Open Ballot: what is the biggest threat to the future of Linux?


For our next podcast, we'd like to know what you think is the biggest threat to the future of Linux. We'll discuss the results, along with our own ideas, in our next episode, available on Thursday. Please leave some sort of name alongside your thoughts so that we don't end up reading out 20 comments from Anonymous Penguin!

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Your comments

Foaming at the mouth FOSS folks

I'm a big proponent of open source software, obviously, but there is a distinct crowd out there that, for lack of a better term, begins to foam at the mouth at the sight or mention of proprietary software. They willingly sacrifice desktop functionality that potential Linux users would expect to be present (media codecs, for example) in favor of free, but less complete, alternatives.

Free Software Fanaticism

While Linux is based on free software, and it will always play a big part in its future, we cannot allow people who say we mustn't use Flash or VMWare to become too vocal. The future of Linux depends on attracting new users (especially end-users) and people who treat proprietary software as a bug will only succeed in driving some end users away.


I think the biggest threat is the division of the community. Not only Linux's community but the FOSS community.

Example: Richard Stallman vs Miguel de Icaza on the Mono Issue.

I ate it when the people that "love" freedom want to impose their ideas onto others.

The idiots that say Microsoft is not one of the biggest threats.

The second biggest threat of all being Microsoft itself.
Since the Altair, MS has held a significant piece of the desktop/microcomputer marker. Once they hit 90% it never fell
below 90% ever. That's close to twenty years and not only the entire lifetime of the microcomputer, but past the transition from microcomputer to desktop.

Gate and Balmer still have a controlling share. That means that they get final say on everything Microsoft does, and those people in MS who say let's give FOSS a chance are out on their ass the minute Gates and Balmer decided to play hardball.

But the thing to remember is that the people that fared the worst against MS were the people dealing with MS. Logitech was entering into a deal with MS which gave MS access to their trade secrets, just before they started their own keyboard division. Excel and Word were first created for Mac in an Apple/Microsoft deal. OS/2 was created ina joint MS/IBM deal before Windows and NT. I think that is enough to get the basic idea. It's the "embrace" part of "embrace,extend,extinquish".

So the biggest threat to linux are the idiots who insist that the linux community should prostrate itself in front of the MS juggernaut ( and I suggest that you look up the history of juggernaut ) to let it roll over them.

In the Cold War days the Politburo used to call these people useful idiots.

I have been using Linux for

I have been using Linux for years and am a huge advocate to everyone that will (and won't) listen. I find that the biggest threat to Linux is non-techie fear. There is a perception that Linux is difficult and that one cannot run the software that they want if they switch to Linux. So, people will not even try running Linux. I also think that a lot of non-techie people do not trust Open Source because they do not understand the concept. Microsoft and Mac spend millions of dollars to ensure that non-techies conform to their wishes.

End-users are not programmers.

The biggest threat to linux future is the fanatism of some community members. They just don´t realize that end users don´t care for what they think about free and proprietary licences. End users just want to use computers to make their lives easier. End user are not programmers and don´t want to be programmers and don´t want to write a single line of code.

I would agree

I would agree with most comments. We need to keep splits out and yet each other use and linux in general. Right now we don't have any good open graphics drivers. More distros NEED to include proprietary software for an OUT OF THE BOX experience. People who want a free desktop CAN HAVE A FREE DESKTOP. The kernel will always be free (as in open) and software will continue to develop. We need to have a universal file format for all major distros .deb .rpm or some tarball format I don't care just something more universal or have every distro be able to use rpms and debs as well as their format. The end user wants to click on a file and for it to install OR use an 'app store' type thing but we also need a standerd here not 50 guis for package managers on every distro. We need to put more money into advertiseing the free and open aspects and saying 'There is an alternative to windows or OSX. it's like politics, we have labour (ms) conservitive (MAC) and lib dems (linux) THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE. The biggest threat is that we fail to do these things which results in (to the end user) a computer that doesn't work well. When the user goes to youtube he/she expects to be able to play videos not INSTALL FLASH. CANNOT FIND RIGHT PLUGIN. *google flash ubuntu/whatever distro* Do this, this and this. That's just stupid.

