The Sunlight Manifesto

Desktop Linux out of the Shadows

The case for a commercial consortium to drive mainstream awareness and interest in desktop Linux

by James Mawson, March 2020

in collaboration with Make it Linux, which you can follow on Twitter and Youtube.

This is only for those who actually want desktop Linux to go big.

Do you feel like that means nothing for your use and enjoyment of Linux? Stop reading now.

It might hold your attention if you're merely sympathetic, but it's mostly for those commercially motivated.

You are few who might do much.

Thanks belong to Marc Di Luzio, Jason Evangelho and Jochen Spang, whose feedback improved this immensely.

Let's jump right in.

Table of Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Introduction
  3. Perceptions and Reputation
  4. Social Signalling and Status
  5. Preaching Beyong the Choir
  6. Social Proof and Defensive Decision Making
  7. Where's the Linux Foundation?
  8. The Case for a Desktop Linux Alliance
  9. Ethos and Mindset
  10. Marketing a Fragmented Ecosystem
  11. Who Would You Target?
  12. Potential Activities
  13. Potential Sponsors and Backers
  14. Where to from Here?
  15. Further Reading

Executive Summary

“I would love to change the world, but they won't give me the source code.” - Anonymous

Key Points


“Software is like sex: it's better when it's free.” - Linus Torvalds

Why don't more people want desktop Linux?

You'd easily assume it's difficult or just rubbish.

It's free, yet hardly anyone wants it.. you get what you pay for, right? It's so arcane, only hardcore nerds, cheapskates and fanatics suffer it. Otherwise everyone would use it.

Yes, that's a circular argument without evidence. But few scrutinise it; they're busy elsewhere. Meanwhile, it feels intuitive, it's self-reinforcing, and meets ordinary expectations of unfamiliar tech. Even some IT pros think this.

For those who actually use desktop Linux, this makes no sense. They see daily that it runs faster, is more stable and secure, with a simpler, slicker interface. Returning to Windows hurts.

So what's their explanation? Usually, the “outstanding issues” narrative.

This notes advantages, but also obstacles: software support, hardware drivers, installation headaches, miscellaneous tasks that still require the CLI, UEFI secure boot, frames per second on games, and more.

This is very persuasive; they're all real. They matter. They're the best reasons not to use Linux.

It matters if web designers struggle to run Adobe products in a compatibility layer, only to watch updates break everything. That's no way to maintain a livelihood.

Or passionate gamers.. if games or GPUs don't run as well.. or at all.. that matters, right?

This Story Has Holes

There's unfinished work there. But the bigger picture is that Linux has excelled at identifying such issues, taking them seriously and addressing them.

Has the market share matched this progress?


Then how is this the primary cause?

And what about ordinary users with simple needs? Who aren't into the latest games, newest hardware or Mac and Windows-only applications. They just want the web, documents, emails, music streaming and video chats with work and family.

Linux does that well, so should be relatively strong with this audience. The opposite is true.

What's Missing?

The market share means 97%+ of humanity sees only context: reputation, media presence, social proof, first impressions, attitudes, perceptions etc.

That's no magic wand to make tech issues vanish.

Instead, notice the excellent momentum, organisation and leadership on that front. The hearts and minds campaign has nothing like it. That disparity is so vast that the software will noticeably progress just in the time it takes to have this conversation.

What's more, only users have any idea how these tech issues even stack up. Non-users aren't influenced by things they can't see.

Alternatively, disregard hearts and minds, just keep coding.

Why not hang Rembrandts on Neptune?

But is There a Business Case?

Specialist and mass market hardware companies profitably sell Linux desktops and laptops. There's excellent independent media around desktop Linux too.

Some distributions even sell desktop Linux (for actual money).

The spiciest flavour is that Microsoft's desktop monopoly presents big risks and disadvantages to other tech giants.

Let's go deeper.

Perceptions and Reputation

“If your perception is so much worse than your reality, what on earth are you doing trying to change the reality?” - Rory Sutherland, Vice Chair Ogilvy UK

What's the published data say about how non-users see desktop Linux? It doesn't seem to even exist yet. This draws instead from months of casual conversations with non-users.

