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


No one knows who he is. Seriously.

I agree with Tim V-B

I agree with the majority of what has been said. The problem is Microsoft operating systems appear (and have done since the 90's) on the majority of new computers brought. If you don't know how to use it, you can go to a college to learn it, so people get to know and understand proprietary software.

As mentioned earlier, people are lazy and don't want to learn a new way of computing for the sake of it. I have just completed a two year computer course and have mentioned that I have used Linux at home since 2006 and my reasons for doing so. The majority of the students hadn't heard of it, those that had, had been misinformed about it and had no reason to try open sourced software because the college was teaching the subjects using proprietary software.



As has been covered by other posts, the question is about the threat to the future of linux, not the growth of popularity of linux. (Besides patents,) the threat to the future of linux is the disenchantment of the very people who contribute to it (e.g. Alan Cox, Con Kolivas...). Arrogance, and a factionally driven distain from the kernel team in general (a personal judgement) tends to drive the innovators away. Linux has been built on innovation, but will stagnate and smell (or become windows...) if we don't nurture our developers. Allowing some of the more 'out there' ideas to be part of the kernel (through the choice of the user, not necessarily by default... can anyone say plugins?) can lead to unforseen advantages and breakthroughs. I don't know what percentage of the kernel is directly attributable to Linus now, but it won't be much. The linux kernel is an example of collaboration at its finest... just look what we've got now! We need to ensure that we treat the contributors in a collegial instead of adversarial manner.

p.s. for the zealots, please replace all occurances of Linux above with GNU/Linux ;)

The Greatest Threat.

I really don't think there is a threat to Linux. We are strong because we are not a business but a community of like minded people. More and more people are dipping their toes and trying the Linux way. I acknowledge ignorance of the general windows PC users; Windows = computer. But I have educated various friends and family members and once "sold" (it doesn't take long with a virus vulnerable, sluggish computer.... not all can afford to buy the latest hardware), they have quickly taken to the new OS like a duck to water. I now have my Mother-in-law doing regular updates; with Windows I had the responsibility of this job as she couldn't get to grips with this. She is not wealthy and she really appreciated that I was able to breath new life into her old computer. My Dad reckons it's easier than windows and was really impressed with all the free software. My children are learning to use two operating systems and ,being young, just accept it as normal. The only fly in the ointment I have found is the ignorance of IT teachers...... Come on teachers..... learn your subject and read widely.... that is one of the things I was taught.


I guess from my previous post I'm actually saying that there is a threat and that is a lack of education. This boils down to our schools and governments (as they invariably control what is taught!).

The biggest threat is the division of the community and lack...

...of enthusiasm.

The question was not "What is the biggest threat to Linux becoming a mainstream OS". Therefore competition from other major players is not a threat really, Linux has the potential to thrive in the same way it currently does and historically has as long as the community remains productive and excited about what it has achieved and what it continues to achieve.

The true threat is highlighted well by the comment above about getting exasperated and moving to Apple.

Who are we working for

It really depended on who are the develop is working for. Desktop developer might ending up focus on gaining user land. and keep making all this eyes candy, and something so call "Cool" but really do nothing. Some developer is focusing on making all those Great tools that doing the job super efficiently "Once you Learn it". It is always good to gain user land. but if the quality of the App is the cost. It would be really sad. One of the biggest things I feel about some recent app is that they are trying too hard to pleasing the their "NEW USER". which only good for a demo. but not really good for everything computing. It is like people choose Linux become the way it is, or Linux twist itself. so people will choose Linux. Not all the good tools have a big user land. and tools with big user land often makes their user salves to them.

Who know... maybe the biggest threat is becoming a battle field for all those developer who prove their way of thinking and show off what they are able to "produce". that is why next version might not be a better version, but a difference thing.

OS X Vs. Windows Vs. Linux

My OS of choice is MAC OS X, but I love your podcast and have dabbled with Linux previously. I converted from Windows XP in 2008 and have found myself having much more time to enjoy my computing experience, rather than spending half my time tinkering/fixing elements of the OS.

Linux that I have experienced doesn’t have the robust, “just works” factor.
However, it is getting much better and I will be checking out Ubuntu 10.04 on my works Lenovo machine.

We know the threats. However, with a little bit of SWOT analysis, you should be looking at the opportunites!
The biggest opportunity is unification of developers. This is already happening in a very big way with the Ubuntu distribution. Why doesn’t everyone join hands and make Ubuntu as amazing as OS X?

That would be a win for Linux.

