July 22, 2006

Why Linux isn't mainstream

Author: Toby Richards

With the ease of installation, maintenance, and use of many recent Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu and Fedora, some are left wondering why Linux still isn't more widespread. Here's my theory.First, the home computer. People at home generally want to use an OS compatible with what they use at work. Linux isn't at work, so it isn't at home. Additionally, you can't easily play many commercial games on Linux. An overwhelming majority of retail PC games are released for Windows only. Those PC games that are also released for other operating systems are usually released for Windows and MacIntosh. It's rare that a retail PC game is released for Linux.

But the primary reason that more home users aren't on Linux is because they don't use Linux at work. So the work environment is the root of the problem. As a network administrator, there's one and only one reason that I've never experimented with Linux on the desktop: Microsoft Exchange. The suits love Exchange. They don't love open source groupware that imitates Exchange. And since the suits sign my paycheck, I use it. In fact, at my current place of employment, Exchange is forced on us by the parent organization. So I don't even have the choice of changing.

Now, I know what you're thinking -- Evolution works with Exchange. Well, no, it doesn't. Evolution connects to Exchange via Exchange's Outlook Web Access functionality. The result is this:

  • Evolution is significantly slower than Outlook.
  • Evolution can't engage in calendar sharing or look at public folders in an easy-for-the-lay-person or intuitive manner.
  • Evolution is necessarily limited in functionality in all the same ways that Outlook Web Access is limited in functionality. This is doubly crippling since certain Outlook Web Access features are available only to Internet Explorer clients.

And of course, Wine consistently fails to provide the ability to run Outlook (the single most important program that should work on Wine). Yes, Outlook 97 works. Nobody wants to run Outlook 97, OK? It's nearly a decade old, for crying out loud.

So, in my opinion, Linux will never be mainstream until Evolution or some other email client offers full-fledged Exchange compatibility via a real MAPI connection (not OWA) with all the same features and functionality of the current (or next-closest-to-current) version of Outlook.

It baffles me as to why more attention isn't paid to this issue. Full Exchange compatibility from the Linux desktop would go a long way toward more organizations -- and therefore home users -- adopting Linux. And to those conspiracy theorists who say that home users don't use Linux because Microsoft strongarms OEMs and retailers into selling only Windows computers, I say this: OEMs and retailers sell Windows PCs because most consumers would not buy a Linux computer, for the reasons I've already stated.


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