A large minority know so little of Linux, they can't say anything. It's “something to do with computers”. They resist engaging further – that seems to feel like labour.

Few non-users have any line of sight to desktop Linux. They have a painting of a photograph of a photocopy.

The market share (between 1 and 3%, depending who you ask) isn't just low, it's lumpy. It skews heavily to tech professionals and hobbyists. Most others don't see it on 1 in 50 or 100 machines; it's more like zero.

Non-users see Linux as difficult software for a technical elite. Even those who've built their own PC or website regard Linux as beyond them: “That's for really smart people, I just need something basic.”

When asked to explain this, they don't cite specific obstacles, but Linux's social position: where it's mentioned, who talks about it and how.

Some non-users believe software support barely exists: “the only thing on it is a text editor”, “the only game is SuperTuxKart” etc.

Among IT types, Linux is notorious for toxic elitism. They know through experience and word of mouth that beginners should expect mockery and abuse. Even if many Linux communities have cleaned this up, the impression remains.

Desktop Linux looks extremely male.

Linux's Public Ambassadors

Linux's popularity beyond the desktop means many discover it there.

Many encounter Linux servers through work or education. This means bash commands, text files and the occasional (often ugly) web interface.

This says nothing of desktop Linux's polish and ease. Linux for Everyone's interview with Chris Titus tells of a senior IT pro with no idea how nice desktop Linux was, despite regularly using Linux servers.

The Raspberry Pi showed Linux to millions. This has a basic desktop environment, though there's not much you'd do with it. Most projects put you knee deep in bash commands and text files again. Even if you dig that as a hobby, priorities for your daily driver likely differ.

It's now easy to use Linux CLI tools with the Windows Subsystem for Linux. This further identifies Linux with IT work and bash.

Linux and open source has reached mainstream media: see this CNBC feature and The Atlantic article. The emphasis is again on infrastructure and on code.

Social Signalling and Status

“I use Arch btw” - Ancient Proverb

Why use Arch? It's hard, tedious and careless updates cause catastrophe. It runs much the same stuff as any Linux.

There's even EndeavourOS, which gets you close to vanilla Arch, with a super easy install and a community who doesn't ritually humiliate the confused.

Keen Arch fans might point to the customisation, leanness, pride and satisfaction of a DIY operating system, bleeding edge software, the chance to better understand Linux and the power that offers.

They're all great reasons. But what's actually wrong with the most superficial? To say you use it?

Using Arch btw inspires much humour among Linux users. As a badge of Linux ability, however, it seems really good.

You didn't merely dabble. You're so comfortable, it's your daily driver.

Arch communities are notorious for answering beginner hardships with RTFM, mockery, even abuse. Use any helper tool, you're told it's “not Arch anymore, go elsewhere”

Asshole behaviour? Perhaps, but there's logic to preserving the signalling value.

Yet lurk in these spaces and it's never discussed. You'd possibly invite ridicule to outline anything as effete as a “brand”. This wasn't planned. It's intuitive.

Any primate's survival, reproduction, and offspring's prospects hinge on social performance. We send and understand social signals instinctively.

We Trust Costly Signals More

They're harder to fake. They help us cooperate in situations of low information and trust. This theory of costly signalling goes a long way to explaining many behaviours that otherwise seem entirely against our interests:

Linux is reputedly difficult, so signals technical ability and interest. Even between insiders who know it's often simple, you still differentiate yourself to realise this.

This signalling can have professional advantages; it also serves our basic want to be taken seriously. It's a principal-agent problem: the technical brand constrains popularity, but rewards insiders.

It's now unfashionable in most Linux communities to treat beginners with contempt. They still present many cues that Linux belongs to a technical elite.

That won't scale to twenty times the size without changing. That means talking about the software in new ways, in new places, between very different people.

The Ballad of Billy G

Microsoft's hugely successful advertising for Windows 95 was the first genuine attempt to position an operating system for everyone.

The central element was the music of the Rolling Stones. Apart from the lyrical association of “Start me up” to the Start button, it's hard to think what associates classic rock with computers.

The long form video marketing featured Friends stars Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry, who seem similarly remote from computing.

