In a recent feature, Neil McAllister asks whether desktop Linux is too fragmented to succeed. He comments, "Unlike Windows or Mac OS X, each of which is the product of a single vendor, Linux comes in many different distributions that target the desktop, and each has its own look and feel. Some are based on the Gnome desktop environment, while others use KDE, and still others let the user choose between both."
Again, for people who love choice, that's great. But, how many people are there really who can tell you the differences between something as 'obvious' as KDE 4.2x and GNOME 2.26 desktop interfaces. Perhaps a million in the whole world. That's not many compared to the hundreds of millions who use Windows on a daily basis.
There are many reasons why Linux is still trying to become the king of the desktop mountain. But, the more I think about it, the more I believe that one of the major ones is that there are too many choices.
Nothing can be done about that. There's no practical way to reduce the number of Linux distributions, not would I destroy them if I had a magic wand and with a wave I could eliminate dozens of them. Each viable distribution works well for its developers and users.
The more popular ones, such as Fedora, openSUSE and Ubuntu, appeal to large numbers of users. Others, like SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) 11, are full business Windows desktop replacements. While Ubuntu 9.04 appeals to users who want the newest developments combined with ease of use, and distributions such as Mint 6 and MEPIS 8, may not be that well known but are outstanding desktop Linux distributions in their own right.
So what can be done?
Google can take charge of the Linux desktop. The Google Android Linux desktop isn't just on its way, the first Android netbook is already on the production line.
At the same time though, I also think there's still a realistic chance for one of the other desktop Linuxes to make a grab for serious desktop market share. What the company or community needs to do is to align itself with a major hardware vendor and get that OEM to not just sell desktop Linux, but to give it the kind of advertising and support that needed for any product to get the attention of customers.
Although some major PC vendors, Dell most noticeably, have been installing and supporting Linux, none of them have aggressively tried to push desktop Linux. If Google, as it appears they will be, starts making a major push for Android Linux, then perhaps Dell and other hardware companies will also start pushing their desktop Linux offerings. In that case, Ubuntu or SLED, which have the strongest PC OEM connections, may finally gain the mind-share needed to stand out from the other Linux distributions and gain a significant share of the overall desktop market.