Criticism of desktop Linux

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Criticism of desktop Linux
Mint 18 cinnamon.png
Mint is a popular Linux distribution targeted at desktop users.[1]

Criticism of desktop Linux is a history of comment on the perceived shortcomings of the Linux operating system when installed on desktop computers. These criticisms have questioned the plethora of choice, their usefulness as desktop systems and also for multi-media playback and audio development.

While the Linux based Android operating system dominates the smartphone market in many countries,[2][3] and Linux is used on the New York Stock Exchange and most supercomputers,[4] it is used in relatively few desktop and laptop computers.[5]

Viability of Linux as a desktop system[edit]

Linus Torvalds has expressed that he intended the Linux kernel to be used in desktop operating systems.[6][7][8] He argues that Android is widely used because it comes pre-installed on new phones, and that Linux distributions would need to be bundled on new computers to gain market share.

Linux has been criticized for a number of reasons, including lack of user-friendliness[9] and having a steep learning curve,[10] being inadequate for desktop use, lacking support for exotic hardware, having a relatively small games library and lacking native versions of widely used applications.[11]

Some critics do not believe Linux will ever gain a large share in the desktop market. In May 2009 Preston Gralla, contributing editor to, believed that Linux will never be important to desktop/notebook users, even though he felt it was simple and straightforward to use, but that its low usage is indicative of its low importance in the desktop market. [12]

In his essay Luxury of Ignorance: An Open-Source Horror Story, Eric S. Raymond stated that the lack of usability in many open-source and Linux tools is not from lack of manuals but from a lack of thought about the users' experience.[13]

James Donald from the Princeton University analyzed shared library concepts of several operation systems. In his 2003 paper titled Improved Portability of Shared Libraries, he worried about the lack of a Windows Application Compatibility Group equivalent.[14]

Missed opportunities[edit]

Desktop Linux was criticized in late 2010 for having missed its opportunity to become a significant force in desktop computing. PC World Executive Editor Robert Strohmeyer commented that although Linux has exceptional security and stability, as well as great performance and usability, the time for desktop Linux to succeed has been missed.[15] Nick Farrell, writing for TechEye felt that the release of Windows Vista was a missed opportunity to grab significant market share.[16]

Both critics indicated that Linux did not fail on the desktop due to being "too geeky," "too hard to use," or "too obscure". Both had praise for distributions, Strohmeyer saying "the best-known distribution, Ubuntu, has received high marks for usability from every major player in the technology press". Both laid the blame for this failure on the open-source community. Strohmeyer named the "fierce ideology of the open-source community at large"[15] as being responsible, while Farrell stated "The biggest killer of putting penguin software on the desktop was the Linux community. If you think the Apple fanboys are completely barking, they are role models of sanity to the loudmouthed Open Sauce religious loonies who are out there. Like many fundamentalists they are totally inflexible – waving a GNU as if it were handed down by God to Richard Stallman".[16]

The accusation of over-zealous advocacy has been dealt with previously, in 2006 Dominic Humphries stated that the aims of the Linux community are not desktop market-share or popularity, but in Linux being the best operating system that can be made for the community.[17]



The choice of applications that free software development offers has led people to criticize Linux as confusing for new users in the past as well as the large number of choices in Linux desktop operating systems,[18][better source needed] although it has been argued that choice is one of the key strengths of Linux.[19]

Third-party application installation support[edit]

Tony Mobily, editor of Free Software Magazine, identified problems in the server roots of Linux in his article 2009: software installation in GNU/Linux is still broken – and a path to fixing it:

Every GNU/Linux distribution at the moment (including Ubuntu) confuses system software with end user software, whereas they are two very different beasts which should be treated very, very differently.[20]

In August 2014 on the DebConf in Portland also Linus Torvalds voiced his unhappiness with the binary application packaging for the Linux distro ecosystem:

One of the things, none of the distributions have ever done right is application packaging [...] making binaries for linux desktop applications is a major fucking pain in the ass.[21]

Audio development[edit]

The lack of strong API standards for multimedia has been criticised. For example the Adobe Systems development blog penguin.SWF discusses the complicated Linux audio infrastructure in the analysis Welcome to the jungle. The nearly one dozen actively supported systems are called an audio jungle.[22][23] PulseAudio main developer Lennart Poettering stated that it is very difficult for programmers to know which audio API to use for which purpose.[24]

Driver support[edit]

Linux has in the past been criticized for a lack of driver support, however this was largely due to manufacturers not supporting the Linux system.[25] It wasn't until 2004 that ATI started development of Linux drivers.[26] Major adoption of Linux in servers and Android has encouraged driver development for Linux.[citation needed]

Wireless support[edit]

Wireless driver support has been a problem area for Linux. At one time many drivers were missing and users were required to use solutions such as ndiswrapper, which utilizes drivers made for the Windows operating system. Broadcom was particularly criticized for not releasing drivers.[27] This issue was also worked around by extracting proprietary firmware for use on Linux.[28] Broadcom has since released free and open-source drivers for the Linux kernel eliminating the issues for modern Broadcom chipsets.[29]

