Friday, April 8, 2011

Internet Explorer 6 is Holding Back the Linux Desktop

The Linux kernel just turned twenty and according to Jim Zemlin (Linux Foundation Executive Director) bashing on Microsoft at this point is like "Kicking a puppy". His logic behind this statement is that Linux has dominated Microsoft in most all areas - including server side and mobile. I agree with this statement (and as should you because there are lots of cold hard numbers to back this information up). One thing I do not agree with Zemlin on however is that

"traditional PC desktop is becoming less important"

If Microsoft is a puppy, then it is one that has eaten all the desert in the house. Sure Linux is getting what it needs at dinner time, but having desert afterwards would really sweeten the deal.

Traditional desktop PCs are no longer our only source of access to the world wide web and other applications, but these other devices are still not coming close to fully replacing the experience of having a decent size screen, with a keyboard and a mouse for navigation.

Now, with Linux having been so successful everywhere else, why is it still failing to over take on the desktop? Well I have a theory and as you may have guessed from the title of the post, I placing the blame here squarely on the shoulders of Internet Explorer 6.
Or well, more directly on those that still use Internet Explorder 6. Did you know according to W3Counter as of last month (March 2011) 3.2% of users online are still using Internet Explorer 6 as their webrowser? Beyond this over 9% of users are still using Internet Explorer 7 and right about 40% of users are estimated to be using Windows XP. Now while you can argue over the exact statistics for days - that is not my goal in sharing them. Regardless of how much (or little) any of the above technologies are being used, the fact that they register a percent at all means they are being used by millions of people still.

Now one could argue that Windows XP and older versions of Internet Explorer might still be used because they are good software. I believe this is not the case though. Over the years there have been countless bugs encountered in theses pieces of software and yet still they persist. Why you ask? Simple:

Resistance to change.

There is no reason, other than fear of change, to be using a browser or operating system in 2011 that was created over a decade ago (unless of course it is on a server that has over a decade's worth of uptime). It amazes me how many times I've setup Firefox or Google Chrome on a friend's computer only to return later to find out they have foobared something because they fell back into using Internet Explorer after I left (most often times simply because they liked the blue E). Once most people are set in their ways it is hard to get them to change - no matter how subtle that change may be.

What do you think - am I on target here or way missing the mark? Why does Linux do so well everywhere else, but continue to fall on it's face when it comes to desktop computers?

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. There are more desktops running GNU+Linux than there are Macs.

    For GNU+Linux to "succeed on the desktop", you need a company (group of people) that treats GNU+Linux the way Apple treats Mac OS X.

    Google trends show there is a market for a small and well managed company to profit greatly off a well supported GNU+Linux desktop system . . as long as the vision needed for -- well, imagine something better than Mac OS X, with exponentially greater authentication/authorization flexibility, manageability, and (as if this is hard) sustainability than what Windows offers with Active Directory?

    In addition, proper application development stacks would have to be supported. Not "supported", but GENUINELY and pro-actively supported.

    This would have to also be presented to the world properly.

    I could explain further, but, why give out a good business idea for free?

    Lets talk over Mumble. They are Apple, and we can too.

    - Jon

  2. @Anonymous

    I have no idea where you are getting your numbers from, but the statement that there are more desktops using Linux than Macs is false. Granted, the reported numbers from different sources do fluctuate a little, but the approximate overall and smoothed numbers are around - 85% Windows, 10% Macs, and 5% linux. From many sources, the Linux desktop share is even as low as 1-3%. Doing a Google search for "Operating System Market Share" will yield many different sources for this and you can get an overall idea. I am a Linux user and use Linux as my primary OS, but the facts are the facts. There are more people running Mac OS than Linux on desktop computers, but back to the main issue at hand.

    I believe that one of the things that is seriously holding Linux back on the desktop is that the Linux community is too divided when it comes to distributions and their own ways of doing things. Its great for those of us who love choice, but not good for general desktop Linux growth and competition with Windows and Mac. With Windows and Mac, there is a unified structure to each. Programs are also are made for Windows or Mac..period. A program made for Windows will work on Windows, and the same thing with Mac. Windows "IS" Windows, and Mac "IS" Mac. People know what they get with each when they have tried them. They either like and use, or they dislike and dont use. What they see, what they try, what they either like or dislike, and what they want to use or dont use is pretty cut and dry.

