Linux needs to be pre-installed on more hardware to hit mainstream

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There's always arguments across many angles on what exactly Linux needs to succeed to become more mainstream and the answer, as we've long said, is pretty simple.

Hardware. Pre-installed. That's it.

Honestly, it really is that simple. There's a fair bit of that now already with the likes of System76, Slimbook, TUXEDO , Star Labs and others I'm forgetting. However, none of those are particularly known outside of Linux circles (TUXEDO claim otherwise). Even if they're slowly pulling in newer non-Linuxy customers, they're still tiny and often expensive. Other vendors like Dell and Lenovo may have a few but they're often harder to find. It's a bit like the old Linux gaming loop — people don't want to switch due to "no games" and developers don't want to support directly due to "no users". Vendors don't often do it because they don't perceive there to be enough interest.

Writing in a fresh blog post titled "What desktop Linux needs to succeed in the mainstream", KDE developer Nate Graham agrees and I couldn't have put it better if I tried:

People get hung up a lot on features and usability, and these are important. But they’re means to an end and not good enough ends by themselves. Quality means nothing if people can’t get it. And people can’t get it without accessible distribution. High quality Linux distros aren’t enough; they need to be pre-installed on hardware products you can buy in mainstream retail stores! “The mainstream” buys products they can touch and hold; if you can’t find it in a mainstream store, it doesn’t exist.

Creating good distributions and good applications with good gaming support is only one small piece of the puzzle. We're not just talking about people going into stores to look at laptops and desktops to try them out though. The bigger known online stores and vendors, we need them to start stocking and properly advertising Linux systems too. Not just that though, the systems need to look good and work well for the vendors themselves, to also be interested in stocking them.

Graham believes that KDE continues to be in a good position to serve their needs too, noting the belief that hardware vendors look for these points:

  • Flexibility. Your software has to be easily adaptable to whatever kind of device they have without tons of custom engineering they’ll be on the hook for supporting over the product’s lifecycle.
  • Features that make their devices look good. Support for its physical hardware characteristics, good performance, a pleasant-looking user interface… reasons for people to buy it, basically.
  • Stability. Can’t crash and dump users at a command line terminal prompt. Has to actually work. Can’t feel like a hobbyist science fair project.
  • Usability that’s to be good enough to minimize support costs. When something goes wrong, “the mainstream” contacts their hardware vendor. Usability needs to be good enough so that this happens as infrequently as possible.

For KDE specifically all this is slowly coming together with more products going for KDE and Plasma like Valve with the Steam Deck, Pine with the PinePhone / PineBook Pro, the KDE Slimbook and the Kubuntu Focus. The point remains though - bigger mainstream vendors are essential.

The biggest push may indeed come from the Steam Deck. A PC in a handheld form factor, that allows you to hook it up to a monitor for a full KDE Plasma desktop experience. Very exciting. If we see a lot of people enjoy it and the Steam Deck is a success, you can be almost guaranteed that more devices will come along and slap SteamOS 3 on it and then also have a KDE Plasma desktop available. The knock-on effect could be seen elsewhere, with more people wanting to use KDE Plasma and then hopefully more vendors and we may even see a loop there with it finally being picked up more often.

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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F.Ultra 14 Dec, 2021
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Quoting: toorAlso, when people are forced to use Linux in some countries, like in Germany or in France for police or administration, the workers are usually not happy about it from what I heard, Linux was and still is built on a non-mainstream philosophy which is… tech passionate and open source.

AFAIK those not happy workers only existed in a few places in the LiMUX project and it was way overblown by the Microsoft proponents, the switch back to Windows was political (the new Mayor promised to get Microsoft to move their German HQ to Munich, which they did) and was not due to any real objections by the workers.
CyborgZeta 15 Dec, 2021
I think the Steam Deck is the right kind of device to help Linux get its foot in the door of the mainstream. Expensive laptops and computers from TUXEDO, System76, StarLabs, etc. isn't going to cut it. I'm on a PC I built myself now, but prior to this I had to use refurb'd/used Lenovo ThinkCentres and ThinkPads to use Linux (they work great for that, btw, good machines).

Also, and I'm sure quite a few people will not like me saying this, but I think Linux will need to push Flatpak more if it wants to get into the mainstream. If we want more developers to develop/publish their applications on Linux, then I think Flatpak is the best method we have (for now, perhaps). Even Valve seems to be supporting this with their promotion of Flatpak as the primary means of installing applications on SteamOS 3.0.
denyasis 15 Dec, 2021
QuoteHardware. Pre-installed. That's it.

It's that simple, I agree... Until it's not.

Mainstream? So business desktops? Home office? Media? Personal use? Gaming?

Can Linux support that? Sure it can. But it can't do it all at once. We can't claim it'll never work because of that. Baby steps.

I work in a Windows shop. My daily driver is a DOS program we SSH into (on a Linux server). We also use a lot of web forms and applications. Could we switch to Linux? Nope.

Some of our specialty programs we occasionally use are Windows only. I do some of our annual training. It's a 1Gb PowerPoint with embedded media, animations, everything made by a co-worker at work. It needs to be updated. Think that'll load on open office? (Spoiler: it crashes).

There's a reason why all the presentations I make for my work are PDF. I know it'll open. Where ever I take it.

I think Linux will be a great mainstream driver for home use, gaming, and maybe even some home office. We'll hit a wall once we get into more specialized operations. That's ok. We don't have to solve every hurdle at once.