General Ignorance

The biggest threat to linux (or Gnu/Linux for the purists) has to be General Ignorance. Now, when I say that I'm not calling people stupid. Many people who could otherwise be end linux users, are just not informed enough to understand. As mentioned before they hear stories of this elite OS for geeks and whispers of some "open source" movement "whatever that is".
Take my boss for example; "Linux is crap, some stupid software written by a kid in his bedroom." Even having seen it he wont relent, and when he discovered it couldn't play DVD's or MP3's by default he laughed as if his point was proved. "Open Source, crap, nothing that's any good is free!".
This is the type of mentality we're up against. We need polished distro's like the Lynx for sure, but more than that we need at least one distro where all that "Evil" non free stuff works out of the box, to help ease in possible converts and start them on their journey of discovery of the open source world, without tossing them in at the deep end to see if they don't drown.



I've been using Linux since 2002 or so. For many years Linux was my main operating system. I had to work hard to work with Linux in an environment full of Windows machines and MS Office files. In the beginning, t was hard but I had the will to do it. I was using 1 (which was less than perfect) and I had to edit the fstab file each time I wanted to use a USB stick (pen drive). Later everything was easier and easier.

But after 7 years dealing (happily I have to say) with Linux, I got tired. I got tired of fighting against the world. In december of 2009 I bought a Mac for the job. I use a lot of Free Software but I don't use Linux as OS in my main machine. I continue using Linux at home in my netbook and recently I renewed my LXF subscription for two more years. So, nothing is lost.


Locked down devices

I wonder how long it'll be until every device available is locked to its original OS? M$ have recently jumped on the bandwagon with WinMo 7 (or whatever they're calling it now), and Apple have been doing it for years obviously - and the latter is starting to make forays into slightly more computer-like locked-down devices like the iPad. Ugh.

About my challenge.

I am sorry, I may not have made one thign clear. My challenge is not a response to the question. What it is a challenge like many of the others you have been doing, suggested to me by the discussion of your open ballot.

Hardware manufacturers apathy

If hardware manufacturers pre-installed Linux on the machines we can find in Harvey Norman or PC World everyone would know Linux. Especially if you explained between the OS and Microsoft Office And Antivirus you're saving 200 euro.

This would help us all by meaning the drivers and programs would all be written for Linux and the momentum all would keep building to eventual world domination.

When peaople really start writing malware for linux

It will be a mess to start having anti-spyware virus etc.
you might say you are immune with "sudo" but the root password is needed for so many basic stuff that most users(me included) don't ever think twice before entering it.

I think Fedora made it unnecessary to use root privileges for common stuff like installing software from the official repository, but ubuntu rules the market and it requires a password for every little thing so a users ends up entering his password seamlessly.

The dumbing down of the World

The greatest threat to the future of Linux is a growing population of people with an aversion to thinking. It's that same growing population of people that has made Windows based OS so popular. Windows OS puts a large focus on taking the thought out of using a personal computer. As a result, people have little to no idea of what a Windows OS is doing in in the background. They know in general to click this to do that etc... At some point, if you become a moderate to heavy Linux user, you'll need to learn something about whats going on in the background. What's bash, whats CUPS, how can I do something more efficiently? Linux based systems expect the user to understand, and know, and think. Most people who become fans of Linux are people who in general are thinkers and tinkerers. Unfortunately in a world where everyone wants everything to happen NOW!, thinkers and tinkerers are not an expanding segment of the population. So... IMO the biggest threat to Linux are people with an aversion to thinking.

And on a lighter note

Having more linux audio systems than all the bits in the universe could hold, making spacetime implode, taking Linux with it.

other people badmouthing linux

My closest neighbours have both been converted to using Ubuntu but when I tried to get another friend to convert their son in law said that Linux is only for hardcore fanatics, she reverted to the horrible Vista and still has problems with wifi connectivity that Linux had cured.