This communicated instantly that Windows 95 wasn't just for professionals and hobbyists, it's for everyone. It helped that everyone presumed these musicians and actors were expensive.

(Microsoft didn't at the time correct reports that the band's fee was several times the real sum; to be thought credible enough to print, an insider likely leaked it.)

Desktop Linux doesn't enjoy Microsoft's advertising budget, but can still use this style of thinking.

Growing Desktop Linux Dilutes the Technical Brand

This will frustrate every effort too reliant on grassroots viral marketing. Many users will be uninterested or even hostile.

Others will see promoting desktop Linux as their way to give back to open source, but only a special few will have enthusiasm and feeling for what resonates with non-users.

This will likely hold even among open source ideologues, who would love desktop Linux to win.

Because desktop Linux needs to position as less technical, the most useful visibility will involve contexts that look quite remote from established Linux communities.

Preaching Beyond the Choir

“If you're famous, more lucky shit happens to you than if you're obscure” - Rory Sutherland

So is Linux plain bad at communication and marketing? Hmmm...

How about those excellent Linux blogs, videos and podcasts? Those profitable outfits selling Linux computers?

There are even desktop distributions who sell the damn thing. You can't totally suck at marketing if you're persuading customers to pay for free software.

How does this not explode the market share? Well, who sees this except existing users?

Even a billion dollar business with global reach like Dell pushes Linux machines only to those seeking.

It's the principal-agent problem again. Whether you're marketing hardware, software or ad impressions, of course you cater to the interested audience. That's just good targeting.

Yet replicated across the ecosystem, that means desktop Linux's best and most persuasive advocates, marketers and communicators all pitch to existing users.

This are clear exceptions. Desktop Linux stories hit the front page of Forbes. It reaches wider audiences of technology enthusiasts through Linus Tech Tips and PCMag features.

Mostly, though, reaching non-users - the only way to gain market share - is left to chance.

Social Proof and Defensive Decision Making

“Nobody gets fired for choosing IBM” - 1970s industry cliche

Social proof has profound implications for desktop Linux. Anyone encountering it here for the first time should read further on this principle of human behaviour.

The basic idea is that we're all highly influenced to do what we see others do. That's wired into our biology and happens below our awareness.

We're most influenced by social proof when we feel uncertain. We're also more influenced by people we admire, or who seem similar to ourselves.

On face value, this seems like mindless herd behaviour. But it must have immensely helped our primate ancestors. When we're unsure what to do, we default to what visibly isn't killing or injuring others like us.

And how would we navigate modern life's countless decisions without shortcuts? Consider how much less humans have at stake in perfect choices than in avoiding catastrophes, and social proof looks like evolutionary genius.

Advertisers understood social proof many decades before academics. That's why you see many popularity claims in advertising: “join over 334,000 people”, “over 99 billion burgers served”, “New York Times Bestseller” and so on. Advertisers also look for creative ways to frame offerings as popular.

Desktop Linux's Social Proof Sucks

Mass audiences intuitively feel desktop Linux isn't for them because they don't see people like them using it. It's unpopular just for being unpopular.

The general invisibility of women on desktop Linux amplifies this social proof penalty among the majority of adults who aren't men.

Desktop Linux does better with age and cultural diversity. It's still important that any marketing push reflect this.

Social proof most influences the uncertain, so it makes sense that desktop Linux does better among the most technically able. That helps you install it too, sure. But how many uncertain non-users even get that far?

For everyone else, feeling dissimilar to technically able Linux users compounds the social proof penalty.

Social Proof Feeds Defensive Decision Making

Individual employees have less at stake in choosing perfectly for everyone than avoiding disaster for themselves. This favours visible norms.

Most want to do right by their team. But when that's ambiguous, the incentive is to risk least personal consequence.

Recommending Windows is safe. When it goes wrong, you won't be held accountable. It's so unremarkable, it won't even be questioned.

Recommending Linux means sticking your neck out. It will be suspected for any problem, even those wholly unrelated.

That's diabolical for anyone selling desktop Linux support services. You might convince IT managers it's absolutely better for their use case, and they'd still rationally choose Windows.

