Why Ubuntu isn’t mainstream yet

I’ve been using Fedora for about 8-9 months at work and have recently moved from XP to Ubuntu on my home machine as well. My reason was that to check out something new (and free) before I decide to dish out cash for Vista and a system upgrade (although I’d prefer to buy a Vista Ready laptop and keep my desktop as it is). I’d heard a lot of good things about Ubuntu and wanted to give Linux a second chance (after nightmares at work with Fedora Core 3).

Regardless of the hype and how great a job Canonical and the Ubuntu community are doing, I don’t see Ubuntu replacing too many Windows machines just yet.

Here’s why.

  1. The ubiquitous terminal. There’s a reason why GUI’s have taken over. There’s a reason why MS DOS could never do what MS Windows 3.x did for Microsoft. People don’t like command prompts. People don’t like computer commands. Terminals scare the mainstream user away. As long as Ubuntu will require me to open up the terminal to install new software or configure hardware, it’s not going anywhere near most computer users. Even people with technical backgrounds prefer to have a 1 click installation rather than typing in commands to install stuff. Atleast I do. Although Ubuntu’s Update Manager and third party applications like Automatix and Easy Ubuntu make it really easy to install commonly needed software (codecs, media players, browser plugins), it gets slightly difficult if you want to install something by yourself. (My suggestion: Keep the terminal for advanced users, provide a GUI which performs similar tasks for dumb .. err … home users.)
  2. Games, or lack thereof. It’s kind of like the chicken and egg problem. Game manufacturers don’t prefer making games compatible for Linux because gamers don’t use Linux. Gamers don’t prefer Linux because there aren’t many games on Linux. Wine isn’t exactly known for allowing Linux users to play Windows games. Unless the Linux community can make it really easy for people to play Windows games on their Linux boxes, I don’t see Ubuntu getting any help in the gaming department. And I don’t see that getting any easier especially with Vista Only Games (Crysis, do I even need to provide a list now?) coming up. (My suggestion: Working on games virtualization hasn’t helped. Games manufacturers need to be persuaded to keep Linux in the compatibility loop.)
  3. The Microsoft Factor. Sadly, it’s any implied requirement for non-Microsoft systems to either have Microsoft software work on them or have their own replacements compatible with Microsoft’s products. Take MS Office on the Mac for instance. Although Open Office on Ubuntu does a good job of allowing the user to open, view and edit their MS Office docs and spreadsheets, it has a lot of ground to cover. Yes having a Windows virtual machine and editing your Word documents there would solve your problem but that’s not what a mainstream user would want to do. (My suggestion: Polishing up features and compatibility of MS alternatives is the way to go.)
  4. The Other Microsoft Factor. With 90+% of the world’s homes and businesses using Microsoft’s operating system, it’s an uphill battle for Ubuntu to get a respectable chunk of this market. Ubuntu in its current state is more likely to be accepted and used widely by the developer community than the mainstream user simply because people won’t replace something if its not broken. Windows works perfectly for the average home user. Every printer scanner and digital-camera (hardware’s tom dick and harry) works with Windows. Why try something different? The only reason I see people going for Ubuntu instead of Vista is cost. Cost of upgrading to a ‘Vista Ready’ machine. And cost of Vista itself. These two can burn a serious hole in your pocket. Ubuntu is free. Heck they’ll even send you the CD at your doorstep. (My suggestion: good luck!)
  5. Configuration for Dummies. The rule of thumb in Linux is that if it doesn’t work, you haven’t configured it properly. While I was writing this post, my brother wanted to me to burn a data CD in the background. I had used Automatix to install GnomeBaker, touted as the best CD burning tool for Ubuntu. Turns out it won’t burn the disk. Gives a configuration error. This highlights another important issue with the Ubuntu environment (although I believe it’s tons better than other Linux distros in this regard), the amount of configuration work that a user has to do to get something to run. You have to do that in Linux a little too much for my liking. The difference between the configuration in Linux and Windows is that in Linux you have to configure something to get it to run, in Windows you have to configure something to make it run a little differently. Big difference. User’s shouldn’t be expected to perform engineering tasks to run a setup file that they downloaded, just like they shouldn’t be expected to change the engine oil of a car they just bought, so that it’ll run. (My suggestion: Do for all Linux applications what Ubuntu has done with their synaptic packaging. Automatic download, install, update.)

What do you think Ubuntu needs to do to put a dent in Windows’ market share?


28 thoughts on “Why Ubuntu isn’t mainstream yet

  1. Mocib says:

    Crysis isn’t Vista only, though. It’s for WinXP (DX9) and Vista (DX9/DX10).