Kind regards,

ACTA is one big threat

How about the highly secretive ACTA Trade Agreement that we are denied information of. ACTA (see Wikipedia) is something we have to worry about, as it may (and will) impose restrictions on software development.
Why not? Negotiations are still secretly done, and if we do not watch out we will be confronted with an agreement that might stifle OSS and Linux, and anything more that is not in the interest of big money and the fat cats.

TuxRadar open ballot

The real threat to Linux is all these tuxradar open ballots

OEMs and Game manufacturers

Only two people, so far, got it right.

Connor Murphy, who said hardware manufacturers, or more generally OEMs, are the biggest theat to the growth of GNU/Linux on the Desktop.
As long as OEMS don't offer John Doe the exact SAME choice of computer, with Windows or without Windows, on the SAME shelves, mainstream (non-techie) customers will keep buying Windows boxes, because they are everywhere.

The second biggest threat, as Dafoosa put it, are Game manufacturers, because lets face it, almost everybody who buys a computer for a pesonal (non-professional) use is going to use it to play a game or two, at some point.
So as long as Game manufactureres are not willing to develop the exact SAME games on both platforms, people will prefer to be on the safe side and buy a Windows Box that will run any game they'll pick over the counter, without having to worry about compatibility issues.

The next question is : How to address these issues ?

Short answer : find a way for GNU/Linux to reach a critical mass.

How can we achieve that ? I don't have the slightest clue, nor does Steve Jobs for the Mac, apparently ...

Vicious circle

<<As long as OEMS don't offer John Doe the exact SAME choice of computer, with Windows or without Windows, on the SAME shelves, mainstream (non-techie) customers will keep buying Windows boxes, because they are everywhere.>>

But surely it is a vicious circle? The OEMs don't offer this because it is not what customers want. Everyone of my acquaintance, friends and relatives, wants a laptop with the latest Windows on. There is no point stocking shelves with products which are not going to sell. Look what happened to netbooks. It wasn't long before they changed from Linux to Windows. From what I read, people were returning the Linux versions because they didn't understand it/couldn't get on with it.

As I said above, surely the question we should be asking ourselves is why Linux is not more popular. Why does is continue to completely fail to catch on with the general public?

Commercial Interests

Whilst commercial interests in software/firmware/hardware remain and the "legal" patent situation continues to prohibit experimentation at less than reasonable cost. Linux and FOSS are virtually considered to be "terrorist" activities to be stamped on at every opportunity. There is no playing ball with M$ or Apple. Their policies and actions are well known. They are carnivorous beasts that will nurture before the meal is big enough to eat, then devour their feast with relish. You cannot stop the thought process or the programming, but all that is required is to secure relevant resources. This happens on nearly every front today, keeping Linux and FOSS at its meagre penetration. This cold war continues at an ever increasing complexity and intensity. What will be the turn of events that provides the currently hidden switches? Fascinating to watch the next moves in this multi-dimensional game of "chess". FOSS needs its own hardware.

My half cent.

1. Bilski getting confirmed and allowing software patents to be legal. Hopefully if software patents are found not to be legal, acta is moot per se.

2. A certain set of podcast show hosts (not from tux radar) who say there is no problem with Microsoft contributing to linux.

3. Microsoft themselves who ahve already started to contribute to ubuntu. under the noses of the community.Then they will come back later and say their code is in linux so they can hold the community hostage. like they allegedly did htc.

4. Not having pristine clean software source code repos replicated in case the worst happens. I amassing all the source code and open source development tools I can, I needed to get the debian repo and source soon.

5. Not getting people involved in the development of projects whether they program or not. they can contribute to the documentation and testing of existing code.

6. Kick ubuntu in the rear to start writing better code that also follows the linux tradition.

The Terminal

While there are still tasks which cannot be performed without using Terminal commands and ordinary users' questions routinely receive responses in Terminalese, the future is not assured.

To put it another way - Lazy developers who refuse to provide GUI set-up and configuration facilities will limit the future of Linux.

It isn't a question of which is better, GUI or Terminal, it's a question of what most people want to use.

Balkanization of the Kernel and lack of interest/opportunity

for the next generation of developers, I would say are the greatest threats.

We will see some big patent fights if linux-based panel computers/e-book readers take off in the consumer market and become a real challenge to the iPod and the like from the big proprietary companies.

It is unlikely this will happen, though.

Hardware support

I doubt it's the biggest threat, but hardware support is an important factor. While Linux has a much wider range of supported devices than it used to, it's those that don't work by default (or at all) which are hard to deal with. For instance, I haven't been able to run hardware drivers for Windows in Wine, and instead I had to resort to VirtualBox (which for all intents and purposes is the same as rebooting to Windows). Most non-technical users wouldn't even think to do that, never mind muster the effort to set it up properly.

