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. 


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.”

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.

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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.

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.

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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.


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.