What Makes the OS Platform Attractive?

This entry is meant to continue the discussion started here by Steve on his blog regarding why people aren’t switching to Linux. Please check it out, you might want to digg it even if you have no intention of switching but simply agree that it’s an unreasonable challenge to switch.

The topic is one that can’t easily be covered well enough in one or two short articles, so I’m helping him by extending the conversation to flesh out more details. Please comment if you’d like to continue this discussion on your site, i’ll link to it.

I’m not a Linux advocate, but i’m not a Windows or OSX fanboy either, though my OS of choice shouldn’t be a surprise based on what you’ve seen me discuss here in the past, it’s Windows Vista. Though I talk about aspects of it, you don’t see me constantly praising it or flogging its competition.

I have an interest in the Linux platform, but not enough to get me to do more than load it in VMWare once in a while to poke around and see what the latest fuss is about like the Ubuntu Feisty Fawn release earlier in the year (and during Christmas break i should upgrade to Gutsy Gibbon).

When it comes to the questions of ‘Why wouldn’t you move on to the Linux platform?’, though there are many reasons and excuses, I think most of them fall into one of two buckets:

– “I know enough to make at least a somewhat informed decision and I’m deciding to stay on another OS”

– “I don’t know enough to make a decision so i’ll let someone else decide for me (as in PC OEMs like Dell) or I’ll just default to remaining on what i’m familiar with, it’s a safe bet”

It’s not necessarily the operating system as a whole that generates the oohs and ahhs from the users or that enables them to be productive. Sure there’s going to be some eye candy like a simple UI or a sidebar for gadgets that makes the OS look sexy but that’s generally not enough to get someone to switch OS platforms. Rather, it’s the APIs from that OS and it’s the Applications.

And since probably 99.9+% of the consumers of an OS are not developers that can write their own apps against those APIs, the general population is dependent on the applications they currently own or that are available to them so it’s easy to default to the OS required to continue to run their existing apps.

Here’s an example of something that could probably get people to switch. Since gamers are the forcing function for a lot of innovation and growth in the PC market, imagine if there was a game on par with Unreal Tournament, Sims or MS’ Flight Sim that was only available on Linux; the only way you could deploy and play this game was on a Linux platform. Yeah, a lot of people would be pissed off, the vendor would lose out on potential sales, but you would get more people onto that new OS platform than you had before since it was the only way to get that ‘must have’ game.

This is one (though flawed) method to start gaining market share on the desktop in people’s homes.

What if instead of homes you were targeting small businesses and had a version of Quicken’s business apps that were only available on Linux? Getting it onto the PCs in the business is one way of exposing people to the fact the different OS platform isn’t as scary as they may have imagined, increasing the likelyhood of gaining market share at home as well.

These are basic grassroots efforts to force the experience on a small group and build share over time until the momentum is self sustaining and doesn’t require such forced efforts.

The question I have is: Are there software manufacturers willing to make that long term bet through lost sales in developing the suite of apps or games that are only available on Linux with no comparative app or game on Windows?

There’s much more to discuss here like:

–  is it worth the efforts of Linux developers to try to maintain parity with what they’re seeing in Windows so it’s ‘just like windows, so now you can make the switch less painful’?

– how can Linux differentiate itself so that informed people like myself or most of the readers here would actually consider making the switch?

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I'm an eternal optimist, follow a Buddhist philosophy, geek of many areas, entrepreneur, learning the Chinese language, a die-hard sports fan, love politics and nuclear submarines.

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