I ran across this article on Digg today, which claims there are two ways that “Microsoft sabotages Linux desktop adoption”. I am not going to attempt to determine whether or not Microsoft engages in these behaviors; however, I think that this article leaves out a few important issues.
For the record, this is an open source blog, and I am an advocate for open source. I would like to see more people using Linux on the desktop; however, I also think that we need to accurately recognize the challenges with Linux desktop adoption. By understanding why people resist using Linux on the desktop, we can work to tear down the barriers to adoption.
The author claims that Microsoft “has convinced users that a switch to a competing office suite would require too many sacrifices.” This may or may not be true; however, it does not effectively address the issue of resistance to change. In general, people get accustomed to a certain environment and tend to resist ANY changes that are introduced; this is true of most business change efforts, but for some reason, major technology changes seem to have an extremely disruptive influence on at least a portion of the install base. During any migration, we need to recognize that change is hard, and it will take quite a bit of time to get people comfortable with a new environment. I suspect that the natural human tendency to resist change is a more important factor than any specific actions by Microsoft.
The author also says that Microsoft uses its influence to coerce hardware vendors not to support Linux. This refers to the issue that Linux cannot easily be used with certain hardware configurations because the hardware manufactures have not made Linux drivers available. Again, I will not attempt to determine whether or not Microsoft coerces hardware vendors. I do know that when a market exists for a product, companies will usually do whatever it takes to provide a product for the market. In other words, if enough people are running Linux on the desktop, the desktop hardware manufactures will provide support for Linux. This is the chicken and egg problem that I have discussed frequently on this blog. Vendors will not support a product without a critical mass of users, and users will tend not to use a product that vendors do not support. This is a problem with hardware support (drivers) and application availability. We need to recognize this problem if we want to resolve it. I actually think that the driver support for Linux on the desktop is starting to improve (very slowly) due to the vocal minority. Linux desktop users tend to be a small group of people; however, they also tend to be intelligent, loyal, and very vocal when vendors do not step up to provide support for Linux. To overcome this chicken and egg problem, Linux desktop users need to continue to complain frequently, publicly and directly to the companies that are not providing drivers to keep the issue of driver availability in the press and on the minds of the vendors. A small, but loyal and vocal, minority can make a difference.
It is easy to blame Microsoft; however, I do not think that placing blame is the most productive use of our time. We need to understand the issues and work to resolve the issues that we can most directly impact if we want to increase adoption of Linux on the desktop.