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One day - soon, possibly, maybe - you might find yourself using a form of Linux, even if you're a diehard Windows user. It's the next big thing.
Of course, they've been saying that about Linux for at least a decade (http://tinyurl.com/2logto). The idea of a free, universal operating system with open source applications to take care of all our business and entertainment needs has been kind of a holy grail among a large segment of computer users for years. You'd think that with all the complaining people do about Windows and its producers, Linux would have made more inroads among PC users.
Estimates of the percentage of desktop PCs with a form of Linux installed varies wildly depending on whom is issuing the statistics, but the rule of thumb on overall installed desktop operating systems has been 90 percent Windows, 5% Mac OS, and 5% Linux (actually, probably closer to 3%). The story on servers is somewhat different, with Windows running about two-thirds of servers and Linux about 20%.
So far, though, Linux has not yet made the splash that its fans have been hoping for - and none of the dozens of Linux "distros" (versions) has become "standard" for the platform. Linux users look at that as a good thing (as the OS is not tied to any one vendor), but it's the kind of thing that has made Windows users somewhat leery of moving to an operating system written by and for techies (http://tinyurl.com/366mxf).
That, and several other issues, such as Linux having the reputation that it is difficult to get it to work with some kinds of hardware (http://tinyurl.com/2kgr4f), have scared off many users who would probably be good candidates for making "the switch."
The reluctance among Windows users to try out Linux could be eroded significantly by the experience many of them have with Vista - which computer industry analysts say will be installed on 90% of all new PCs in 2007. Vista, it turns out, has lots of anti-piracy tools built into it (not that I can blame them) that could potentially cause a great deal of inconvenience for legitimate Vista purchasers, such as a flag at validation time that the system has been installed into more than one computer when all you did was reinstall the OS after reformatting the hard drive. It's happened to me numerous times under XP, and it's sometimes been a hassle getting support to reinstall my system via Windows customer service, which you have to contact in order to get a replacement serial number. Under Vista, large parts of the operating system will be turned off under these or other circumstances (http://blogs.zdnet.com/hardware/?p=286), and many peripherals apparently have trouble "adjusting" to the new OS (http://tinyurl.com/2oq5qy). As a result, experts say, more users could be tempted to try out Linux - and as many as 20% of desktops could be equipped with the OS in the coming years (http://tinyurl.com/2wvc52).
Again, though, "they" have been these kinds of predictions for a long time (http://tinyurl.com/2ke3zr). But with Vista looking more and more as the 21st century version of Windows ME, Linux might finally have its shot at the desktop big time. But why hasn't it taken off until now - and how can Linux take advantage of the apparently growing dissatisfaction with Vista?
Why, indeed, has Linux not taken off yet? Is it because it looks like"too much work to set up," that it's "too techie?" Do users really want a system they don't have to work too hard to set up, that they don't have to spend too much time or effort to get up and running so they can get to their work?
Apparently not, because Windows itself requires plenty of playing around with in order to work at peak efficiency, what with all the anti-virus program installations, the defragging, registry cleanups, etc. If users really preferred a trouble- and effort-free system, they would flock to Macs. Although, again, it's hard to debate the issue because of the bellicose reaction to criticism by either side, Mac systems are generally considered to be easier to use than Windows. There is little for Mac users to do in order to tidy up their system because the OS does a lot of it in the background. And, there's no registry to worry about getting corrupted or infected with viruses or trojans. It was not by chance that Apple adopted the slogan "it just works" to describe OSX (http://www.apple.com/getamac/works.html).
So, ease of use is clearly not the main criteria for users. Is money the issue, then? After all, Macs are generally more expensive than PCs of equivalent performance capability. Of course, a lot of the peripherals you would have to purchase separately for PCs - such as stereo speakers, a monitor (in iMacs), wireless networking, firewire etc are all built into the Mac, and there are lower-cost Macs, like the Mac Mini, which delivers great performance for a low price and attaches to your PC monitor. When buying a new Mac or PC system and installing all peripherals and add-ons to the PC, the price differential is much smaller. If, however, you're merely upgrading your PC and reusing your existing monitor, keyboard etc., you'll end up spending less - sometimes a lot less - going for the PC.
Does this mean that people are more interested in saving money than in saving effort? No! Because if money were the main issue, they'd go for the cheap PC and install and use Linux and its universe of applications - almost all of which are free for the taking. Users can save hundreds of dollars, if not more, just not purchasing Windows and Microsoft Office and using, instead, a form of Linux along with Open Office - which is as much like Microsoft Office as a non MS Office office suite can be.
And even if the OEM versions of Windows and Office come preloaded on a PC, don't think Microsoft is throwing those things for free; if you order a PC with no OS installed, you should theoretically be able to save lots of money on your purchase - and if the savings are not passed on to you under such circumstances, you should demand to know why.
So, if isn't ease of use or money, what motivates Windows users to keep on with an operating system many of them don't like? Possibly it's nothing more than "the devil you know" syndrome where users don't want to take a chance on something new out of fear that it will be harder to work with than their current systems. That, and the fact that they're used to working with the Windows programs they know in the manner that they're comfortable with.
In which case, a program called Wine, which allows you to run Windows apps in Linux, could turn out to be a switcher's best friend. More on Wine and adopting Linux next time.