Social proof and defensive decision making also influence engineers, developers and managers deciding the hardware or software support to give Linux.

This can only be addressed head on. That means generating buzz and visibility for desktop Linux in many contexts.

Where's the Linux Foundation?

“Ah, your brother blows bubble gum!” - Bugs Bunny

Hypothetically, the Linux Foundation might devote a fraction of a percent of its time and $80m budget to winning hearts and minds for desktop Linux.

This would fit well with a formal mission of “building sustainable ecosystems around open source projects”. It kinda makes intuitive sense too.

But the Foundation is reluctant to even acknowledge desktop Linux.

When you search the foundation's website for the word “desktop”, the results date from 2008 to 2013. Their Twitter mentions the desktop until 2016. Their website does publish desktop content occasionally, but it doesn't merit its own category. It's not pushed.

They are developing the kernel desktop Linux relies on, so they're neither enemy nor roadblock. Still, what's missing here is crucial.

Who else could take it on?

The Free Software Foundation has a brand and following. Growing desktop Linux would be a big win for free software.

It also means tolerating proprietary drivers and firmware. They don't do that. This voice for pure software freedom is valuable, so it's not even desirable they would.

There's no telling how long you'd wait for an existing organisation to tackle this.

The Case for a Desktop Linux Alliance

“Yeah, well, I'm gonna go build my own theme park.” - Bender Bending Rodriguez

Many businesses and professionals could gain by growing desktop Linux. Why not found together a small organisation exclusively focused on making it mainstream?

This exclusive focus is essential. A Desktop Linux Alliance should never be sidetracked by other goals. It wouldn't have any.

It might promote a GPL operating system, but be expedient about closed source drivers and applications along the way.

It could be non-profit, but commercial in outlook, to the benefit of businesses and professionals involved in desktop Linux.

Ethos and Mindset

“The Linux philosophy is 'Laugh in the face of danger'. Oops. Wrong one. 'Do it yourself'. Yes, that's it.” - Linus Torvalds

Free software means nobody needs permission for new things. An Alliance may lead, inspire, and inform but never command.

Instead of attempting to run everything, it should focus on useful manoeuvres to set the ecosystem up for success.

The AIDA model might help set priorities. This groups consumer decision stages as Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.

It's possible to push through all four stages at once, but this kind of marketing tends to be idiosyncratic and rely much on time pressure: infomercials, sales letters, in-store promotions, door to door salespeople and so on.

Few non-users will choose Linux instantly. They'll progress through AIDA over multiple points of contact.

Attention and Interest are easier to pursue when pushing a whole family of options. That's also where desktop Linux needs particular help. That's about non-users first noticing desktop Linux, then vaguely understand the benefits.

Vendors can then promote Desire and Action for specific offerings, supported by the Alliance's advice, research and analysis.

Marketing a Fragmented Ecosystem

“In praising Antony I have dispraised Caesar” - Cleopatra

Linux's fragmentation poses unique communication challenges. Linus Torvalds has even said it's “why the Linux desktop failed”.

Is he right? Who even counts would-be users deterred by fragmentation?

But even when it isn't a central objection, it surely reinforces the sense that Linux is difficult.

It's a problem of perception. The weight of unfamiliar concepts and language means the easiest choice to make is to not do anything.

Only once you're using it do you learn it was optional to navigate this fluently.

Most guidance on this explains as much as possible: what a distribution is, upstream and downstream, desktop environments, package managers, LTS branches, point releases, rolling releases etc. Quizzes ask question after question then give 14 answers detailing pros and cons.

That's great to engage highly analytical personalities.

With everyone else, might this do more harm than good? It reinforces the idea that choosing well is crucial and Linux users should be fluent here.

It might be worth testing an opposite approach: acknowledging the complexity then laughing it off as though it hardly matters. That's in fact broadly true. Beginner-friendly distros are much more similar than different. They run slightly varying versions of the same applications. They offer the same benefits over Windows.

That's especially true for Joe Average, who doesn't develop software, set up systemd services or use the package manager from the CLI.

There is also room to sidestep this entirely and just promote “Linux”. This simplifies the communication immensely. Certain activities force your hand though. It's hard to do an infographic without picking either a single distro or a shortlist to highlight.