  2. Jaffer says:

    Just checked, and it seems that it’s a recent change. Although I’m not too sure how a game built for DX10 would run on DX9 since DX10 is Vista only.

    Thanks for the correction.

  3. Mocib says:

    Well, it really isn’t a “recent change”, since Crytek has said in interviews that they started developing the game on DX9. You can also check out the CryENGINE 2 page: http://www.crytek.com/technology/index.php?sx=eng2

    Crysis has always been DX9/DX10. But, you know how the web has a habit of effectively spreading the sensationalistic stuff (e.g. Crysis = DX10/Vista only) which often turns out to be false.

  4. Marion says:

    Great article (I like the way you wrote it)! So, what are you trying to say here? That (I hope no one will get offended here) people should be stupid? Let’s be serious for a minute here, I am in this business (IT) for about 7-8 years and I know Windows is the most used OS (hell… I’ve used it for 6 years) and I have installed/configured a lot (too many) PCs, so I know how users think…

    Here is a real life example:

    I presented a graphical application to my Windows colleagues (Gimp), free and much better that what they’ve used. They all started with lines like “it sucks man”, “what the hell is that (talking about how it looks)” or “when I saw so many windows when it starts, I got scared, and I’ve closed it” … but I had faith and I started to show then (the things that they need most from the application) how easy things are done with it.

    Let me tell you (maybe some will not believe it) after 1 week, they love it man (Ha Ha Ha). They tell me it’s so great, and that it can do things that the other app they’ve used could not do.

    And I can give you even more examples like this one.

    So the problem here is that people are afraid about what they don’t know! You are right about some configuration stuff, it’s true… but that’s Linux and was made for servers first and now they are trying the best they can to conquer the desktop. I suggest some (more) learning tutorials and real-time examples/demonstrations of the Linux desktop usage. This way people will learn about them, and they will decide if it will fulfill their needs or not.

  5. Ikkeigjen says:


    Ad 1:
    Have you tried Kubuntu(with KDE)? I did some whining when I first tried Ubuntu after coming from Windows. But I stopped after trying KDE, witch has a lot more GUI.

    Ad 2:
    Agree! ID software are coming with native games for Linux, as these(not released yet):

    I saw a post on dig yesterday showing of the DirectX graphic; and I think this will be a deal breaker for all gamers out there, and I am sorry for that.

    Ad 3:
    Open Office is more then good enough for 99% of the user of ms Office. ODF will make it even better. There is also other free software, like koffice.

    Ad 4:
    I don’t agree that “Windows works perfectly for the average home user”; if you add all the viruses, spyware, need for defragmenting, registry cleaning and so on the avarage user will do better with Linux. But yes, driver support for a lot of hardware is missing. But as we get more users that will change; lets hope we get more!

    Ad 5:
    “User’s shouldn’t be expected to perform engineering tasks to run a setup file that they downloaded”; I guess you are talking about hardware here(?), then I agree. When it comes to software – it couldn’t be more easily in 95% of the time(Synaptic). And the new click and run from Freespire will make Ubunut even better.
    And btw; k3b is the “best CD burning tool”, you can find it in Synaptic.

    My list:
    1. Marketing(=lack)
    2. Hardware support(wireless, USB, phones, and others…)
    3. Games, and some programs as PhotoShop(and Gimp can not replace it)
    4. Some setup work(when it don’t work out of the box”).

  6. Jaffer says:

    Ha! My experience with Gimp was similar. When I had to do graphical stuff at work I opened up Gimp for the first time and it scared me to death. I would prefer rebooting my machine in Windows, doing the graphics in Photoshop and then rebooting back in Fedora! But gradually I started using Gimp and now I’m really comfortable with it.
    What I’m trying to say is something similar, even though Ubuntu/Linux has a decent UI, it’s DIFFERENT from Windows. It’s different in the way it handles drives, it’s different in it’s UI elements etc. That comes in the way of people actually embracing it over Windows. When people see a new UI, it scares them away, it scared your colleagues, it scared me, it’s only natural.
    You’re right in that Linux was made for servers first and has that inherent element of configurability in it. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that for mainstream users to embrace Ubuntu, they need to let go of it, or hide it, so that user’s aren’t easily scared away. Case in point, Synaptic Package updating, I think it’s awesome in how it updates & installs stuff with zero input from the user. I love it.
    About your suggestion about more tutorials, I think Ubuntu have done a fine job of ‘brining Linux to Humanity’ by making people at least interested in Linux. Most of the Ubuntu/Linux documentation online however is still targeted towards techies and people who know what they’re doing when they do ‘chmod c+h …’. (Hear that screaming? That’s the mainstream user running away again) Ubuntu are doing tons for the techie user, they just need to step up marketing for the normal user, gloss over their server oriented history, make friends with the gaming industry and their worth a gzillion dollars.
    Thanks for your comment Marion and glad to hear you liked my rant! ^_^

