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Why people really don't switch to Linux

Written by IT News on 8:41 PM

Opinion -- Over in the DesktopLinux forums, people have been talking about why -- if Linux is so darned great -- don't people give up Windows and move to it.

The usual suspects show up. There aren't enough applications. The right application isn't available. You still have to use the command line for some things. Some equipment doesn't have drivers.

There's some truth to those, and some nonsense.

The real reason people don't use Linux on their desktops, though, is that it's not already there. They stick with what they know. It's really that simple.

Don't buy that because it's too simple-minded? Look around. As I write this on May 17, 2007, the AAA is reporting that gasoline prices hit a record high for the fifth straight day. The average price for a gallon of self-serve unleaded gasoline in the U.S. is now $3.114. It will be higher tomorrow.

So, everyone is looking for alternative means of transportation, right? They're switching to hybrid cars, yes? Or, at least, they're not driving as much, correct? Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

The AAA's survey of Americans travel plans found that a record 38.3 million will be traveling 100 miles or more over the Memorial Day holiday. That's up 1.7 percent from last year.

Why? Because not only do we love our gas-guzzling, mobile money pits, most of us don't even seriously think about switching to a hybrid. Heck, from what AAA is telling us, we don't even consider cutting down on optional driving.

It's the same thing with Windows. It's what powers our PC. Oh, some of us use alternatives like Linux-- but so what? Some people use biodiesel, but how likely are you to see someone driving next to you on the freeway with it fueling their engine?

Or, looked at another way, the vast majority of cars sold today run on gasoline. You can get one that runs on an alternative fuel, but when you go to get a new car at a dealership, what do you see? Acres and acres of the same old internal combustion engine-powered cars.

It really is the same thing. People grumble about the price of gas, people grumble about the pain of keeping Windows patched. People go to buy a car at a new car dealership, CarMax, or AutoTrader, and they come out with a gas-powered car. People want a new PC so they go to CompUSA, Direct Buy, or Circuit City and come out with a Vista-powered system. It's just the way it is.

I know that today there's no common job you can't do on a Linux PC. I know that when people say "Linux doesn't have the right application for me" they're wrong 99 percent of the time.

I also know that most desktop Linux users will need to go to a shell to type in commands as often as their Windows-using brothers and sisters will need to manually adjust the registry. And yes, some equipment doesn't have Linux drivers that work very well. On the other hand, have you you tried running Vista with an NVIDIA video card lately?

The difference, the real difference, is that people are used to dealing with Windows problems. They -- sort of -- know that "Windows security" is an oxymoron, and that Vista is a pig of an operating system that won't run on most older systems. But, it's "the devil they know."

Linux may be better, but they don't know Linux. They can't just pick up a phone and buy Linux from a vendor they already know.

That last scenario is about to change, though. By month's end, Dell will be offering consumer PCs with Ubuntu pre-installed.

Dell supporting desktop Linux isn't going to change the world overnight. But, just like Toyota's Prius opened the door for the better hybrid car alternative -- 51 MPG highway, folks -- Dell is opening the door for the better Linux PC alternative.

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