Fragmentation likely has no perfect answer, but many answers that weigh competing considerations differently. Finding the best balance will require testing and experimentation.

Fragmentation's difficulty could lead to a paralysis of indecision. Dithering endlessly would be the worst decision of all.

Who Would You Target?

“It's not the having, it's the getting.” - Elizabeth Taylor

An obvious question to start with is who'd spend money somewhere on Linux? Delivering immediate benefit to backers helps sustain an effort.

Desktop Linux's social proof challenges mean there's value to non-payers too.

English speaking countries are a quarter of world GDP; it's also the world's most widespread non-native language. There may be a further case to repurpose content for other major language markets.

Within language markets there are niches too.


PC gamers will be better at dealing with installation, drivers and related issues. They already deal with this sometimes in Windows.

They're also a relatively easy audience to reach through gaming and other computing media.

Gamers hunger for the newest, fastest hardware and software. Winning share here makes vendors care more about Linux support.

Gamers are mostly male computer hobbyists. Gaining ground here falls short of repositioning and building social proof as a truly mainstream operating system.

Despite Linux's huge gains in gaming, the Steam survey shows the market share is currently less than 1%. We don't know how far that's skewed by dual booters gaming on Windows.

Choosing Linux still means giving up performance on many games, and some games entirely. Winning over gamers might require a broader campaign emphasising other benefits to a wider group.

Users of Linux servers, SBCs etc

Many using Linux on servers, embedded systems or hobby projects have no idea how nice desktop Linux is.

Is this low hanging fruit? It's a big head start on choosing a distribution, installing drivers, using the package manager and the terminal.

This shares similar advantages and disadvantages to targeting gamers. There are media channels to reach them through, they are capable with tech. But it's not repositioning or social proof to go mainstream.

Some here can code and like open source. There could be future contributors to desktop Linux projects here.

Bloggers, youtubers, podcasters and other content creators

We might magnify reach by promoting Linux to content creators across all topics: history, philosophy, sports, business, politics, parenting, comedy, film, all sorts of things.

This is a relatively narrow audience. They're often curious people craving novelty. Desktop Linux can make good sense if you work with websites and digital media.

They're also strategically valuable. They're cultivating audiences, many of whom will never stream a Linux podcast. This is a way to seed Linux into everyday conversations, like the iPhone.

Content creators could be reached cheaply by content marketing across many channels and communities.

There are many Linuxy content creators to showcase. This would be useful and relevant to upcoming content creators, while leveraging the similarity effect in social proof.

SMBs and enterprises

This is a desirable place to gain market share: these businesses pay money for support services.

Desktop focused distributions could earn support, training and certification revenues, furthering development and marketing. Some distributions appear to be already positioning themselves for this.

Defensive decision making is huge here. Countering this means reassuring decision makers that Linux won't freak out bosses and coworkers with little tech savvy.

Any visibility for the Linux desktop outside of technology contexts could help. Especially useful would be mentions in business publications read by non-IT managers.

Micro businesses, freelancers and entrepreneurs

The very smallest businesses and sole traders manage their own IT. That's greatly simplifies decisions.

They're also price sensitive, paying little to nothing for IT services (even when it makes sense to).

Linux can appeal to frugality, because of the user experience available on modest hardware.

This group has both well-founded and groundless concerns about software support.

A portion of these businesses will grow. They're also excellent social proof for larger businesses.

Winning ground here also pushes business software developers to rethink their Linux support.

Students, pensioners and single parents

They're on a budget, making cheap computers last. They often have simple needs that Linux could easily cater to.

Computer builders and refurbishment

Another interesting angle would be to target people installing an operating system soon.

A big advantage for Windows is it's usually installed for you. People building their own computer don't have this luxury. Sometimes installing Windows 10 can be a huge headache.

For small businesses that refurbish second hand computers, lightweight Linux distributions could help extract value from old machines that painfully lag with Windows 10.

Possible Activites

“If it's a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is much easier to apologise than it is to get permission.” - Grace Hopper, inventor of the compiler

Let's get down to brass tacks.

