Linux in the Mainstream. What Will it Take?

Written by Stefan Kwiecinski

If you Google “Why Linux is Better Than Windows,” you’ll be able to go 20 pages deep and still find articles from tech blogs and news sites alike proclaiming reasons for Linux’s superiority.

While most of these articles are just rehashing the same points, they are valid points nevertheless. And with all this ruckus over Linux, it begs the question: if Linux is so much better, why is it not competing for users at the same level that Windows is?

The Problem

2016 Linux Desktop Operating System Market Share

Linux lays claim to only 2% of the desktop operating system market. Meanwhile, Windows holds 88% of the market. 

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We know why this is the case. Microsoft had the first mover advantage, with MS-DOS solidifying Microsoft’s hold in the personal computing market a decade before Linux even came into existence.

Once Linux had managed to mature into having intuitive and usable distros, it was too late. People haven’t been and still aren’t switching over. And why should they? Windows comes preinstalled on most computers and works right out of the box.

Some claim that the solution is simple; a distro needs to be offered preinstalled on computers from big name computer manufacturers like Dell, HP, ASUS, etc. The logic is that by showcasing the many advantages of Linux over Windows, (like in the aforementioned articles) people will make the logical decision to switch over.

In reality, when users are presented with this choice, they most always stick with Windows. Why? To put in the words of a 2016 BrandKeys report, “rational attributes have become price-of-entry “givens” for today’s consumers.”

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In other words, it doesn’t matter how much people proclaim the superior features of Linux — the reality is that to the average consumer, Windows and Linux accomplish the same tasks and there is no reason to switch away from what they already know.

The Solution

There is however, another way for Linux to successfully compete with Windows. Referring to the same BrandKeys report, Robert Passikoff, the President of BrandKeys states;

“If a marketer can increase a brand’s engagement level – particularly the emotional values – they’ll always see positive consumer behavior in the marketplace. Always. Axiomatically, brands that can do that always earn greater market share and are always more profitable than the competition.”

In order for Linux to succeed at a consumer level, Linux would have to do more than just appeal to consumers with utilitarian value. This is already expected from consumers. It would require consumers holding a higher brand value for Linux over Windows.

And by brand value, we aren’t talking about nice logos, product design/experience, or even what a company says about themselves. By brand value, we are talking about a company’s values and how they act upon those values and in effect, how consumers view said company.

To give an example, we can look at the wildly successful car manufacturer Tesla Motors. Tesla’s Model S is the world’s best selling electric car, despite being 2-4 times more expensive than the next 10 best selling electric cars.

This is possible because consumer’s aren’t buying into just the product itself, they are buying into Tesla’s values and how Tesla acts upon them — their values being that of creating a sustainable future for generations to come.

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And while the next 10 best selling cars I mentioned are sold by companies who promote the same values for their electric cars, they fail to truly act upon those values by continuing to sell gasoline powered vehicles as well.

As a result they fail to form the emotional connection with costumers. Tesla’s values of a brighter future are only further solidified by the company’s close association with other forward thinking companies like SpaceX and SolarCity.

For Linux to experience success in the consumer market, a new computer manufacturer would have rise up and either adopt or create their own Linux distribution. One comparable to Windows in utilitarian value. That’s the easy part because distros like that already exist.

After that, they must create and act upon a stronger brand than that of which Microsoft promotes. A brand that has users emotionally invested in the company and its values. This emotional connection is why it must be a new computer manufacturer and not an existing one.

Much like the less successful electric car manufacturers in the Tesla situation, you can’t truly be acting upon your brand values if you are simultaneously promoting another, separate brand value.

Linux has tried far to long to market itself as the logical upgrade from Windows. This method is no longer feasible. We now live in a world where the combination of higher expectations from consumers and their empowerment through social media/the internet has caused a radical shift in how many buy into and stick with brands. Usability has become a given. Emotion is now the key to costumer loyalty.

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About the author

Stefan Kwiecinski

Stefan is the lead brand developer at Black Bolt Digital and heads up the team behind the Arch Linux based distribution VeltOS. In his spare time he writes about FOSS and its intersections with markets and business.

