The abject failure of Linux on the desktop

I remember back in the 80s hearing how UNIX on the desktop was the future but I didn’t understand what it meant until the late 90s when I first started dabbling in Linux. By the end of the 20th century, I was running SuSE Linux with KDE on X and I thought this really had a future once they’d ironed out the parts only a geek could love. Then I got MacOSX Public Beta and the rest is history.

Mac OS X Public Beta

The eventual death of Linux on the desktop

Back then, before MacOSX 10.0 was released, there was much discussion as to whether or not Apple would release it with Terminal.app as part of the standard install. This scared me as I had transitioned my career to being a Sysadmin and I knew I needed a command line to manage remote servers and run local shell stuff. Looking back, this was the moment that Linux was doomed as a Desktop OS. Never would a distro get to the point that serious consideration was given to simply not shipping a terminal.

Linux is the best choice of OS for servers, hands down, and I’ve built a career installing, maintaining and managing these servers. However, on the desktop, it’s a fractured mess. The GUI is … let me rephrase, the GUIs are all hacks on top of patches on top of cludges. I remember hours of hacking XF86Config just to add a bloody mouse, so I seriously hope the X.org system works better. I know a lot of work is being put into making it easier, but almost every install story I hear involves command-line hackery of one kind or another.

In this respect, I have been shouting this claim for years, and think it may be too late. Still, here is my challenge to the Linux Communities if they want Linux to ever succeed on the desktop:

Linux will only ever succeed as a Desktop Operating System if it can ship without a terminal.

I’m not saying that it shouldn’t have a terminal, but that it could ship without one. Until that happens, it’s always going to be a geek’s toy.

Jared Earle is a writer, photographer and systems administrator. You can find him on Twitter most of the time.

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  • http://tw3.it TronGuy

    I wholeheartedly concur.

    OSX is everything Linux on the desktop dreams of being.

    And as long as Linux keeps up with its inexplicably inconsistent GUI behaviour and you need a black belt in bashfu to get the thing working at all, a dream is all it can be.

    Don’t get me wrong though, I love my 64bit Linux desktop. I just remember getting it to work.

  • http://www.poorlyrendered.com Scott Earle

    This is exactly what I was saying in my post on Linux for consumers : http://www.poorlyrendered.com/2010/04/linux-for-consumers/

    Linux (and I use the term generically, because I do know about the factions – Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea, to name but two) is a good operating system for people who like operating systems, but your average user would be better off with OS X or even an iPad.

  • http://www.tronguy.net/TRONcostume/ TronGuy

    It must be like a phase or something.

    Here’s mine:

    http://www.poorlyrendered.com/2010/08/linux-on-your-desktop/

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  • http://andypiper.co.uk Andy Piper

    I’m a power user and I will always want a terminal on my Mac, my Thinkpad running Ubuntu, and any Windows devices that enter the edges of my consciousness (mostly family PCs I support).

    However – the impression that you “need” a terminal in, for example, Ubuntu 10.x is nuts, for the majority of users who just want to surf the web, run productivity apps etc I don’t see this any more. On an average PC hardware laptop, I reckon that it mostly “just works”, at least to the extent that my mother’s new Dell laptop with Win 7 pre-installed “just worked”. I’m calling shenanigans, sorry.

    • http://www.23x.net Jared Earle

      Laptop, laptop, laptop. Linux on the Desktop is not about laptops, servers, phones or tablets. I’m sorry if I gave that impression.

  • http://www.bynkii.com/ John C. Welch

    Ooooh, shenanigans. On a sample size of one.

    Clearly, you can delete the terminal out of Ubuntu, and never, ever need it again. Because one guy called shenanigans.

  • http://twitter.com/SFromley SFromley

    I’ll see your shenanigans and raise you one Shannon-igan.

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