I have discussed the difficulties of getting wide adoption for Linux on the desktop in quite a few blog entries (here and here). In short, we have a chicken and the egg problem: there are not enough Linux desktop users for application vendors to justify the port to Linux on the desktop; however, users are not willing to move to desktop Linux until it supports the applications they require. I have also talked about the lack of vendor driver support that would allow users to plug and play with any device they happen to buy at the local electronics store (scanners, printers, digital cameras, MP3 players, etc.) The human tendency to resist change is another factor slowing the growth of the Linux desktop.
Yesterday, a Wall Street Journal reporter, Mark Golden, discussed his experiences with installing and using desktop Linux on his Pentium III Sony Vaio. He tested six distributions: Linspire, Fedora, Suse, Xandros, Mandrake, and Knoppix. His findings are not surprising. Printing, email, surfing the web worked well, but getting sound and graphics cards to work (drivers) along with multi-media applications and iPod / digital camera operations did not work properly. As I have said many times before, until we get the applications and drivers for desktop Linux in good shape with plug and play capability for consumer devices, ordinary users will continue to struggle and ultimately will not use Linux on the desktop.
Golden also struggled with OpenOffice.org due to his use of complicated Microsoft Office documents that could not be properly converted. Most of us, meaning ordinary office workers, can easily convert documents back and forth between Microsoft Office formats and OpenOffice.org formats; however, people using some of the more complex features of either application will find conversion between formats difficult.
The blogosphere has a number of opinions on Mark Golden’s experiences. For example, Scott Granneman of theopensourceweblog thinks that Golden should have tried Kubuntu instead of the six that he originally evaluated, and Ed Caggiani of Life in the Valley thinks that Linux should be used where it performs well: on the back end running servers.
I still think that Linux on the desktop could be a great solution for some people if we can just get over the application, driver, and plug-n-play issues.