My sister will not try Linux because she needs to use proprietary accounting software, which works fine under wine, because the guy she works for doesn't like that hippy nonsense.

Mass-adoption For Granted

The points everyone has mentioned all have value, but the biggest threat is Linux users thinking that eventually 'everyone' will see the light and take a step to our side.

In essence, we could be our biggest threat.

We need to stop chasing and trying to compete with the other OS's, as our ideas will eventually be tunnelled into what they are trying to achieve.
We have a greater advantage if we ignore trying to win hearts and minds and really use what open source gives us: to expand on ideas that seem crazy to others at this point in time.

Stuff not working!

I know that in many cases it isn't Linux's fault, but stuff not working has to be it. I've been a loyal Linux devotee for years but even I'm considering switching back to Windows because I dared hope that I might use Skype to talk to my family when I'm away.

Or perhaps it's the shoddy implementation of Flash on Linux that will break me; Flash in Firefox crashes so often for me that it's almost unusable and nobody has been able to help.

Getting games to run under WINE, that's a good one too.

I used to boot into Windows just to play games, but I'm finding myself spending more and more time in Windows because everything works, and that's sad.


There are skype clients that run on linux.


Yep. But sound and mic do not work properly on either my desktop or my netbook.

WHAT barnibus?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?

windows is virus-free? what are you on? windows is virus infested. The windows disc practically COMES with viruses preinstalled to force you to buy a virus checker. IE is rigged to let viruses on your system. That was the most unconstructive and brutalaly unnecessary comment ever.

WHAT BANANAOOMARANG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


WHAT BANANAOOMARANG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Linux performance is terrible. Apart from quick boot, Linux desktop is pretty sluggish. Firefox is noticeably slower on Linux than on Windows, and I don't think it is all Mozilla's fault for not optimising it enough. I think Linux' file system layout and lack of high performing libraries is to blame.

I also think the Linux kernel community's focus on servers hurts desktop performance.

No Killer App, or Maybe Apathy... Who knows, who cares?

There is no killer application that entices people to leave Windows (or whatever) and run Linux. Many people have an app (often a game or a graphics app or whatever) that keeps them coming back to Windows. Without a compelling reason to change, the argument is merely "you can do everything, well, most everything, you can do in your current familiar, comfortable OS on this NEW thing." It seems like change for the sake of change and probably won't happen.

Of course, this assumes the future of Linux is tied to an ever-increasing adoption by consumers. If Linux's future is tied less to increasing its market share among consumers (i.e., the standard business model) and more to continued efforts of geeks and hackers (i.e., the traditional Linux model) then the only threat to its future is apathy and/or burnout within the community.

The third larget threat --nonEngineers "running" Linux

My first experience with engineering ( and in particular systems engineering ) was more then 35 years ago bicycling. I had bought a new tire patch kit by a company called Rema. The patches ( for those who have seen them ) are nopt square pieces of rubber, but these thin orange circular things with a black middle. Of course I had a flat, and of course I had trouble patching it. Why, the tube of vulcanizing agent had a solid tin seal over it. Next year I bought a few of the patch kits for that year and discovered puncturing the tube was not going to be a problem. They had put a plastic spear inside the cap top, just turn around the cap and push. That's engineering.

Over the years I've seen many engineering techniques, good and bad. Perhaps the biggest was at a company which made farm equipment. The couplers on their farm equipment: tillers, plows, reapers etc did not work with the couplers on their tractors. To use their equipment with their tractors, you had to buy a special adaptor and install it.

Linux has already established itself in some areas. The areas it has established itself it has done so because it is well-engineered. Although I generally don't worry about the GNU part of linux, in this case it is very relevant. It is not just the kernel that makes Linux robust, but the entire infrastructure. In fact much of the infrastructure predates even GNU and comes from UNIX or POSIX in general.

As long as it is a well engineered UNIX like system, it will be around; it will take PhD's instead of script kiddies to write serious viruses, crashes will not drag down the whole system but be localized. The one technical threat to Linux is that it ceases to be a well-engineered UNIX like system.