  7. […] Why Ubuntu isn’t mainstream yet […]

  8. Jaffer says:

    Great points Ikkeigjen, and yes I’ve heard good things about KDE. Was thinking of waiting for Feisty Fawn and see how the UI looks in Ubuntu. I might switch to KDE then…
    You’re right about DX10. It’s simply awesome. And it has hardware support. OpenGL is lagging behind. Badly. Unless that is fixed, Windows gaming will be in a completely different generation than Linux gaming.
    You’re right about the viruses and spyware issue, but still it’s more of a let down for users if they have to go through hell to make their shiny new hardware to work with Linux. Ubuntu IMO have done a great job with hardware compatibility. Lets hope they keep it up.
    About “User’s shouldn’t be expected to perform engineering tasks to run a setup file that they downloaded”, let me share my experience of installing Aptana (really cool Web IDE, http://www.aptana.com) on Ubuntu a few days back. I download the setup.bin file and have absolutely no idea what to do. Hoping that I won’t need to use the terminal I try double clicking it, but nothing happens. Going online and reading the installation guide for Linux, I find 2-3 commands that I have to run and 1 additional package I have to apt-get and install BEFORE I can even start the setup. Ever notice how there’s always installation instructions for a software for Linux and rarely for Windows or Mac? That’s my point. Installations should be easier for Linux. If the software I need is not in the Synaptic package manager (which I think owns all!), then I’m stuck with the setup file and Mr. Terminal. That needs to change.
    You’re right about more need to make Ubuntu work out of the box. I guess that’ll improve with more hardware support. I’m already impressed with the Ubuntu setup, it was really easy and fast. Yes they need to work on marketing as well. Photoshop on Ubuntu would be awesome.
    Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll give k3b a shot. Gnome Baker is so uninstalled.

  9. Caesium says:

    I agree with what you read.

    Item 1. , unfortunately, you had chosen the distro that has the best PR, not the best ease of use on default install.

    Item 2-4 , you’ve got to start somewhere. Its like a chicken and egg problem 🙂 Starting schools with Linux should be feasible.

    Item 5 , sad but true. BUT I’ve come across a distro called PCLinuxOS that basically does most, if not all configuration nicely. Though I’ve move on to other distro for other reasons.

  10. Zelator says:

    I find KDE generally better than GNOME. I have been running Kubuntu 6.06 for some time now and it does all I need. I don’t go games or multimedia which helps. Anyone thinking of trying Ubuntu/Kubuntu should check the install manual first, as they have or had a nasty trick of not letting you control where GRUB goes – for that you need the “alternate” CD.
    K(U)buntu has its downsides, such as changing the default dictionary in Open Office is a hatchet job – not for the “ordinary user”, but overall I rate it higher than XP, which I have to maintain for my wife. But then I was a mainframe programmer for over twenty years and not much scares me. So I have to agree that Linux is not quite ready for the “mug” market. But it is so close Microsoft’s plans to diversify must be well advanced.

  11. hogo says:

    I agree with most of your points, except the one about the terminal. I think the terminal and the GUI are not two opposite things. You need both, and you need both to be good at what they do. The console in XP is not adequate I’m afraid, but I’ve heard that Microsoft put some effort into making the console better in Vista. That shows that the terminal is not on it’s way out just yet.

  12. sam says:

    The command line is needed less and less.

    Unfortunately for new users the people who help in the forums tend to answer questions with command line methods, rather then show how to do things in the GUI.

    Feisty (the version of ubuntu to be releases in april) will have automatic installation of codecs (if you try to play an mp3 it will give you the option to download the codec).

    It should also have a simple tool for setting up closed source drivers.

    There will probably always be a few things that need the command line to do (and there will always be people who prefer to type things), but most users should see it less and less.

  13. Jaffer says:

    hogo, I’m not saying that you don’t need the command line or it shouldn’t be there. I think the command line’s the best thing in Linux. I’m just saying that a normal home user shouldn’t need to use the command line to do simple things like setup their digital camera, sound system etc.

  14. saad says:

    even though im not a technology man. it was a very interesting read and not only did i manage to read an article on technologies without falling asleep, surprisingly it was very informative and i actually understood it aswell.

