Linux is a free stable and resourcefull operating system yet to prove it’s full potential as a desktop operating system. While the greater part of the market is still Windows based the introduction of the UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC) have turned things upside down for Microsoft. Instead of buying very expensive hardware and install Vista many choose to buy less hardware and get either a Linux distribution or (even worse?) a several years old Windows XP system. Microsoft was not prepared for this turn of events and have been forced to extend the lifespan of their XP-series which they where planning to phase out in favour of Vista.
This change in consumer behaviour to “not buy the best” anymore, have favoured Linux who with their versatile distributions have a stable modern operating system for just about any new or old hardware out there. My five year old laptop which where being exhausted by running Windows XP in combination with a virus tool runs perfectly smooth with the Ubuntu distribution (well I could theoritically run XP without a virus tool but seeing I travel alot with it that would just be beging for it to crash with all the unsecure networks I connect to).
With the UMPC Linux have gained a small part of the desktop market, but what is holding it back to take an even larger part? Is it the hardware support? Well granted some hardware vendors only supply drivers for Windows systems, but most hardware have at least decent support in Linux. Is it Internet related software? Hardly, Firefox is arguably better than the current version of Internet Explorer (granted Firefox is available on both systems) and also e-mail clients like Thunderbird are just as easy as Outlook Express to setup. Are the office tools sub standard? Open Office and GIMP make a very good competition for their commercial counterparts Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop, so except for prior experience in one system there really is no major difference for the home desktop user there. Is it the ease of use? Again, trying out Vista will be just as confusing for a XP user as it would be switching to Ubuntu. Most things have changed places anyway. Also the update feature in Ubuntu is much better than Windows update in my opinion. The ability to upgrade all installed applications through a common interface is very easy to handle for an inexperienced user.
Is there any major reason to hold back? Well… I have to say yes. There is one single left over reason that I see quoted time and time again: “I use Windows XP becuase I want to play games”. Almost no PC game whatsoever have Linux-support. There are, often technical, HOWTOs on how to get this or that game running under Linux but it usually involves pages of instructions. If we have everything else, surely games can’t make a major difference for a desktop operating system? Again, I’d have to say yes it does. Why? Simple, the kid in the family who usually is the computer wiz is the one who helps all his family and friends install their computers. If this kid runs XP back home to play computer games on he will install XP on all other machines, because this operating system he knows and can “support”. Furthermore if all else being equal, if there is one major drawback in a single area, whoever wins that will probably win the battle.
Windows XP have DirectX which is supported and used by I would dare say every game manufacturer for the PC market. Linux have no equivalent interface. Linux have “emulated” Windows and even tried to port games individually but the major all-supported interface is not there. Game companys can’t make a release for every distribution out there (since many are so different it would be required), but if a common interface for all distributions could be established that would increase the chances of Linux game releases.
In my opinion, this is one of the major reasons Linux is still held back as a desktop operating system. Far from the only reason, but a major one.