Some of that engineering is writing equations on whiteboards, and drawing UML diagrams, a bigger part is
more fundamental, talked about in the writings of Kernigan, Plauger, Jon Bentley, and Gerald Weinberg. A part of that "well-engineered"ness is openness.

If a person is given two choices: install Windows, or install a proprietary codec so that he can use his computer for work, then I say by all means install the codec. But that is not what I see advocates of "proprietarizing" linux say. What I see are people who argue that they should add layer after layer of proprietary software, to the point where if you want to install some software a computer company does not like, you have to "jailbreak" your computer.

It's important that engineers stay in charge of linux, because engineers understand that sometimes you can't have two things. That if you want for example a virus free system then you may have to eschew certain proprietary software, especially since it is the proprietary stuff that has the dark hidden corners where virii like to grow.

PS When I say engineer I don't mean software geniuses who are only geniuses when they copy Microsoft.

Fragmentation. Ubuntu is

Fragmentation. Ubuntu is demonstrating how a unified marketing approach based on brand recognition succeeds. Many outsiders now think Ubuntu IS Linux. Choice is good, but it can also be confusing, and dilutes the message.

Corporate agendas

The biggest threat to Linux is the increasing interest (and funding) from corporate entities with their own agendas. Commercial entities that view Linux as a competitive threat to their own interests are unlikely to be showering Linux developers with gifts that do not have strings attached.

At the least threatening end are development frameworks specified by a commercial software vendor that appear to offer an attractive cross-platform solution, but also provide that vendor with a competitive advantage when they modify, develop or otherwise dictate the framework.

In the middle are supposedly open standards that have a high representation from proprietary vendors, who adopt and then adapt supposedly standard specifications (html, various languages, open documents).

Possibly the most threatening is the influx of closed source, closed standard trendy devices into Linux audio, video and communications.

End Users whether ignorant or not

I would have to agree with Renato. End users just want a computer to work. They're not interested in how it works, proprietary or not.
Though I am confused when everyone mentions that installing Flash after installing Linux is a problem. Hmmmm if I install Windows and it doesn't have the latest version of Flash installed, I have to install it. What's the difference?

Anyway, the biggest threat to Linux is the community. It's funny how a lot of Linux users complain that non-Linux users should learn how to use a computer properly. And then flame them when they don't understand something and ask for help. That doesn't really contribute to the growth of more Linux users.

Well, that's my two cents. My extra penny is one way to increase Linux's use is not to advertise it as Linux. I mean Mac really doesn't advertise their system as Mac the Unix system. They just call it a Mac. By the way, Mac advertises their system as being easier to use than a Windows PC. So, you can be dumber than a Windows PC user.


To me, By far the largest problem are software patents (at least here in the U.S.) ... what they will do is constrict the expansion greatly ... to me they are 'Evil'.

Simplicity of working and clarity of details

Unless everything works that old recurring phrase "COMPLETELY OUT OF THE BOX" there will be resistance to take up.

Others have expressed the points that lack of hardware support and specific drivers to work with Linux which are important.

Another bugbear is the detailing of documentation and often responses in forums where the level at which the documents are written or instructions given are at the level of GEEK.

Oh that someone could produce something with the clarity of an idiots guide. That would be a boon to many


I think choice rather than being some kind of threat, is defiantly a barrier.

Also the GNU/Linux argument has to stop. Anyone looking in at this pedantry squabbling is likely to to turned off the whole idea of free (slash as in beer) software.

The word Linux, very off putting all round really.

Lack of Unity

We need to stop duplicating effort regarding packaging.

As long as Red Hat is around, sadly so will RPM. I would love to see Red Hat ditch RPM and switch to DEB packages but its not going to happen.

