July 22, 2003

20% Linux is all we need

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -

Let's get over Linus Torvalds' old "world domination" goal (which was a joke), stop gnashing our teeth over The Evils of Microsoft, and think rationally about what percentage of the world's desktops we really need to switch to Linux. I figure 10% would be a minimum, and 20% would be more than enough. Enough for what? For everything we really want.

The number one "reason I can't switch to Linux" we hear is lack of user-friendly, specialized applications. Yes, OpenOffice is a fine office suite, and there are several fine Linux Web browsers available, but what about simple photo and graphics manipulation programs, the kind that come (for Windows) with most scanners and digital cameras? What about optical character readers? "Instant" business card design and printing? Genealogy research? Sophisticated CAD/CAM?

This list can be as long as you care to make it. There are literally tens of thousands of useful programs available for Windows that have no Linux equivalents, and all of these programs have users who, presumably, would miss them if they switched to Linux.

Yes, many Windows programs can run on Linux through either free Wine or the CodeWeavers commercialized versions, and even more run with Win4Lin (which requires a copy of Windows to work), but these are imperfect solutions.

In a perfect world, a majority of all the freeware, shareware, and commercial software produced for Windows would be ported to Linux and the release schedules for different platforms would be in lockstep instead of the Linux versions (if there are any at all) being woefully out of date. And in that perfect world, we'd never see headlines like this one: CNET Pulls Plug on Linux Downloads.

Parity on the server level

Estimates of Linux penetration of the corporate server market vary, but generally seem to say Linux is the base operating system for at least 20% of enterprise server room boxes. Note that we hardly see a day go by without an announcement abut this or that major enterprise-level software company either porting their products to Linux or deciding (as in the case of Oracle) to boost the Linux versions of their products over all others, in effect 'selling' Linux alongside their own commercial wares.

Indeed, stories about enterprise-level software vendors embracing Linux are so common that they are no longer news. Indeed, this kind of story -- SteelCloud Signs OEM Agreement with Microsoft -- about a security appliance company choosing Windows over Linux, has become the rarity.

(An amusing note contained in the SteelCloud announcement: "The new security appliances will be demonstrated at CA World in Las Vegas,
NV on July 13 - 17, 2003. Hosted by Computer Associates International, Inc.
(CA), one of the world's largest software companies, the event brings together
thousands of CA customers and channel partners from all over the world." Why is this amusing? Because Computer Associates is one of the enterprise software vendors that has embraced Linux most wholeheartedly.

So on the large-scale enterprise server level, we can safely say two things:

  1. Linux has at least 20% market share
  2. Software vendors in this marketplace that don't support Linux are becoming rarer every year

What is the tipping point?

The big question: "What percentage of desktop computers need to run Linux before a majority of applications vendors routinely produce Linux versions of their popular products?"

Is it 10%? 15%? 20%?

One factor that may slow the adoption of Linux by consumer and small office-oriented software vendors is the perception of Linux users as freebie-hustlers who refuse to pay for software. This article -- Lost Marble Dropping Linux Support for Moho? -- seems to indicate that this may at least partially be true, except that a reader points out, in a comment attached to the story, that Lost Marble may have left at least one critical feature out of the Linux version of Moho, thereby rendering it useless for commercial cartoonists who are the very people most likely to pay for Moho registration.

The makers of the excellent Opera browser seem to believe Linux is well worth their time.

At what point will other desktop-oriented commercial software vendors start to agree with Opera?

Yes, it's a chicken/egg situation, but the hens are now doing more than clucking; Linux is unquestionably increasing its desktop penetration.

The big question is not, "Will we see a whole spate of press releases from big-name commercial software vendors about their new Linux ports?" but when we'll start seeing them. Question number two is, "What percentage of the world's desktops need to run Linux before software vendors start to take the 'Linux marketplace' seriously?"

Personally, I expect to receive (and run -- under our 'press release' topic, of course) at least half a dozen significant ones by the end of this year. And I think that once 10% of the world's desktops run Linux -- or at least it looks (to vendors) like 10% will run Linux in the foreseeable future, we'll start to see Linux ports galore.

Do you agree? Or am I being too conservative?


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