Is GNU/Linux Really Replacing Windows?

Posted by grouch on Aug 11, 2006 6:59 AM EDT
LXer Feature; By DC Parris
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LXer Feature: 11-Aug-2006

Don Parris' straw poll about replacing Windows with GNU/Linux on a couple of distribution listservs has taken on a whole life of its own in the Ubuntu Users forum. Are people really replacing Windows with GNU/Linux systems? What hardware and software issues prevent people from ditching Windows altogether? Should Microsoft be worried?

Note: We are asking people to respectfully cease posting on the Ubuntu Users' list and post any further contributions to the LXer Straw Poll forum. Thanks!

How LXer's GNU/Linux Straw Poll Works

Back when I first joined LXer - last Fall - I decided to find out just how many people were actually replacing Windows with GNU/Linux. My query came amid the numerous reports of Microsoft FUD, claims about growth, and various analysts' takes on the market. There is also the issue of hardware vendors who seem not to grasp the real nature of the desktop market. Microsoft had gone so far as to make claims that people in Asia bought GNU/Linux boxes, only to replace the OS with a pirated copy of Windows. So, the question remains, are people actually replacing Windows with GNU/Linux?

I would like to emphasize that straw polls are, by definition, non-scientific. Even so, the poll and the responses it has drawn are of some interest to the Free and Open Source Software community in general. The poll has become something of a pulse meter, and demonstrates progress toward eliminating what Ubuntu refers to as Bug #1. Let's see what other conclusions we might draw.

Ubuntu Conversions

The results from my initial straw poll amounted to a total of 72 responses. Out of that, some 55 people had replaced Windows on 134 machines. That article included users from the SUSE-OT list and 43 people from the Ubuntu Users list. Having recently moved the GNU/Linux Straw Poll to LXer, I have not included the few new responses here. Today, the numbers have changed, and show GNU/Linux gaining ground.

As of this writing, 259 people have responded on the Ubuntu Users list and forums. 193 people have replaced Windows on more than 348 laptops, desktops, and servers. What is significant is that, in the original poll, 29 out of 43 Ubuntu users reported having replaced Windows on one or more computers. That is roughly 67.44%. Today, 74.52% of the Ubuntu users report having replaced Windows. At least 4% never used Windows to begin with, being users of Mac, UNIX, or other GNU/Linux systems. And a few who previously said they had not completed conversion have now reported total conversion from Windows.

Several reported having ditched Windows at least three years ago. Several have converted others over. When we know how many, those numbers are included in our count. One person has converted 17 friends and family. Another is working on migrating 15 desktops at work from Windows to GNU/Linux. The reasons for ditching Windows are typical - licensing issues, malware, and Windows' infamous stability problems. Related to the stability issue is the frustration some feel having to re-install Windows on a frequent basis due to performance degradation issues.

There is still a significant number of people keeping Windows around for games and certain applications. Some have to use Windows at work because that's what their employer uses, while a few mentioned using GNU/Linux for work on personal laptops or desktops without their employer realizing that they don't use Windows. Some are simply hung up on their favorite Windows applications, and a few just like to tinker with different software technologies. Some users admit their unfamiliarity keeps them dual-booting for the moment, but definitely plan to drop Windows once they feel more comfortable in the GNU/Linux environment.


Hardware still seems to be a sticking point for some. One user said, effectively, "lots of hardware still doesn't work with GNU/Linux". The irony is that the Linux kernel supports more hardware than any other major OS.

The fact is, lots of hardware does work with GNU/Linux, even when the manufacturer makes no claims about it. Buying a computer with GNU/Linux pre-installed eliminates the user's need to worry about hardware compatibility. Finally, enough people are switching to GNU/Linux, that any hardware manufacturer withholding GNU/Linux support is essentially shooting themselves in the foot.

Windows Application Ports

Novell's survey of Most Wanted Mac/Windows-only Applications points to a potential tipping point for a number of computer users. The GNU/Linux Straw Poll doesn't agree completely with Novell's list. It does suggest that only one or two applications need to be ported to enable an even greater number of users to ditch Windows altogether. A software developer wondering whether it should port its software can simply take a look at how Firefox and have been stealing market share from Microsoft's offerings. After all, these are multi-platform applications.

Off-Base Complaints

User comments continued to draw helpful responses, even when the complaints seemed a little unreasonable. One user recently reported that he would not recommend GNU/Linux to anyone. Among his complaints was the lack of a graphical tool for editing GRUB's menu.lst, an ATI X600 video card, a program to import bookmarks from firefox (to what he didn't say), and not having a way to "refresh" his Ubuntu 6.06 while keeping /home. Funny, that last one. A few people responded almost immediately with instructions on how to do just that. Still, I don't know many 'average' computer users who want to edit their GRUB menu, or why that would prevent him from recommending GNU/Linux to anyone.

Perhaps that user's funniest complaint was a problem he had run into while trying to dual-boot Ubuntu with Windows. It's one of those complaints that just seems to miss the point of the poll - find out who is replacing Windows with GNU/Linux. Why would dual-boot issues present an obstacle to replacing another operating system? Such off-base objections suggest that most practical objections have already been overcome. I raised the question as to whether the guy would recommend GNU/Linux if it were pre-installed. He hasn't answered yet.

The Bottom Line

The number of people who really can ditch Windows right now - with little or no fuss - is pretty darned high. In fact, more and more people are converting from Windows to GNU/Linux. Analysts are advising businesses to hold off migrating to Windows Vista. Businesses are saying they have no plans to do so. Respectable tech publications are comparing some GNU/Linux distributions favorably to Windows Vista. Yeah, I think Microsoft should be pretty worried about the future of its flagship software.

We'll certainly continue to track this issue. We encourage you to respond - only if you haven't already - to the GNU/Linux Straw Poll.


» Read more about: Story Type: Editorial, LXer Features; Groups: GNU, Linux, LXer, Ubuntu

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all around the world grouch 9 2,029 Aug 13, 2006 9:37 PM

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