The Year of Linux (Take 19)

The general consensus (according to w3counter.com, which gets its data from web-usage only) the current Linux market share for the Linux OS is approximately 1.5% (as of October 2010). Yes there are other stats that give different numbers, but this seems like an approximate average. Some have Linux’s share at below 1% and more than a couple have it at above 5%. The specific numbers don’t even matter to me at this point. I only think that they should be better.

Now of course I’ve also heard the arguments that globally the percentage could be as high as 40%, taking into consideration 3 points:

  1. Countries outside of Europe and North America are not considered in most if not all data collecting websites.
  2. The population of China and India together roughly doubles the population of Canada, the United States and all of Europe combined.
  3. The governments of both China and India actively promote the use of GNU/Linux over Microsoft and Apple OSes.

I only point to this as a way to discourage the mindless Linux hate coming (mostly) from Microsoft users. I fail to understand where this hate comes from, especially considering that it mostly comes from people who haven’t given Linux a chance at all, or from those who tried it once over a weekend. But I digress.

My real question here doesn’t have anything to do with Linux popularity in various Asian countries. My question is what would it take for the market share in Linux to rise above, say, Mac OSX’s desktop market share?

I think I have an answer, but it will take a bit of explanation.

Linux is the No-Name Brand OS

At least to Windows and Mac users it is. Most people consider Linux to be the cheaper and less-usable alternative to the "name-brand" Windows and Mac. This, of course, couldn’t be farther from the truth but the only way to change people’s minds is to actually get them to use it for more than a day. And I don’t think that this can happen without a cultural change.

Consider the time-frame that Microsoft came to dominate the market.

In the early ’90s, Microsoft was still the young, upstart software company that was starting to do battle with the big, evil corporate Apple. Windows 3.0 was released in May of 1990. (3.11, the big one before Windows 95, was released in 1993).

Anyone remember what else was going on at the time? I mean outside of the computer world. Culturally speaking. Anyone?

There was Seattle, the whole "Grunge Movement", and everyone in any advertising agency freaking out because no one was listening to them. Fashion magazines had no idea what to do and were clothing models in plaid and knee high combat boots, selling outfits for $50 and less. No-name brand products, for the first time, were outselling name-brand products. People were about function, not style. And people loved to support the underdog. Western culture, in these three or four years of the early ’90s, was saturated with these ideologies.

People also started buying computers a lot more than they had ever before. Technology started to be more in the front of people’s minds in the mid ’90’s. I remember "multimedia" as the buzzword, but that was quickly replaced as the media started to become aware of this mysterious thing that hackers were now doing: "surfing the web". And the Internet began to be seen as a re-emergence of the Wild West, at least that is how it was portrayed.

Enter Windows 95, the latest offering from that young upstart software company that ran perfectly well on an IBM clone — the no-name brand computer. The timing was really perfect. Microsoft was well on its way to dominance, but already the function-not-style mindset was dissipating. Grunge was dead. And musical tastes were changing too. "Electronica" was now becoming a movement. Raves became popular again. And this edgy sounding music was all technology-based. Kids could make this sort of music in their basements if their parents had bought them a computer at some point.

Windows 98 was released in June of 1998. Advertising agencies were breathing a sigh of relief, and starting to relax a bit. The recession was over, and the US budget was balanced. People had disposable incomes again. The depressing Music of the early ’90s was gone. The Spice Girls, The Backstreet Boys and Brittney Spears were at the top of the charts. The Smashing Pumpkins disbanded in disgust. And Microsoft was king. By the time XP was released in 2001, America was thoroughly back in the name-brand, style before function mindset. As long as something looked pretty, it didn’t matter if the core was rotten. If it was expensive, it must be good.

Microsoft got really lucky. Windows had matured in a way that completely fit into the rest of America’s culture. Don’t get me wrong, Gate’s business sense had much to do with Microsoft’s success too, I’m just saying that the timing of it all expedited its popularity.

Considering this, where are we left? Well Microsoft is still undeniably king. No longer are they "the young, upstart software company that was starting to do battle with the big, evil corporate Apple". They are now the big evil corporation that people are going to Apple to escape from. (Fill this space with any ironic comment you wish).

But we are in a recession now. Why are people paying even more for a Mac, rather than switching to Linux which is cost-effective and ultimately better than both? I would say the reason is that the culture didn’t change with the economic situation like it usually does. The reasons for that are many and varied. Not the least of which is the anti-sharing media campaign put forth by the RIAA, MPAA and other groups. (And hey, telling people not to share is telling people not to use free or open-source software).

So to finally bring this around and include the reason for the title, will the year of Linux ever come? Probably. But not any time soon. If 9/11, two wars, the worst recession in decades and Michael Moore can’t seem to make a significant cultural change, then I just fail to see how it’s going to happen. And without it, I can’t see people abandoning their OS of choice en masse.

Unless of course it’s Linux that actually causes this cultural shift I’m waiting for… hmmm…

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About Alan Stryder

Just an opinionated cable guy.
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