My mum (who is very much a non-techie) liked Ubuntu 9.10, except for the fact that it didn't support her printer out of the box. I had trouble finding a working driver for it, and in any case it was rubbish (you had to adjust the margins in OpenOffice so that it wouldn't print too high up the page, and changing the print quality settings had no effect, so it was always wasteful of ink).

While I'm here, I have to agree with the poster who said of Firefox: "INSTALL FLASH. CANNOT FIND RIGHT PLUGIN". That's another annoyance that could bewilder end-users and should be removed quickly.

Time destroys everything

Assuming we get past 2012, perhaps a trillion years from now there will be no universe and no linux. I don't think there is anything we can do to stop that.

But if heaven is eternal, and if computers exist there, and if I have one, it just might be running linux forever.

Bogus Lawsuits

I can hear you thinking, "well if they are bogus, why are they a threat?" The reason they are a very big threat is that many companies are just poking FOSS projects around with lawsuits, hoping to win one of them. Eventually they will win at something important if they are not stopped. If these guys had their ways, free software would be illegal, which is why I think software patents should be outlawed.


Biggles1000: GRUB is not the only functional bootloader. I personally use EXTLINUX. I love the full color backgrounds, and I find it easier to configure. Give it a shot sometime.

Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me

There is no threat to Linux, only paranoia. Focus upon the choice and opportunities. Yes it is infuriating in this blogoshere of "everyone is entitled to my opinion", but it is our strength.

The biggest threat is our own limiting paranoia (even if they are out to get us).

To be honest I don't care if it's called 'Linux',...

...'Minix', 'Haiku', or 'MyCobbledTogetherOS', as long as its 'free' as in freedom (not beer). I don't care if Linux ever pushes MS off the shelf as everybody's favourite OS, in fact I'd rather it didn't.

What matters to me is that there is always something going on that means the money boys (and girls), don't ever think they own the show; don't ever get to force everyone to pay and pay and pay for the same half-baked crap with no way out that doesn't threaten fines and imprisonment.

There will always be people who just go with the crowd, because its easy---you don't have to think, and that's okay, up to a point. But there should always be a counter-culture going on that reminds people, and gives them the option, that things can be done differently and even better; that I can sit down if I choose to and do what I want with someone elses's work and set my efforts free for other people to do with what they want...

Linux matters for what it represents and gives. It matters as a matter of principle and what it offers to us for its own sake---freedom.

What you do with that freedom is up to you.

One word...


My vision of the greatest threat to Linux...

#1. Scavenging/cannibalization of Linux for the benefit of the proprietary... I've lost track of how many supposedly closed apps and recent operating systems owe their existences to the open source work of the Linux community. And the development has not managed to benefit Linux in any substantial way. This threatens to bog down Linux while letting other developers eventually leapfrog their benefactors. Eventually, this could lead to Linux being marginalized by it's own benevolence.

#2. Over-diversification... Linux in all it's breeds has been lovely to watch. But, with it being re-purposed to so many duties, it's hard for the outsider to keep up with what's appropriate for him/her. While this helps Linux proliferate, it doesn't really help it THRIVE. Jack of all trades, master of only some. If there were something about Linux that would threaten itself, it would have to be this multiple personality aspect it takes on.

#3. Incomplete standardization... Certainly, the lack of support from the commercial computer entertainment community has hurt Linux, though not fatally. But, the broad mix of code that makes up varying distros and window managers makes it difficult to work with, and makes it not worth the effort. Case in point: moving critical files because one distro vendor has a differing philosophy to do with one particular detail. Writing for Linux already requires a different mentality than Mac or Windows. But, this kind of diversity sacrifices standardization, which necessitates greatly increased programming or very selective support. Accordingly, an already small market share either becomes more work than the payoff or an even smaller market share.

#4. Perpetual work in progress... Is there a common Linux calculator app out there that can subtract by percentages (as in type in the number you're subracting, hit the percent sign and go)? No. But, Windows worked that out a long time ago. Now, I am well aware that Linux development is a labour of love. However, most apps lack certain fine details of completion. And when bringing it up, the answer always amounts to "we're working on it." But, even in the free software/GNU world, there are some things that ought to be finished by now. So, what this seems to really amount to is waning interest. Some programmer or team started on something, it's mostly done and they lack the staying power to simply finish it. Now, this is to be somewhat expected, when dealing with a free operating system. But, it's not what most people are willing to tolerate. Accordingly, most people won't go for Linux. And, free or not, it's certainly not what people need. They need full functionality, period.