Also it would be much better if the people who make stupid respins of Ubuntu would actually get involved in helping Ubuntu. Therefore they would be doing something alot more constructive.

biggest threat: the misconception that Linux is "hard to use"

I have a friend who wanted to buy her first computer. She went to the store, and saw the cheapest laptop was $500 and preloaded with Linux. She asked the salesperson about it, and got the reply "Linux is for advanced users/geeks - you don't want it - pay $100 more for a laptop with Windows"... and she did.

Upon not being able to configure things like wireless, flash, java on Windows (remember, she's never used her own computer before), I ended up installing Ubuntu. In the 6 months since she's started using it, I've had maybe 3-4 calls about stuff not quite working.

Linux wasn't (isn't) harder to use, and this is a message that needs to get across to end-users.

3 Things

Although I am generally quite optimistic about Linux's future, there are some serious threats:

1. With bigger market share come more dangers. I know that Linux is inherently more secure than Windows, but it's not too difficult to write a script that deletes your home directory and get people to start it (hoping for some amazing screen saver or something). There will be more of that stuff and other "low level viruses" the more attractive Linux gets.

2. Fragmentation is a problem. Different package formats and audio subsystems are a constant source of annoyance, but I am sometimes really scared of a fork of the kernel for some stupid ideological or corporate reason.

3. You never know if there isn't one stupid patent lying around in the drawers of Ballmer or Jobs that might screw everything up for us. An expensive lawsuit, and a split in the community between the side that settles with EVIL Inc. and the side that sees such a thing as a betrayal as freedom is what gives me most nightmares about the future of Linux.

The Year of Linux on the Desktop

I must agree with Adam. We do seem to be pre-occupied with "Is this the year of Linux on the desktop". We should be doing what we've done all along, innovate. (I say we, I mean you - I can't program worth a damn , yet!)
Let Canonical continue down its path to get Linux adopters, and make revenue where it can, from what I understand it doesn't contribute a big pile to the kernel anyway, and lets have everyone else keep the innovation coming.
Except Novell who will do what Microsoft wants them to. Oops did I say that out loud. ;-)

Shoot the Zealots!

Very few computer users ever read the End User License Agreements. They are just not important to them, they just want to use the software. So ranting and raving about them does little good and, probably a lot of harm to the whole community. (Just concentrate upon the positives and forget the Microsoft bashing.)

Linux needs to concentrate upon its strengths of security and reliability. We also need to consider the end user who are, in the main, not geeks or techies. We need to dispel the techie nature of Linux, and make it the natural choice for the normal average user.

Mainstream Linux

I reckon that the biggest threat to Linux is Linux itself. With over 300 distros and climbing there is a lot of choice for the new Linux user. Most people I know will go with something like Ubuntu, something that gets new Linux users into the swing of free software and packages and all the other stuff that we find second nature.

However because Ubuntu has a large popularity if at any stage it starts to move away from the idea of Linux then new Linux users will be alienated from the real idea of Linux. Don't get me wrong, I'm not hating on Ubuntu, I'm an Ubuntu user myself however I'm using 9.04 instead of the latest release because I believe that they have been sub-par compared to previous releases such as Jaunty. I have a friend who has just started using Linux and what did he pick as his first OS, yep, you guessed it, Karmic Koala an OS packed full of bugs, glitches and overall shitness.

So before we can really say that Microsoft or hardcore GPL people are going to be the biggest threat to Linux maybe we should look in our own backyard.


Pay a visit to and state your problem there. I'm sure it'll be resolved within 24 hours. I use Skype on Slackware 13 on a daily basis and it all works. My wife uses it on Xubuntu 9.10, all functions go, my colleague on his Linux Mint 8, need I go on?

Biggest threat = MikeOS

Biggest threat = MikeOS gains major traction and replaces Linux as the de facto alternative to proprietary offerings.

Wrong question

What is the biggest threat to the future of Linux?

Strange question this. Surely there is no "threat" as such to the future of Linux. It is not going to be forced out of existence. It will simply carry on very much the same as now, appealing to a niche market - but no more than that unfortunately.

What you should really be asking is why Linux is not more popular than it is.