And the only way to start is to offer competent hardware pre-installed.
Purple Library Guy 15 Dec, 2021
Quoting: denyasisSome of our specialty programs we occasionally use are Windows only. I do some of our annual training. It's a 1Gb PowerPoint with embedded media, animations, everything made by a co-worker at work. It needs to be updated. Think that'll load on open office? (Spoiler: it crashes).
I seriously do not understand why Linux can seamlessly run ridiculously complex Windows games with absurdly demanding graphics requirements, and can't run the latest Office or Adobe stuff. Like really, WTF? Why can't Wine do this?
pleasereadthemanual 15 Dec, 2021
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Quoting: Purple Library Guy
Quoting: denyasisSome of our specialty programs we occasionally use are Windows only. I do some of our annual training. It's a 1Gb PowerPoint with embedded media, animations, everything made by a co-worker at work. It needs to be updated. Think that'll load on open office? (Spoiler: it crashes).
I seriously do not understand why Linux can seamlessly run ridiculously complex Windows games with absurdly demanding graphics requirements, and can't run the latest Office or Adobe stuff. Like really, WTF? Why can't Wine do this?
WINE can run the latest Microsoft Office. I run it through Crossover, though it's a bit dodgy and unstable. I was able to use it for half a year without any issues. The hardest part about getting Microsoft Office working, by the way, was finding the bloody download for it. It's impossible to find on any browser on GNU/Linux; I had to use a Windows computer using Microsoft Edge. That was the only way.

As for Adobe, I know of people who use cracked versions of CS6 applications and before and vouch for the experience. The reason Adobe CC applications don't work isn't, as far as I know, because of some complex win32 libraries WINE has yet to implement properly; it's because of the DRM.

WINE doesn't have a position on "DRM", but as copy protection is more or less the same thing, this is what they have to say on the matter:

QuoteIn an effort to make copy protection more effective (i.e. resistant to cracks), the methods used by many copy protection products have become complex, difficult to understand (obfuscated), and hard to debug. In some cases Wine would need to be altered to allow for almost rootkit-like functionality of programs to get some of these copy protection schemes to work. To support copy protection Wine developers have to contend with undocumented interfaces, code obfuscation, and maintaining compatibility with *nix security models.

Wine cannot and will not break the functionality of these copy protection products. Wine's goal is to be compatible with Windows software, including copy protection. Although some would advocate the use of illegally modified or "cracked" games, Wine does not support, advocate, or even view this as a solution. The use of cracks is considered off topic on the forums, IRC channels, etc and will not be tolerated (summarily dismissed and deleted).

Full article here.

A lot of DRM doesn't work through WINE for these reasons.

The other reason, as I understand it, is because Vulkan offers most of the same featureset as Direct X > 12 and performant Direct X to Vulkan compatibility layers exist, that's most of the work already done. The most complex part of games is usually the graphics API calls. That's why a good portion of the remaining issues with games are codecs, anticheat, and DRM. Other software, like Adobe Creative Suite, depends on other core functionality that WINE hasn't implemented. I'm guessing this is why Affinity Creative Suite doesn't work through WINE...although it certainly could be the DRM as well.
Quinn 15 Dec, 2021
Quoting: vildravnYeah, aside from what I'd call enthusiast hardware, which is aimed at people who are able to, and probably want to, install Linux themselves, there really isn't much in a way of mainstream hardware that ships with Linux pre-installed. (If we ignore Google's Linux based derivates like Android and ChromeOS)

I don't think the Steam Deck will directly mean that 2022 will be the "the year of Linux on the desktop", but it really is an important stepping stone for more people to take notice of the platform.

Edit: The only problem with more vendors shipping with Linux as an alternative to Windows is that Microsoft is not just going to take it. Call me cynical but I am fairly sure there'd be kickbacks and incentives involved if that were the case.

Why do you think Microsoft have WSL? It's their way to keep GNU+Linux software devs locked into the Windows ecosystem and is part of their "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish" strategy.

With the changes Microsoft are making to DirectX for example, eventually software written on GNU+Linux under WSL won't work on GNU+Linux, it'll be locked to whatever distros Microsoft allow under WSL.


Last edited by Quinn on 15 December 2021 at 8:01 am UTC
Grimfist 16 Dec, 2021
Ahh, this whole topic is pointless in my humble opinion. I love and daily use Linux, I know how to use it, and that's about it. I don't need "The Linux Desktop" to succeed, it already succeeded for me, I can do all I want with my Linux machine (gaming, programming, Netflix & chill).
Appealing to the masses always takes sacrifices, and I don't want that!
pleasereadthemanual 16 Dec, 2021
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Quoting: GrimfistAhh, this whole topic is pointless in my humble opinion. I love and daily use Linux, I know how to use it, and that's about it. I don't need "The Linux Desktop" to succeed, it already succeeded for me, I can do all I want with my Linux machine (gaming, programming, Netflix & chill).
Appealing to the masses always takes sacrifices, and I don't want that!
I don't know about you, but I don't want GNU/Linux on the desktop becoming the Amiga of the operating system market; everyone thinks it's dead, but a choice few stragglers are hanging onto their way of computing for dear life.

Perhaps Google moves on from supporting GNU/Linux and moves forward with their Zircon kernel and their own C library. While unlikely now, who knows what the future will hold? Why does this matter for you? Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and other platforms make use of Widevine DRM to protect their content. The only reason you're allowed to watch Netflix on GNU/Linux is by the grace of Google; they dropped support for 32-bit GNU/Linux systems earlier this year though maintain it for other, more popular operating systems. Regression is always possible.

If GNU/Linux is a shrinking niche, more software will become stale over time and proprietary software vendors will drop support for the platform.

For better or for worse, the only way to fight against this is constant progress...and part of that means catering to the needs of your target market. But that doesn't mean the Gentoos, the Arch Linuxes, and the NixOSes of the world will lose their way and start targeting different audiences. There's room enough for all of us here.


Last edited by pleasereadthemanual on 16 December 2021 at 11:23 am UTC
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