Linux Perception Problems


Linux suffers from perceptions of geekiness/elitism/exclusion/non-user-friendliness/weirdness in the minds of non-community-members, whether or not they are justified, and they hurt Linux's acceptance by the average person.

(SteveHowell paraphrasing MikeSmith, from GreatLinuxFeatures)

Outside reading:

"What's Holding Linux Back?" Open questions

Analysis of article

This is a good article. The author is a self-described "rabid enthusiast" and "huge supporter" of the Linux platform. He gives a pretty good blueprint for Linux advocacy.

Unfounded, but reasonable, perceptions

"Suffice it to say that for the majority of non-Linux folks out there, Linux seems kind of reserved for 'geeks' or command-line experts. They think it is a completely fragmented effort, with no real direction and a collection of rag-tag applications slapped onto a CD and mailed out the door. It seems intimidating and difficult to work with. As many of us know, this is not really the case at all. It is just that the Windows users have gotten used to things being a certain way, and the unfamiliarity of Linux can cause a bit of trepidation."

Earlier in the article, the author helps refute the perception that Linux forces ordinary users to do everything from the command line, by touting such products as Midnight Commander, which is a GUI-driven file manager. -- SteveHowell

Lack of a Cohesive Vision and Standards

"Linux is really two distinct entities. The command line kernel and the GUI. The GUI is separate and I think that is where the perception of a rift lies. The Gnome v. KDE wars have been hardcore and I don't think helped the perception of outsiders. To see the two biggest GUI guns blazing away at each other, sniping in the press, it just did not service to the community in terms of promoting adoption of Linux."

I agree with the author here. For now it's nice that you can pick between two GUIs. Hopefully, though, the better GUI will eventually emerge as a de facto standard, so that users don't have to adjust to different desktops when they use different computers. This is not a big issue for the home user, though, since they generally use only one computer. -- SteveHowell

KDE vs. Gnome, other religious(?) issues

Many Linux companies unwisely targeted the desktop market. Perhaps it was emulation of the EvilEmpire? offerings. At any rate, this is a fruitless battle. I purchase StarOffice today and it could be gone tomorrow.

The fact that makers of proprietary software go out of business is a problem that's hardly unique to Linux. It's actually more common on Windows, for sort of obvious reasons. -- SteveHowell

I agree. To be more precise, I was actually thinking more along the lines of the Gnome and KDE efforts where app developers must make what appears to be a religious decision on which UI framework to use. Linux apps going out of style because of shifts in UI library support are just the symptom. -- MichaelLeach

Actually, GTK and QT apps will run happily together under either Gnome or KDE, so I don't see any problems here. Of course, some developers make QT vs. GTK into a religious issue. Just like they make Windows vs. Linux, GUI vs. CLI, Java vs C++, Vi vs. Emacs, C shell vs Bourne shell, Netscape vs. IE and apples vs oranges into religious discussions. If being the subject of a religious discussion invalidates a tool, I'm afraid that not much is left. -- StephanHouben

I fail to see how miring the discussion with other religious issues makes a point. The perception is that that the Linux community needs to resolve their GUI API issues internally and present a unified front if they want to compete in the desktop arena. -- MichaelLeach is an initiative to present such a unified front. Along with improving the base Linux technology with a HardwareAbstractionLayer? and optimized XwindowProtocol, they are standardizing many of the aspects of a friendly, intercooperating desktop, such as DragAndDrop, configuration, and toolkit interfaces.

See also LinuxDesktop

File Managers Discussion

Earlier in the article, the author helps refute the perception that Linux forces ordinary users to do everything from the command line, by touting such products as Midnight Commander, which is a GUI-driven file manager.

Well, it's kinda GUI-driven. From what I could see in the screenshots, it's basically a Linux port of good ol' NortonCommander, which is an old DOS text-mode program. It's certainly not as GUIfied as, say, the Explorer program that ships with modern versions of Windows. Midnight Commander would be a welcome sight for old, battle-scarred DOS-era PC users, but an "average user" who's used to Explorer would still be a little lost. And the experienced average user might be lost trying to browses rpm-files without Midnight Commander: only the look and feel - not functionality - reminds to DOS-era.

Reading further into the article, on the other hand, the "Corel Custom File Manager" looks like a virtual clone of Explorer, that most Windows users would be right at home with. -- MikeSmith

The Gnome version of Midnight Commander is also basically an Explorer clone. I was always partial to File Manager on Windows. It needed some features, like right clicking, but I don't understand why MS had to throw away all the good stuff when they went to Explorer. Split-screen interfaces are incredibly useful for doing file management, which is why Norton Commander was such a popular, useful program. -- SteveHowell

A few problems with Linux

Here's some of my Linux perceptions. Consider this from the perspective of me being an OnsiteCustomer or CIO providing feedback on what I've observed to date. How the Linux team responds to these perceptions could make or break future development contracts:

No - they use standard encryption algorithms such as triple-DES, SSH etc. Actually this is a false barrier - both are secure. But the point Michael's making is about the perception of security among prospective CIOs, etc. Whether such a perception is true or not isn't really the point.

A Linux User's Perception of Linux

Here is how I would try to address the perception problem with potential Linux users. I would first tell them that if they pick Windows for their kernel, then they are also picking Windows for their user interface, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. If they decide to choose Linux instead, then they get to choose their desktop. Gnome and KDE are two popular options. I would warn them that MichaelLeach says that the existence of two popular desktops creates for app developers "what appears to be a religious decision on which UI framework to use." If they ask how that will actually impact their day-to-day Linux use, I will tell them that StephanHouben assures us that GTK and QT apps will run under both desktops. I will also tell the user about my own experiences with Linux:

Agreed about the CLI, I use a KDE desktop and still find myself working in a shell all the time because konquerer and gmc (Gnome Midnight Commander) have no means to accomplish most system administration tasks - they're all console programs. Windows can get away with because all the configuring is done through a GUI - you click on the program, not pass it command-line arguments (although the latter is faster if you know exactly what you're doing).

Finally, I will tell the potential Linux user to ignore common perceptions, which are often outdated or wrong. Instead, I would ask the user to do his own investigation of the facts, talking to folks who have given Linux an honest try and who don't have a proprietary interest in seeing Linux fail. -- SteveHowell

Let me break down my position in simple terms:

Do you need proof of Linux's weakness on the desktop? Track the progress of (LindowsCom) over the next year. I'll cast my prediction here and now and bet that this venture is dead before Christmas 2002. This is not a perception problem. The real world just isn't buying it.

January 2003 and it appears to be still there ... [But not profitable. Giving away the OS to Wal-Mart PCs in hopes people will pay for repackaged FreeWare?? Come on.]

More at and

-- MichaelLeach

I have to say that the best way to get away from LinuxPerceptionProblems is simply to hide it away behind a Web business service. You don't see anybody complaining that Google runs on Linux machines. -- NeilWilson

See OpenSourceAndDocumentation, BadLinuxAdvocacy, HowToDecideIfLinuxIsForYou, LinuxUsability, LinuxHardwareCompatibility

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