Games of course

Excuse me while i reboot back into xp to play LFD2; which is where ill stay (XP that is) for the rest of the evening (why; cause even the slightest loss in functionality or frame-rate will always send a gamer/senior software engineer to the best game supporting OS.

shame, as I like linux for everything else, but games (and pron) are priority 1, not work (lol at least linux does pron well).

Marrea is quite right -

Marrea is quite right - there is no threat. As a relative newcomer to computing in general and OS in particular, it has been the proverbial voyage of discovery getting to some kind of grips with it all.

But now I tell my friends to download Fedora or Mint, that the latter makes most things work straight off, and that after that maybe they'll go up the chain via Ubuntu to Debian and that best of all it's all free...

Linux makes MS look like some kind of expensive joke, and I say that as someone who has no axe to grind. So maybe the 'threat' is the political clout of MS (don't underestimate them) in keeping govts, local councils, schools and the NHS hooked to their licence fees and away from the free and efficient world of Linux.

That will stop the growth of OS - for in Britain, the political choice between kowtowing to a US corporation and actually using our brains and taking the hippie, co-op route is in fact no choice at all. MS wins

So we all pay, in local and national taxes for OS's failure to take its rightful place in our national infrastructure; god forbid our zombie election might offer some choice about that.

Linux users who don't care about freedom

I just don't get the backlash against free software "fanatics." Who doesn't like freedom? Only oppressive governments. The whole point of educating people of the disadvantages of proprietary software is to give consumers the knowledge to make appropriate choices and put pressure on the suppliers. Some fanatics do deserve criticism for such childish things as harassing apple store employees, I'll give you that. But there is nothing wrong with speaking about the harmful effects of proprietary software.

It may sound stupid, but...

I think Grub is the biggest threat, as it is a real pain. If it breaks because you repartitioned your HD without Gparted, you're stuck. And that's just one of the problems. I could go on about how many times grub has been the cause of an installation being killed and inaccessible. If grub isn't changed to be like the Microsoft one, as otherwise grub will hold Linux back from general user usage.

More like Linux users who don't care about overall quality

and think it's acceptable to leave (e.g.) GIMP in a supposedly user friendly distro such as Ubuntu (though since removed).
"Hey, I need to edit an image on my Ubuntu"
"Just fire up GIMP"
"Ok, now what?"
"Cry. Cry long and hard."
"Wow, free software is great"

We are our own biggest threat

I agree with many previous posts and would like to add, that even though we might consider them "unwashed masses". As more novice users join our community the community will evolve and change to accommodate them. Movements like the FSF all the way down to distributions like Ubuntu were born out of these changes. As the community continues to evolve it will be interesting to see what new projects and efforts are founded to take on our many conflicting use cases.

Bring it on!


It is, and probably will be for some time to come, Microsoft. Their creeping series of patent agreements with hardware vendors (as epitomised by today's news of the licensing agreement with HTC for their use of Android) undermines the credibility of Linux as an independently innovative platform.

Just how many agreements with how many manufacturers will it take before MS present it as a fait accompli, that Linux is dependant in all important respects on Microsoft's intellectual property?


I know, I know, that Linux is pretty easy to use. For a complete newbie, it's better than learning Windows. But people have grown up around Windows stuff so they buy what's familiar.

Also, people don't tinker these days. Kids buy a snazzy game for the Wii and just use it. They don't get bought some screwdrivers and encouraged to open up gadgets and play. If it's bust, buy a new one (the result of greater disposable income).

And I think Apple is making it worse. The iPhone, iPad model is "buy it from us, get your apps from us, don't even think about fiddling with the inner workings." People are lazy, not curious, and so go with what they know. Unfortunately, Linux ain't it.

Too many re-spins too little accounting software

The Linux world is focused around a few distros and many hundred of respins.

Some are good like Mint, some are little more than rebranding.
The trouble starts when the source distro changes something, and that change is unpopular like the move of the buttons to the left in Ubuntu.

When will Linux get a good industry compatible accounting software package?

Yes, I know it is as boring but if you try to run a SOHO it is the one thing that stands out as missing.

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