Are You Replacing Windows with GNU/Linux?
Have you replaced Windows with GNU/Linux on your computer(s)? That was the simple question I raised on a couple of listservs recently. Granted, it was a straw poll - by definition not the most scientific polling method available. I could have asked more questions, included restraints, etc. to create a scientific poll. Still, my question brought some very interesting, though not always surprising, results. I recently suggested that Windows is currently facing obsolescence in a free-market economy. This straw poll demonstrates why, anecdotally speaking.
First, let's get the scientific pollster hoopla out of the way. I did not seek to create a scientific poll. Either they had replaced Windows on one or more boxes or they hadn't. While I initially requested the dual-booting folks to abstain, they ignored me, offering their invaluable insights anyway. That's the danger of a straw poll on a listserv. It also proved to be a good thing, at least from my perspective. So you have been fairly warned to take what I say here with a grain of salt.
I received a stern warning from one listserv member that responses would be very biased, presumably due to the fact that I asked in a "pro-Linux" environment. Well it turns out that only some of them may have been biased. If I had asked the same question in a Windows-oriented listserv, half the people would have had to ask what GNU/Linux is. Frankly, many were brutally honest about why they keep Windows around. So, for all the potential bias, there were some offsetting, unbiased responses.
I received a total of 72 responses from users on two listservs. I counted the number of machines each user reported as running GNU/Linux in a single-OS configuration. With two exceptions, I counted any dual-boot machines in the "no" column, as the two OSes co-exist. In the two exceptions, the users indicated he had not booted Windows in over a year. In my view, they may as well wipe it from the hard drive. I did get some direct "no" responses, along with reasons why not. I also got some "not yet" responses, which could indicate that some have a goal to do so.
There was also the question of work vs. home use. A fair number of responses came from users who use GNU/Linux at work, as well as at home. Other respondents indicated they were using GNU/Linux at home, but Windows at work. I have kept notes of those cases, and did not count work computers where there was no option to use GNU/Linux. I included the systems of people who have the option to use GNU/Linux on their work laptops or desktops. It is safe to say that a fair number of these people run Windows on a separate system to maintain compatibility with proprietary applications or services.
The total number of responses doesn't tell us much. We know absolutely nothing about the people who did not respond. However, 55 of the 72 have replaced Windows with GNU/Linux on at least 134 machines. Some indicated that they are also helping family and friends to migrate, although most of these still dual-boot. At least 9 of these replaced Windows over one year ago. Four indicated that they had not replaced Windows, because they migrated from OS/2, or used GNU/Linux all along. Only a few were actually 100% Windows-free. Several reported having one or more machines at home that still either run Windows in a single or dual-boot configuration for specific purposes.
Remember that questionable Gartner study that suggested Asians were buying GNU/Linux PCs only to turn around and install pirated copies of Windows? Well, at least a couple of our respondents indicated that they bought Windows PCs, only to turn around and install GNU/Linux. This is not a matter of purchasing a Windows PC, and later discovering GNU/Linux. We're talking about people willing to get a PC with Windows because it's cheaper than one without, and then wipe the hard drive to install GNU/Linux right away. So Microsoft gets the credit in their financial statements, but GNU/Linux walks away with the hardware.
The "no" and "not yet" responses shed some light on the reasons why people are not replacing Windows with GNU/Linux. The #1 reason people keep Windows around is for games. The #2 reason given for keeping Windows around was legacy, proprietary applications that as yet have no equivalents that users feel comfortable using on the GNU/Linux platform. The main applications were accounting and video editing. The other big reason for holding out was some piece of hardware that is not yet supported by GNU/Linux - at least not the distribution the user prefers. One respondent cited extensive reliance on the .Net platform.
Several indicated that they had not yet completely replaced Windows, but were in the process of doing so. Finding or Waiting for suitable libre software replacements for proprietary programs is the one thing holding back many users. The lack of awareness of appropriate applications was a barrier for at least one person. He indicated his dilemma and received a number of responses pointing him to gThumb as a possible replacement for a Windows photo management program he liked using. There were no responses at all indicating that the difficulty of using GNU/Linux was holding someone back.
While there's hardly enough data to address scientifically, I would say these results are, nevertheless, a microcosm of the larger reality. There are people who desire to replace Windows with either GNU/Linux or Mac, and that there are only a few programs or features of programs holding back any particular user or organization from choosing GNU/Linux for home, business or non-profit use. The fact is, many of these cases are single programs or single devices. That one last piece could literally bring Windows to an end on thousands of boxes around the world.
People are also helping other Windows users discover that Windows is mostly irrelevant. They are helping family, friends and co-workers get started using alternatives to Windows. When people aren't replacing Windows with Macs, they are replacing Windows with GNU/Linux. Not that doing so indicates a mad rush, but people are discovering GNU/Linux through a variety of channels, and the more people who discover it, discover they no longer have any real need of Windows. The members of some families only use the Windows box until the GNU/Linux box comes open.
So, while Windows commands the lead in the general OS marketplace, it is also on the verge of becoming irrelevant, if not obsolete. Many of the users that responded could change hardware or decide to do without a particular software feature until it is implemented in a GNU/Linux alternative. Others simply need to check out the GNU/Linux-Windows equivalent tables at Linux Questions or at LinuxRSP, a Russian GNU/Linux site (list in English and other languages), or ask questions on an appropriate listserv. I thought it was very interesting that Windows' only remaining use is as a game box.
What about you? Are you replacing Windows with GNU/Linux? Is that your goal? On how many boxes have you replaced Windows with GNU/Linux? How many still run Windows? Did you buy a Windows box to replace with GNU/Linux? LXer previously asked what makes people switch to GNU/Linux. Now you can tell us whether you've replaced Windows, or what holds you back.
Related story: Saving Windows from Obsolescence in a Free-Market Economy, by D.C. Parris
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