and open source software.

A little bit of assistance and I could turn the whole hotel business here in the US in a different direction.

Best Regards,

Phoenix, Arizona

Have a look at Canonical’s Landscape for easy Ubuntu desktop management.

And Puppet for (any flavour of) server management. For more info on Puppet and what it is capable of (a great deal!) read anything by James Turnbull.


I completely agree about removing the bells and whistles. I feel that what we should really move towards is (as you said) the simplistic systems like Easy Peasy. From my experience (I am only a student, but I provide friends and family with tech support), I find that people (especially those in the business world) are concerned with two major things: email and the internet. It is common to find them using a 3rd party email system. Maybe what might be nice to do is get a system that offers a default of a few programs: Firefox and an e-mail system that mimicks outlook (the popular choice for email solutions). The computer should have built in Java support and all the other jazz that makes browsing the web dynamic (adobe, etc). I know that even as a fairly experience user, it can be frustrating trying to get youtube or other streaming media to work on linux.

(Also, can’t forget better OpenOffice support and documentation. I feel that the program is powerful, but is very hard to learn).

but this is a good path to go down. By simplifying, you give people what they want: usability, security, reliability. The second two are inherent within almost any distro. The usability is something that we lack very often, and I feel that it would be easier if we can just strip ALL the unwanted software.

You’re right about the big companies choosing M$ over FOSS if the features are similar or the same. My company is about to spend $4500 per license on 3 servers per building times about 300 buildings just in the US to upgrade M$ SQL licenses (our M$ contract dictates we upgrade every so often). MySQL is right there. It is more than adequate. But it’s unfamiliar amongst the old admins and the bosses in charge way at the top. In this economy, we are cutting every place we can, except when it comes to cutting back on our M$ dependency. I’m not too high up, but I’ve been with the company for a while. I’m so fed up with it, I’m quitting soon. We still deploy XP (now exclusively) and until a little over one year ago discontinued deploying 2000 on the desktop. It’s just pathetic.

Perhaps what need to also happen (your points are valid and battles must be carefully picked) is that we FOSS advocates need to make it up the ladder and start pushing this stuff little by little. This is why I am leaving. I can never get high enough to change it because I started too low (if that makes sense).

Sorry, I can’t find anything faintly infuriating in your post. Still, I think more than that is needed to get a FOSS-desktop in. Note there is much FOSS running under Windows, so in the server area much FOSS like MySQL, Samba, PHP, etc. is already there, but hidden. Most CIO’s don’t even know it’s FOSS.

I couldn’t agree with you more regarding items:
1. A desktop management framework similar to or better than MS Active Directory and GPO’s.
2. Easy to understand server management tools. In this economy, I.T’s are increasingly being called on to be a jack of all trades. No time to become a Linux specialist for many overworked admins. I think that Webmin and E-Box are great steps in the right direction.
Where I do think differently is in your approach to raising Linux Desktop’s popularity. I always ask myself aside from freedom and free, what compelling reason is there for the AVERAGE user to want to move towards Linux? There really isn’t, OSX is more polished and stable then Windows, but people are not flocking towards OSX. Linux and or FOSS don’t have any new and exciting technologies built in that people are flocking towards it.
Everyone needs to remember, Microsoft’s monopoly was not built in a day or overnight. Microsoft has built community of users and computer technicians that just barely know how to turn on their computers.
In my opinion, for Linux Desktop to become main stream, Linux developers need to target those who are looking for the latest and greatest, people who are willing to pay extra for the latest and greatest. Two groups come to my mind when I think of people looking for the latest and greatest, gamers and young adults. If FOSS developers developed a gaming engine far better than anything out there and that only ran on Linux or ran best on Linux, more commercial developers would develop games for that gaming engine. If those developers could design that gaming engine, so that games developed using the gaming engine would perform on Linux Desktop better than any other OS, then Gamers would flock to the Linux Desktop. As more users use Linux, more companies would feel more comfortable with using Linux.

One of the main thing that is holding back the switch to Linux is that Linux is not an operating system, it is an ecosystem. The users who are not familiar with this fact can only think of Linux as one thing, one OS. To win them over, you have to actually play to this way of thinking. In a way, Ubuntu has been successful in this respect. But even making them acknowledge the fact will just make it more complicated, as there are too many distributions and benefits are hard to differentiate. The difference has to be paramount. But I prefer linux as an ecosystem, so maybe this will always be a limiting factor. The only two most popular Linux I can think off the general public use and also at the sametime aware they are using Linux, is Ubuntu and Google OS’es, and I don’t really count Google by my standard.

James: I agree the graphical innovation for Linux will give it a great boost in interest, but really it’s too high of an order. Especially with the Khronos Group flop with OpenGL3. Microsoft is never, ever going to gift DirectX technology to Linux (unlike Mono, Microsoft’s trojan horse to Linux). DirectX is like their greatest treasure and they will keep it, and they have affiliation with all these companies. When is the last time you bought a video card from newegg.com that is advertised as built and sold specifically for Linux? The majority of the market for gaming isn’t exactly aimed Linux.

This single factor is the reason I haven’t stop using Windows completely. I’m not sure how important this is for exclusive businesses environments, except in the fields related to design and media. I do know that boost in the graphic performance is going to directly improve usage experience for the end user (not flashy graphic, but simply a faster desktop) and would open a new marketing aiming at Linux users. But the only way all this going to happen is if there is an OpenGL version that is so awesome that competes with DirectX, I don’t see that happening anytimes soon.

@tmx: You made a very good point concerning DirectX. This is why I think that Linux on the consumer desktop is a lost cause. Business desktop users are what I believe the Linux ecosystem should be targeting.

All that is necessary, these are good clones AD and GPO. linux it is possible to reconcile To all other disadvantages.

[…] POST continues an accumulation of realities behind Vista 7. We begin with the following new article which speaks about compatibility problems in the operating system. We are currently in one of the […]

LDAP works for me.

There is nothing to stop GNU/Linux. M$ cannot respond to the threats caused by its own insecure software. M$ cannot compete on price without losing the monopoly. I find it easier to convert people and systems to GNU/Linux all the time. This week I will let a bunch of ordinary users access a GNU/Linux terminal server via RDP from their XP machines. They will see software that runs several times faster with very little cost to change over. They are tired of sluggish performance, malware and high costs of upgrading. They are ready to migrate to GNU/Linux. It fits the budget and the mood. A few years ago when I suggested GNU/Linux I was often met by shocked responses. Now people ask me why they didn’t switch sooner. The tide has shifted.

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