The Chicken, the Egg and the Linux Desktop

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2005-12-07

The Chicken, the Egg and the Linux Desktop

I recently wrote about why the Linux desktop needs major vendor support before it can take off.

I got a lot of letters about that one, so rather than write everyone back individually, Ill say here why I still think the Linux desktop, more than anything else, needs big-time—Gateway, Dell, HP—support before it can be a big-time success.

First, some folks seem to think that the vendors already offer Linux desktops. I wish!

The only one that really supports the Linux desktop is HP, but its only selling to the business market, not the mass market.

Another writer wants a mass-market integrated Linux desktop.

I think that would help. And better still, it looks like were getting the program foundations, thanks to the Portland Project, to make that happen.

But, you know, with KOffice and 2.0, we pretty already much have the basics.

Still other folks think that the Linux desktop needs more family-friendly programs like calendar makers, simple desktop publishing software, educational games and the like. I think those would help, but I dont see them as key.

After all, Joe Familyman first needs to find a Linux desktop before worrying about Candyland for Linux.

What would help more, as one guy pointed out, is more business software such as payroll programs and the like.

Still, I think this is a chicken-and-egg problem. You cant expect software vendors to spend money developing, say, QuickBooks for Linux (come on, Intuit!), if no one has any boxes to run it on.

Click here to read about how Linspire and Ingram Micro are bringing the Linux desktop to the channel.

Some folks still dont get that Windows is just flat-out more expensive and every bit as hard as Linux to keep running. My favorite example of the latter is from "Catbert," who wrote, "it took a registry tweak to lower the MTU on my sisters W2K laptop so that it could share my ADSL connection"

What more need be said?

As for expenses, others point out that its not just the cost of the operating system and the main applications. There, we all know Linux wins hands down. But running Windows also nicks you in other ways.

For example, if youre running Windows you must buy an anti-virus program, no ifs, ands or buts. My personal favorites are Symantecs Norton AntiVirus and one you might not have heard of from a UK company called Grisoft, AVG, which is really good and fast as blazes.

Of course, all of these add to Windows cost. I just spent a couple of hundred dollars yesterday on a small business license for Norton AntiVirus 2006. I like to think of it as part of the Windows tax.

Next Page: Linspire explains where OEMs stand.

Linspire Explains Where OEMs


The most thoughtful letter I got on why PC makers have been so slow in picking up the Linux desktop came from the president of a desktop Linux company, Kevin Carmony of Linspire Inc.

"There isnt a single Tier 1 OEM that Linspire isnt in discussions with (and has been for the last few years). I think youd be surprised just how closely [OEMs] do watch desktop Linux and are aware of things. We meet with them often, and [they] all have teams and initiatives in place to get on board if and when the time is right," Carmony said.

And when will that be, I ask?

"You have to realize that companies like Dell, HP, eMachines, etc., are about fulfilling demand, not trying to create it. If youre Dell, and you do 100 percent of your desktop business with Windows and are already in the No. 1 slot, theres not a lot of incentive to invest in creating, marketing, promoting and supporting a new operating system on their computers. They will only do this once the demand is there," Carmony said.

Ah, were back to the chicken and the egg. Yes, Dell might not have any reason to offer a real Linux desktop alternative, but what about the No.2 through No. 10 guys?

If all a company does is fulfill an existing demand, its in danger of cornering the buggy-whip market just as some guy named Henry Ford works out the kinks of making decent, affordable cars.

Of course, as Carmony said of Linspire, "We started marketing Linux to Tier 3 OEMs. These OEMs need a way to compete with the larger computer builders, so they are using Linux to help them undercut prices from Dell, HP and others."


Im not saying that Gateway, for example, needs to spend a ton of money on marketing Linux and the like. I am saying that the hardware vendors can do themselves, and would-be Linux users, a big favor by at least making desktop Linux more available.

Start small and get big. Why not? If its already working for the small OEMs—Linspire has over 350 Tier 3 partners today, so it must already be doing at least decently—why not one of the big guys?

They cant stay frightened of Microsoft forever, can they? Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way. He can be reached at

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