Lack of Standardization

1) no standard repository for all recent stable releases. i.e. Mandriva may have KDE 4.3.5, has released version 4.4.1 and it cannot be upgraded until Mandriva re-brands or re-configures it to their own liking.(Yes, I know this can be done manually, but your basic end user doesn't care to learn coding, building, etc. They want the latest updates and want them as soon as they are available.)

2) files not being located in the same place in every distro.

3) lack of a standard package/installer. .deb, .rpm, installing from source.

3) A standard configuration program. For me this is one place where OpenSuSE and Mandriva based distros have a clear advantage over the other distros. Unlike Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, etc. they have a single place to change all of the system settings no matter what desktop you want to use. You don't have to delve through menus and 15 different programs to change 3 or 4 minor settings.

From my own personal experiences, I've not had any issues with flash in Linux for the past 3 or 4 years. I've had more issues with Firefox than flash itself.

No Threat -- Only Obstacles for Growth

Bottom line: There is not threat to the existance of Linux. It will always have a following. Therefore, the only legitimate threat would be the community becoming stale and users moving AWAY from linux.

The issue of many of the comments here is that they have confused obstacles with threat. Consequently, most of the comments I read were dealing with limiting factors in growth.

On the topic of growth, many good comments have been made. With little thought and choosing what is on the top of my head, I view the following as significant obstacles:

a. No Marketer. Linux needs an organization ot market it and get it on the radar. To make business cases for the adoption of linux.

b. Like it or not, we need a single distro as the flag ship of Linux. Yes, there will always be distros. Red Hat lost that opportunity. Ubuntu is now best positioned for that. Regardless, the ONE standard needs to be what is pushed for all desktop, commercial computers. It needs a standard LOOK AND FEEL. The Masses of Sheep don't like "different", as they feel they don't understand it.

c. Linux needs to get on the shelf in the computer stores and show what it can do! It needs to be a CHOICE at PURCHASE time. While technically, it should be cheaper (and is when considering upgrades), we have seen where M$ will give its product away practically to extinguish the competition.... A protracted "price war" might not win over a LONG period of time, but the fact is it isn't a "long war" for the consumer. They purchase WHAT they know. Unless you make the imediate purchase choice happen in Linux favor, you've lost the battle already.

Well, enough. Perhaps I'll write an essay some day... then again... perhaps I won't. :)

Bottom Line: I am a Linux user, I evangelize Linux, and I will not go back to Windows. I'd love to see it take off and have a considerable market share, but it won't happen with any real speed given current conditions.


Computers are a tool

The problem with linux is that as it currently stands, it is for the most part a "enthusiast" platform. One that requires tinkering and configuring to maximise performance.

Linux is to operating systems, what muscle cars/classics/hot rods/etc are to cars....

In other words the average person just wants a Corrolla/Golf/Astra that they can get into and drive to point b from point a. They have no inclination to hop under hood to tweak the motor, adjust the ignition/timing/etc.

80+% of computer users see their box as a tool, like they see their car as a tool (as many of you no doubt do as well). They are not interested in the command line, freedom, open source, etc... They aren't now, and probably never will...

We have to acknowledge this, and create a system that any user can just use, even if they don't have a friend/relative that is one of us linux lovers.

PS and games... < the main reason I still windows machines.

Who cares!

If Linux is destroyed I'll switch to BSD.

Computers are tools

WTM, you could not be more wrong. I have only been using computers for 4 years. 2 of those 4 years I've been using Ubuntu and Mint. Linux is an intuitive, common sense, easy to use, powerful, full featured OS right out of the box. You don't need to use the terminal if you don't want to and you don't have to worry about viruses. If you can point me to an OS that comes with a full featured office suite, image management software, and is virus free I'll switch to that no matter how expensive it is.


games games games games games games games, what make millions of people use windows instead linux? games and some unique apps.

walled gardens

Well-managed "walled gardens" are as attractive as they are deadly. If a lot of the Community switches over to corporate-sponsored WG, the spirit of "free software" will be lost even if technically the spirit lives on. Death by degrees, due to friends, is always more dangerous than Death by {Microsoft,Apple,Sony}.

destryoing of jobs

there is a bit of truth in it when somebody says open source destroys if i do not buy mikroschrottz office fe and use open source only the poor people at mikroschrottz don t get the people that are working there are gonna be fired because of decreasing sells.
a logic thing so...but if they weren t that greed in the past people would say hey i give you 20 euros to have a nice office suite that fits my need..but at those prices the commercial bitches are just too ugly and so the money not worth..the industry killed himself and now they say a penguin is the murder..

"Destruction of jobs" - nah...