    Bravo for writing an insightful and informative article and keeping this caveman awake through it as well. hats off to you man!

  15. MizMarie says:

    I am one of those who screams if I have to click on “Run” in window, or have had to use the command prompt. I really don’t know how to use it unless I have a step by step instruction sheet readily available or my teckie son on the land line.

    Having said that, I have been using Edgy for a couple of weeks. I have to do at least one restart a day- mostly for either a total freeze of everything or what I call the multicolor screen of death (which I can’t find any reference to when I do a google search)

    I know most of my friends and the people I work with would have been pulling their hair out and would demand to be taken back to the windows world (as they struggle with basic MS products now, that in many cases are more intuitive but not necessarily better)

    I will hang it with it as I am a vary basic teckie and took this on as a challenge to learn something new- but I don’t see this OS making it in everyday use for the average computer user any time soon.

  16. Jaffer says:

    MizMarie, I’m amazed to hear you’ve stuck with Edgy if you’re afraid to click ‘Run’ in Windows. Great job! =D
    Feisty is coming later this month, I believe on the 19th, which is primarily geared at making the UI experience tons better. Can’t wait for it. You should upgrade as soon as it’s out.
    Yes I don’t see Ubuntu being used by the average user any time soon, but give it time, it’s a Windows Killer in the making. :}

  17. danny says:

    I’m a Linux engineer and everyday I try my best to promote Linux to the non-users. Somehow people fear what the don’t understand or think they would not understand and decide to stay away.

    I show them XGL, BERYL and many other cool stuff and they go WOW!!! but then when I offer to install it for them they rather stick with Windows… SIGH….

  18. Federico says:

    While I agree with most of your arguments, I also think that Ubuntu is already very user-friendly. Windows OSs have made average PC users really dumb. Now, if you want a Windows-like Linux, that’s perhaps OK for the marketing… but it will destroy one of Linux main advantages: that of educating people on how to perform simple computer operations, to know the hardware and the software, etc.

    I am no geek at all, yet I’ve been using Debian and Slackware for years. That has been a luck!

    Keep on the good posting!

  19. Zexy says:

    Point #1 in the article has hit the nail squarely on the head. As long as the terminal remains the interface between the user and his computer, you will never make a noticeable dent in swaying “Windows” users over to Ubuntu, let alone linux. All the arguments that the terminal is “so much more powerful” doesn’t matter to Windows users. All they know is point & click and that’s all they want to know. Entering archaic typed commands is a foreign concept to most of them. Most would probably say “Huh? What’s that?” if you told them about DOS.

  20. Alex says:

    Older people who have struggled to learn windows aren’t going to consider Ubuntu. Ubuntu in schools would be good, and Dell is making good steps with being pre-installed. (Very) Young people who are just getting into windows would find linux more … intuitive

  21. Jaffer says:

    That is true Alex, since one of the main hurdles for Ubuntu and Linux in general is that it is different from Windows. Like danny said, even if people like what they see in Ubuntu, they’ll still prefer to stick with Windows since they already know how to use it.

  22. Paul Citro says:

    I teach basic computer literacy classes to the public. The average person needs to be able to use a computer today. It is a necessity.
    New computer users are so innocent. They have NO IDEA of the complexities and problems that come with owning and using a personal computer. And I so very much hate “throwing them to wolves” of Microsoft and company. I would love to be able to recommend Ubuntu. I installed it on my own computer in a few minutes. But then it came to installing the printer, scanner and modem. All of a sudden I need to be an engineer. I’m working on it but I still haven’t figured it out. My poor students. I can’t hand this to them. God, I wish that I could.

  23. Cohen says:


    Educating yourself about computers and software programs represents

  24. Sceptic says:

    It needs to be able to emulate all games which is Windows, because most people first use a computer when they are young in which games are ussually the deciding factor if they could play all games they want they would be more familiar with Linux and thus might have them stay with it (you can do everything on win even if it suck on win that you can do on Linux, but the other way around is the deciding factor of it’s succes)

  25. George says:

    If Ubuntu could make a deal with some MMORPG Company so that it would run their game then Ubuntu would be in.


  26. […] have been no gain in productivity whatsoever. So until Linux really becomes super awesome, gets mainstream recognition and gives me a long list of compelling reasons to switch, I’m sticking with good old […]

  27. Stephen says:

    Why do people want Linux to become mainstream anyway? It’s not like Linux Torvalds ever intended it to become a Windows replacement.

  28. pc gaming says:

    After I originally commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is a means you can remove me from that service? Cheers!

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