5 things Linux needs to seriously compete in the desktop market that you probably never considered

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Linux with coffee
Image: MohamadFaizal/Adobe Stock

So many of us have asked this same question over and over. We sit and wonder, “Why is Linux still in the single-digit market share on the desktop?” Most often, the answer is a shrug and the hope that maybe this time next year we’ll finally break into double digits.

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In the meantime, the faithful in the Linux community are always trying to figure out the thing that Linux needs to get over the hump. Lately, I’ve been giving this question some extra cycles in the ol’ gray matter and have come up with five ideas, none of which actually have to do with software. You see, I believe Linux has matured to the point it could easily overtake Windows as the desktop of choice for the masses. It’s that easy to use. And given that the majority of users have reached the point where nearly all of what they do is within a browser, it should be a no-brainer.

It’s not.

Even so, let’s dive into what I believe are five things Linux needs to seriously compete in the desktop market (that you’ve probably never thought of).

Celebrity endorsement

You’re probably going to think something dropped out of the sky and hit me square in the melon, but hear me out. We live in a world where celebrities have an enormous pull with consumers. The second a celebrity endorses a product its value skyrockets. That’s what Linux needs. Now, I’m not talking about a celebrity within the IT world, I mean an actual-factual celebrity. We’re talking the level of Paul Rudd, Zoë Kravitz, Tom Hanks, Dwayne Johnson, Lebron James or Lady Gaga.

It might sound superficial, but celebrity endorsements work. Why do you think so many companies hand out massive contracts to those stars to promote their products? But here’s the thing … this endorsement needs to come from a real need to make people aware, not from a paycheck. And to think there isn’t a celebrity on the planet that doesn’t use Linux would be a mistake. So, celebrities, if you’re listening and you use Linux, let people know.

More media coverage

In the same vein, Linux needs more media coverage. OK, before you roll your eyes, I’m talking about Linux desktop media coverage. Linux gets plenty of “air time” for the data center, the cloud, containers and development. What is missing is a big dose of Linux desktop content. I’m doing my best here, but it’s going to need more effort from other venues. Linux on the desktop needs media coverage from some of the big hitters out there, like the New York Times, Wired, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.

It’s not like Linux is going to wind up as a headline story on network news, but to get more coverage in major newspapers would be a big step forward. Sure tech-centric publications will cover Linux, but the readers of such outlets already know about Linux. It’s time to start preaching well beyond the choir.

A cohesive marketing strategy from all distributions

Speaking of the choir, the maintainers of all Linux distributions need to come together and develop a cohesive marketing strategy. As it stands, half the distributions have a PR strategy that’s slipshod at best, while the other half have no idea how to get the word out.

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What those maintainers need to do is come together and develop a plan they can all get behind, use and evolve. This strategy would be, of course, open source so any distribution could access the materials and alter as needed to fit their mission. But until those maintainers come together, Linux will continue with a PR/marketing strategy that fails before it can even get off the ground.

A singular message

Along with that marketing strategy, it’s time those same maintainers come together to create a single message they can use to help promote Linux on the desktop. When you take a look at each distribution website, it’s next to impossible to come away with any semblance of “This is what Linux is about on the desktop.” Some distributions proclaim they are the best alternative to Windows and macOS (such as elementary OS’s “The thoughtful, capable and ethical replacement for Windows and macOS”), while others seem to think a full paragraph is what they need as a message for the masses.

No.

What Linux needs is for the entire community to gather around the water cooler and bang out a message to drive users to the open-source OS. And speaking of open-source, the message doesn’t need to promote the fact that Linux is open-source. This message needs to be concise, exciting, active, and appealing to the masses. This message needs to be something that gives possible new users the perfect reasons why they should be using Linux. Something like, “Linux is the ideal operating system for the modern user who needs simplicity, reliability and security.”

Obviously, I’m not in PR … but you get the idea.

A deal with the devil

No, I’m not talking about drawing a circle with salt and chanting the words of Aleister Crowley at the stroke of midnight. What I’m talking about is one or more Linux distributions need to strike a deal with big box stores to get products on shelves. Or, even better, a company like System76 needs to start selling one or two products (maybe a laptop and a low-end Thelio desktop) on Amazon.com. That might sound crazy, but given how many people now look at Amazon as their go-to means of shopping, it certainly wouldn’t hurt if Linux desktop/laptop hardware started showing up in searches within the online retail giant.

Or, if not a deal with a retail giant, maybe it’s time to approach a different devil, such as Microsoft. And although MS has become more of a champion of open source, it’s not like its giving Linux on the desktop much effort. That makes sense, as it would be in direct competition with Windows. That doesn’t mean some sort of interesting partnership is totally out of the question.

Ultimately, what I’m saying here is that Linux distribution developers need to turn down avenues that might never have been open or considered. These types of deals could make a big difference in spreading the word to the masses.

Why it’s important

Today’s world is constantly evolving, so when the traditional methods fail you must think beyond the norm. Given how Linux on the desktop continues to struggle, it’s time maintainers understand that if they really want to grow their user bases beyond those who already support the open-source effort, they’re going to have to significantly raise the bar on their thinking and try something different. Otherwise, the choir will continue singing Linux praise to themselves, all the while wondering why the audience never grows.

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