@ Anonymous uR Penguin:

Just a comment on your post:


"Mikroschrottz" (!) is a company that "defends" (ha!) competition, free market, capitalism, innovation, freedom (???), blah-blah-blah. So, *supposedly*, they should play by those rules - and one of these rules is that the better ones survive, the worse ones go the way of the dodo.

Well, if OpenSomething, from the community, is better than ClosedSomething, from Mikroschottz, let Mikroschottz die by the rules they defend. The community didn't "destroy their workers' jobs" - it just gave people a better product (overall).

If any "murder" happens in this whole story, the murderers are the Mikroschottzes and their ilk, with their lawyers and software patents and unethical behaviour and anti-competitive tactics and... The list goes on and on and on...

(I feel that my comment is a bit late and off-topic, but at least I managed not to make it too long. Sorry.)


iSteve iJobs and his iCrap iPatents TM.

Software Patents

Software patents are the biggest threat to all software (both free/open source and proprietary). The US patent system has made a huge mess where it is impossible to do development without infringing on someone else's patent(s). While copyright on software is fine, I honestly don't think it should be patentable.

Non-support from OEMs

When an OEM gets behind Linux, we have PCs that do their magic and work, just as an OEM version of Windows would work.

We need more OEMs to step up and be counted. They are the ones who keep Windows 'just working out of the box', and they should be the ones to make Linux do the same.

This is the only way Linux will get rid of its reputation (undeserved) among those out there who know something but not everything about this great OS!

Software Patents and Zealots in the Community

Personally I think the single greatest threat to all software right now is the patent system as implemented by the US. The theory of supporting inventors, I support, but the implementation of the system awards inventor rights to the highest bidder who are then able to use such rights as a big stick to hobble development. I feel that such a system needs to looked at and dealt with to prevent abuse.

With regards to Linux itself the biggest threat that I see is zealots in the community. Personally I find such behaviour off putting and have dropped a certain distro when I ran afoul of a particularly bad zealot. More and more of these types of people are popping up within the Linux community and it is my belief that they do more harm than good.

Money and all the trouble that walks through the door with it.

The title pretty well sums it up. Look at the tight rope Canonical is walking. They need to make money and please the user base and are having a hard time doing both. Suppose Canonical alienates half of its 12 million reported users but gains a few paying customers. It's a win for Canonical but a loss for loyal users. I think this situation is highlighted by Mark Shuttleworth's departure. Maybe he doesn't want to alienate his base so he steps aside and hires somebody who doesn't mind running it like a business. From my point of view the power of Linux has always been the ability to present better solutions. Playing "money games" like licensing codecs validates M$ and Apple's arguments against FOSS. Look at what SCO, or Novell or even Apple has become because of money. If people would just focus on doing what they believe in the work will reflect it and the money will follow.

Others [STILL] Don't Take Us Seriously

Did anyone notice how quickly this simply poll degenerated into a flame war and name calling? When one looks at linux discussions online, these are the rule not the exception in my experience. (Maybe I need to read different places.) When "the board room" sees that, how can it take any part of the discussion seriously? The existence of our disagreements is a strength not a weakness. "We think differently? Get over it and do something else." Not only is it okay, F[L]OSS philosophy encourages it.

I'm concerned that deep pockets will initiate court cases that drain our meager coffers and divert our attention. F[L]OSS is enjoying success (measured as market penetration and market share) and others want to monetize our success through means other than research and development ... means like litigation not innovation or investment.

~~~ 0;-Dan

my 2 cents

Background: I used to work for an OEM mfg as technical mngr.

1. M$ - give cutbacks (backahands whatever)
2. There is upsell potential with windows (antivirus etc)
3. Sales get commision on selling windows, office etc (why would they offer anything free?)
4. You get told about M$ 's wonderful support - (which is not free for OEM customers - they get referred to the OEM for support btw...)

Also walk into any department store & ask the salesperson.... what do you get? "Linux doesn't work with everything, it is rubbish"


"there are other operating systems?"

PDAs and Clouds are killing Linux

If we are talking Linux on the server, there is no threat.

If we are talking Linux on the desktop it is PDA/cell devices and cloud computing in it's various forms and spins. The idea of the personal computer is being eroded by the network (grid) device and the personal communicational device. Soon we will have generic yet high access iPDAs where you pay for features and apps and access. PCs will do the exact same thing. Man, it is just like a power utility company. You lease the equipment, pay for access and service apps and have limits and restrictions on use.

I'm starting an off-grid PC movement, "Save the personal PC", "Power to the PC!", "the blue gnu PC preservation society". I will sponsor un-networking seminars and write the book "too many networks and the demise of privacy" and now that closets are vacant, "how to repurpose a closet for private PC use." A movie about the unconnected and data vagrants who stop you on the street and talk to you.

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