Does Linux need to change to attract more users?

In today's open source roundup: Should Linux change to attract more users? Plus: A beginner's guide to Linux, and command line tools for Linux system administrators


There have been many articles over the years that have focused on the popularity of Linux, desktop market share and other so-called important benchmarks of success. But do any of those things really matter at the end of the day? Tech Republic thinks that Linux needs to change to attract more users.

According to Tech Republic:

In the world of consumer electronics, if you don't give the buyer what they want, they'll go elsewhere. We've recently witnessed this with the Firefox browser. The consumer wanted a faster, less-bloated piece of software, and the developers went in the other direction. In the end, the users migrated to Chrome or Chromium.

Linux needs to gaze deep into their crystal ball, watch carefully the final fallout of that browser war, and heed this bit of advice:

If you don't give them what they want, they'll leave.

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Does Linux need to change to attract more users?

While I can appreciate the spirit and attitude of the author in wanting to draw more people to Linux, I must disagree with the idea that Linux needs to change. We already have OS X and Windows aiming to draw in as many users as possible to generate profits for Microsoft and Apple. I'd rather that Linux didn't go down the same commercial road as those other two operating systems by trying to appeal to the constantly shifting tastes of consumers.

I rather like that Linux is what it is, and that it doesn't seek to cater (pander?) to people in order to increase desktop market share. I've felt for a long time that desktop market share was a bad way to judge the success of Linux, and I shudder to think what the results might be of a headlong rush by Linux developers to suddenly target the consumer market at the expense of today's current Linux users.

Also, Chrome OS and Android are based on Linux. And both of those operating systems already appeal to consumers in the mobile devices market. Do we really need Linux as a whole to suddenly try to do the same thing? I fear that we might see a dumbing down of Linux if the consumer market becomes the main focus of development efforts.

The article mentions Steve Jobs in a reference to convincing the consumer to use Linux. But let's not forget that Steve Jobs made a lot of mistakes in his career, and he was known to change his mind about something in the blink of an eye. True, he had an amazing record of success but he wasn't perfect and he had his share of failures. And remember that when Jobs knew he was dying, he made it clear that he didn't want anybody at Apple to "ask what I would do," he wanted them to do what was right for the product.

I think that's the right attitude for Linux too. Developers should focus on doing what's right for Linux and not worry about fighting for market share among consumers. If users want the power, choice and control that Linux offers them, then they will find their way to it as so many others have before them.

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