  • wogster

    That’s only if you consider the desktop, however that’s not the only type of computer, there is an Android phone, well Android is Linux, have a Blu-ray player, well a lot of those run Linux, lots of DSL and Cable modems are actually computers, and some of those run Linux, some of the TV set-top boxes run Linux.
    There are a lot of servers that run Linux, not all of those are connected to the Internet. It replaced a lot of Netware boxes, so if you include all computers, rather then just the desktop, then Windows penetration is much lower then if you only include desktops.

    • purplelibraryguy

      You talk like this is brand new infornation, but it’s not. I’m sure the article author would stipulate all that; it is off topic. What’s under discussion here is the desktop.

  • Innocent Bystander

    Good arguments but where it falls apart is that in order to form an emotional connection to a brand, the underlying product has to be inherently desirable. That ship has sailed for desktops and laptops.

    Mobile is where the “cool” is at these days. Laptops and desktops (for the mainstream) are where reports get written and resumes get updated. There is a small minority of enthusiasts and gamers but it’s not nearly enough to affect the balance of power.

    • purplelibraryguy

      You have a point. This suggests that whatever product it was would have to be geared to what business decision-makers would be emotionally attached to, rather than what home consumers would go for. Home consumers of desktops would ultimately tend to buy whatever they use at work . . .

      And I do mean what business people would be emotionally attached to, not what would make the most functional sense for them to buy. Business people are no more rational than any other consumer really, they just spend more time making rational-sounding excuses for buying what they want. For some, it’s personal prejudice or experience that guides them, for many it’s the business world equivalent of fashion–“Everyone’s doing cloud, so we’ll get a cloud solution; can’t be behind the times!”

  • Jim Paquette

    The reason Linux does not hit main stream is that there are too many distros. No standardization. You can not go to Walmart and buy! Linux still has the geek stigma attached to it.

    • purplelibraryguy

      Nonsense. At the mass consumer level needed to rack up some percentages, most people haven’t even heard of Linux, much less have a serious image of it that would need to be overcome. And much as for a while many people had never heard of “Linux” but had some notion what “Ubuntu” was (or, lately, “ChromeOS”), if some outfit were to start getting major sales success people would soon learn the name of the distro involved–again, without necessarily having any idea that it was “Linux”.

      • Jim Paquette

        That is crap, most people have herd of Linux they just don’t know what it is all about. There is no corporate branding and advertising. Which is what you need to appeal to the average person. People think Linux is for geeks.

        • Mike Bluett

          Jim: You are absolutely correct. And there is another problem: drivers. The hardware vendors do not tend to spend a lot of effort providing full capability drivers. I hear this frequently and have experienced it myself. This would probably change if more people were using some form of Linux for their desktops.

          Many cellphones and tablets use Linux and are very stable, but the users have no idea they are using Linux. They may know they are using Android but have no idea it is a Linux distro.

          Also there are many broken and/or poorly designed apps. There is a lot of work to be done to get things inline for the general public.

  • Jordyn Carattini

    Thats the reason why it’s good. choice, if I want void Linux then I’ll use it. or if I want arch, I just use it.

  • Md Adil

    Linux is good, Destros are also good, but I am not happy with DE (desktop environments), it has still lot of bugs.

  • Gerhard

    A problem is: Many people use Windows, but are far from being able to handle it, so switching to a different OS, which is harder to use…forget it. Although it is not easy to phone Seattle to get help, Linux Support is in a Forum or the irc. Many people have not heard of neither. You have to find a distro with a non noob hostile community. And the support Language is mostly english. What if one is not able to speak a english ? + Computer support is tech english.
    One possibility to sell Linux is to say, if you don´t experiment too much, you can use it just so, or putting it on an old PC and try and maybe migrate. And to point out that many applications are the same. Winamp – audacious, FF etc.

  • Gerhard

    Pick a printer. You have to go to the site, pick your model and your OS and get the right packages. In my case it was 3. And with that, it was not done. I had to a line in a config file, and had to switch another thing. that is way too much for a normal user.