The problem has been largely fixed in recent years and there are now a fairly large number of drivers, adding support to most wireless cards available today. However, many features are still missing from these drivers, mostly due to manufacturers not providing specifications and documentation, and thus forcing developers to reverse engineer cards.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ DistroWatch (August 2012). "Linux Distributions – Facts and Figures". Archived from the original on 7 October 2011. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  2. ^ "IDC: Smartphone OS Market Share".
  3. ^ "Gartner Says Tablet Sales Continue to Be Slow in 2015". 5 January 2015. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  4. ^ Jorge Ribas (5 Nov 2015). "The kernel of the argument". Washington Post. Fast, flexible and free, Linux is taking over the online world. But there is growing unease about security weaknesses.
  5. ^ "NetMarketShare Desktop Operating System Market Share". Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  6. ^ Q&A session with Linus Torvalds: Why is Linux not competitive on desktop?. 15 June 2012 – via YouTube.
  7. ^ Linus Torvalds Interviewed on Stage at LinuxCon + CloudOpen Europe 2013. Linux Foundation. 23 October 2013 – via YouTube.
  8. ^ Sean Michael Kerner (2014-08-20). "Linux Founder Linus Torvalds 'Still Wants the Desktop'".
  9. ^ Betz, Joseph (2006-06-19). "An email to Eric Raymond, regarding my adventures in LiveCD Linux -or- Why Bill Gates is Still Rich". Archived from the original on 2010-08-03. Retrieved 2010-07-01.
  10. ^ Sharon Machlis (22 March 2007). "Living (and dying) with Linux in the workplace – A brief foray into Linux for the enterprise". Computerworld. Retrieved 2007-04-15.
  11. ^ Andy McCue (9 September 2005). "Gartner sounds desktop Linux warning". Retrieved 2007-04-15.
  12. ^ Gralla, Preston (May 2009). "Opinion: Why you shouldn't care about Linux on the desktop". Archived from the original on 2009-05-21. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
  13. ^ Raymond, Eric S. (2006-04-11). "Luxury of Ignorance: An Open-Source Horror Story". Retrieved 2010-07-01.
  14. ^ Donald, James (25 January 2003). "Improved Portability of Shared Libraries" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
  15. ^ a b Strohmeyer, Robert (October 2010). "Desktop Linux: The Dream Is Dead". PC World. Retrieved 12 November 2010.
  16. ^ a b Farrell, Nick (October 2010). "Linux's chance has gone: Desktop dream deader than a Norwegian Blue". Tech Eye. Archived from the original on 22 December 2013. Retrieved 12 November 2010. There was an opportunity for it to happen. Canonical had got its Ubuntu Operating System up to speed and Redmond was still shipping its piss poor Vista Operating System. Even Apple's Leopard was nothing to write home about. But it didn't happen and now it is unlikely to do so. While Linux will rule supreme on the server it will never make it to the desktop.
  17. ^ Humphries, Dominic (December 2005). "Linux is Not Windows". Retrieved 12 November 2010.
  18. ^ Woodward, Matt (4 April 2003). "Free Software: Some choice = good; too much choice = bad". ars technica. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  19. ^ Martin, Caitlyn (4 September 2010). "Are You Intimidated By Breakfast Cereal?". Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  20. ^ Mobily, Tony (2009-06-23). "2009: software installation in GNU/Linux is still broken -- and a path to fixing it". Archived from the original on 2009-06-26. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
  21. ^ Daniel Gillmore, Ana Guerrerero López (2014-08-29). "Q&A with Linus Torvalds" (video). DebConf 2014 Portland. Retrieved 2014-09-04. 6:00: One of the things, none of the distributions have ever done right is application packaging [...] making binaries for linux desktop applications is a major fucking pain in the assCS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  22. ^ "Welcome To The Jungle". 2007-05-11. Archived from the original on 2010-06-19. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  23. ^ "State of sound in Linux not so sorry after all". 2009-06-18.
  24. ^ Poettering, Lennart (2008-09-24). "A Guide Through The Linux Sound API Jungle". Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  25. ^ "Gigabyte response to ACPI problem under Linux: Use windows, we do not support Linux".
  26. ^ Larabel, Michael (2006-06-01). "Preface". Phoronix. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  27. ^ Proffitt, Brian (2010-10-08). "What Do Broadcom Drivers Mean for Linux Uptake?". Enterprise Networking Planet. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  28. ^ Conneally [sic], Tim (2010-09-09). "Broadcom throws Linux a bone, open sources Wi-Fi drivers". betanews. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  29. ^ Ptasinski, Henry (2010-09-09). "Full-source Broadcom wireless driver for 11n chips". Archived from the original on 2013-09-02. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  30. ^ "List of drivers on".