Market Research

It's surreal how in two decades of “year of the Linux desktop” predictions, nobody seems to have examined the non-users to be won over.

It's all based on casual observations of non-users, or worse, by users putting everything together in their own heads. There may be unpublished data for internal use somewhere; that's of limited use to the wider ecosystem.

We don't even really know the market share. Figures collected from website traffic skew in all sorts of ways. Right now, they're the best we have.

There are more questions: Who's heard of Linux? Who realises what it is? Who realises it can go on laptops and desktops? Who's used it? In the past 12 months? What do they know? What features and benefits do they recognise?

Until this happens, we're not clear what we're even up against.

There's further scope to study specific audiences of interest.

Such data would firstly inform the Alliance's own marketing and publicity efforts. It could also be published, to aid other efforts to grow desktop Linux.

Market research data could also drive publicity across multiple channels.

Marketing Case Studies and Testing

Some things you can't learn about an audience just by asking.

People are generally good at explaining what they like and what they know. We aren't always honest about motivations. The conscious mind often isn't even aware.

That's why it's interesting to run tests and measure response. The web makes this inexpensive and easy.

With a modest budget, you could use digital advertising to split test messages and compare performance.

With no advertising budget, you could run split tests on pages receiving organic traffic.

The outer pages of desktop Linux websites would be worth particular attention. The better these pages perform, the faster market share can grow.

The more we learn and publish about different audiences and what works, the better.


With half a billion dollars, you could reach big audiences across multiple major world markets through advertising. With much less, it's better becoming the feature story.

Open source now appears in mainstream media. Desktop Linux is a good story too. Pitched well, it would surely secure coverage.

This is a chance to appear in contexts less exclusive to technology professionals and hobbyists.

Publicity also cultivates social proof. Appearing in a range of media activates the multiple source effect.

Any kind of story about people switching to Linux is worth pushing. That's especially true if those people are not technology experts. Even small gains should be publicised aggressively.

Some of this could involve a data driven approach, focusing on niches and micro-niches where desktop Linux desktop is more popular than average or making gains.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is publicity's close cousin. It has some crossover in that it's about publishing and promoting content, and the two approaches generally pair well.

It differs in that it's more inbound in emphasis – it's about nurturing existing attention. It can work particularly well for targeting narrow niches.

Content can be primarily text based, such as blog posts and well curated resources sections. Infographics and other visual content can also be great to communicate features and benefits, and popular with writers and journalists too.

Video marketing is another way to depict these same features and benefits. These could be promoted with Youtube SEO to appear in search results and sidebar recommendations.

Linux Exclusive Binaries

With enough budget, an Alliance could sponsor closed source software compiled only for Linux then distributed for free.

If technically feasible, it might be made so that it's far more desirable to run it natively, rather than through a VM or compatibility layer.

This might make particular sense with games. Sequels or “enhanced and expanded versions” of indy games with a cult following might be relatively inexpensive and interesting a large audience. A small studio who participated in this would benefit both by sponsorship and by the publicity value for the other games in the series.

This reframes the problem of interesting people in installing Linux. Instead of the big sell on a forever operating system, they just have to want one thing enough to install a Linux partition to mess around on. Once it's there, they can explore further at leisure.

It could also drive publicity. The novelty value would be immense and merit coverage in many places – including howls of outrage from free software purists.

Reviewers and other content creators who want to engage would have to install a Linux partition too. Having influencers exploring desktop Linux would be of further strategic value.

Potential Sponsors and Backers

“Now all we need is a little energon and a lot of luck” - Optimus Prime

Many businesses would benefit materially by growing desktop Linux.

For some, it's their market: who they sell to, or where they get clicks. Then there are tech giants at disadvantage or risk by the Windows monopoly.

For the largest, sponsorship would look like a rounding error on their bottom line, and it could be presented in PR-friendly terms as generosity to open source (which it actually would be, also).

For much smaller businesses with revenues in the six or low seven figures, this is largely a value proposition. At this level, you can't fund enough research and advocacy to move the needle by yourself. The trade-off is that it's shared with other Linux projects - as they do already with their code.

At the smallest level are those with a solo business activity or even a semi-professional pursuit. From these, it's neither realistic nor reasonable to expect more than token sponsorship. That's valuable beyond the actual sum. A small payment builds commitment to the cause, a reciprocal obligation from the Alliance, and signals to watchers that it's serious.

Linux Distributions

There are flagship distros by large businesses who monetise Linux with support to enterprises. Growing desktop Linux's market share means they can sell desktop support too.

Then there are distros backed by smaller businesses building the most user friendly desktop for the broadest audience possible. Their existing revenue is from donations, sponsorship, ad revenue sharing.. all depend on the size of their user base. In future, they might develop training, certification and support businesses.

Linuxy content creators

Linux bloggers, video bloggers and podcasters are already at the coal face in communicating desktop Linux.

They've also a direct stake in growing desktop Linux: the more users, the more traffic they can pull.

They can push this idea, build momentum and get it in front of other key decision makers – who may have to hear about it many times before taking action.

Hardware manufacturers

Smaller outfits specialise in Linux laptops and workstations, and big brands feature Linux offerings.

Microsoft was recently granted an export licence to continue supplying Windows to Huawei. Chinese brands should still see growing desktop Linux as mitigation against geopolitical risks to their supply chain.

Some say large hardware manufacturers only push Linux to pressure Microsoft to lower prices. This is in itself a clear commercial reason to grow desktop Linux. Without some growth, that pressure isn't real.

Cloud services

Cloud services is a $200b annual trade, growing at 15-20% a year.

Microsoft's desktop dominance massively advantages them against other cloud giants. The training, certification, partnership and other commercial programs provide a sales and marketing channel into every level of business.

Windows 10's telemetry is also the ultimate research tool: real time data on macro trends in computing that only Microsoft can use.

Here, some of the world's wealthiest, most sophisticated and best connected businesses have excellent reasons to help drive desktop Linux marketing.

Other businesses

Microsoft's efforts to promote the Windows Store directly threaten Valve: 96.3% of Steam customers use Windows. Microsoft's recent acquisitions binge of games developers only clarifies this threat.

They're already a big backer of desktop Linux with the Proton compatibility layer. To get the most out of this investment, it makes sense they would care about perceptions and reputation too.

Other digital distribution companies might also see a similar interest in encouraging the Linux desktop.

Where to from Here?

“You know, when you were a baby in your crib, your father looked down upon you and had one wish: 'Some day my son will grow up to be a man'.
Well look at you now. You just got your asses whipped by a bunch of goddamn nerds. NERDS!!
Well, if I were you I would do something about it. I would get up and redeem myself in the eyes of my father, my Maker, and my coach!” - Coach Harris, Revenge of the Nerds

Linux is excellent at speaking to conscious rationality. There's miles of great text, audio and video. Much is vivid, clear, even hilarious.

So little wonder Linux succeeds on servers and embedded systems. That's how those decisions are made.

Desktop users have attention elsewhere. This falls to the intuitive reasoning driving most attitudes and decisions.

Finely honed by countless generations of natural selection, the intuitive mind isn't stupid. It's peculiar though.

It cares little about perfect choices and nothing for objective truth. It's evolved to avoid disaster. It's tuned to do this consistently, fast, with little effort, in situations of low information and trust.

So it happily draws broad conclusions from surface level information, heavily weighted to social cues. Then it moves on, conserving scarce resources of thought and attention for those few key decisions.

That formula means we're all routinely wrong about many things. So long as it's not personally disastrous, intuition has worked fine.

For desktop Linux to go mainstream, it must engage well with intuitions. When speaking to the intuitive mind, the context where you appear is as much part of your communication as your actual words.

Right now, this context is relentless that it's for a technical elite. Hardly anyone feels that's them.

But you know what? I don't see why that couldn't be countered. Most of the ingredients are there already.

The user experience is excellent, and always getting better.

The business case makes sense too. Count up the businesses with revenue from Linux users, then those facing big risks and costs from Microsoft's desktop hegemony. There's a powerful coalition there.

What's missing is organisation and leadership.

So who's in?

It would be a little weird to sweat so much over the code while leaving the rest to chance.

Further Reading

© 2020 James Mawson