    Now enter Linux. There really is no "Linux" so to speak when it comes to a desktop operating system. What exists is Debian Linux, Suse Linux, Gentoo Linux, Arch Linux, etc etc and all their countless derivatives...all having differences either good or bad and different ways of doing things, especially package management and programs. Then there are different desktop environments and window managers on top of that. The reality is that there are like 500 distos that carry the base and general slapped on name "Linux". Its not as simple as being able to just try "Linux" and either like it or dislike it and decide if you want to use it. Where would a person who is curious about Linux even know where to begin unless they are lucky enough to know Linux users in their life or spend countless hours reading online to get even the slightest clue about the "Linux" world?. Which distro do you try? Which desktop environment do you try? Which window manager? etc etc.

    Lets face it, many distros are great, and many are garbage. Same goes for desktop environments and window managers. I can't even count how many times one distro out of the hundreds didnt work well for someone and then boom.."Linux sucks" is said...then tells the friends, posts online "Linux sucks" etc etc. Say a new Linux user tries Suse and hates it...the first Linux they tried. Many people would then gain an overall dislike of "Linux" in general, not just Suse in particular, and may never try or learn another distro ever. The pluses and minuses of 500 something distros each with positives and negatives affects the growth or lack of growth for Linux overall on the desktop, and helps or hurts the reputation of it and interest of people who arent familiar with Linux or maybe a potential future user of the OS.

    And then there is the issue of developing programs that will work "out of the box" like they do on Mac and Windows on all 500 distros with just one version, but thats a whole different story. You get the idea.

    The choices and freedoms and variations for Linux are its greatest strengths and weaknesses all at the same time.

  3. I work at lansing public library, and over 76% of our users use internet explorer over firefox.

    Note, firefox is on the desktop with a globe icon that says internet, a 2nd link that says firefox, and when you press start, its at the top of the start menu. If you want to use internet explorer, you have to press start, and then program files, and then internet explorer. We use IE8. IE9 doesn't exist for windows xp.

  4. Sadly, you can include video driver manufacturers, and game makers in the "afraid to change" category. Why do I have XP? Because a) its a pain in the frakking ass to upgrade, and keep settings/files, b) Linux won't run a lot of the stuff I play, including, I suspect, the Steam client I now get most of them through. What will I get after? Win 7. Why? Because half the online stuff I already do play work like shit under DirectX9, not at all under OpenGL (or badly), and wouldn't work better *unless* I had DX10/11. As for IE.. If not for a very *tiny* number of pages that are so screwed up they don't work without it, I wouldn't ever touch it. But then, I had Firefox, trying to just keep an EyeOS virtual desktop up for a day or two, *at the login screen*, debilitate my system so bad I lost several session tabs in the crash, and had to force a complete reboot.

    So... Its not like Firefox, or maybe something using flash, or maybe some bad GD library code, or "something" is perfect either. All I know is, Firefox hogs memory *badly* in certain conditions, at least on this old OS.

    I would love to ditch both, but I have too much invested, mostly in third party applications, and games, which won't, can't, do not have good equivalents, etc., for Linux. And no, Gimp doesn't replace Paintshop Pro. But then, the new, since Corel took them over, Paintshop Pro X* sucks compared to Paintshop Pro 9, so... Gimp might not be any more annoying to recode/fix than mucking with the changes in the new X3 would be. lol

  5. A lot of XP/ie6 users will be large companies/government departments. Once these get over their corporate/institutional fear of change, a lot of home users will follow their example I'm sure.

  6. We still use XP at work (a bookshop). In the current climate we cannot afford an upgrade & anyway it just works. I am a Linux enthusiast & use it at home & open source wherever I can at work but there is no way to use the trade software we have to use on Linux. Even if we could get it running on wine the supplier would not support it & it is mission critical.

  7. Hi Jeff, literally all councils in London I've ever worked for use W2K or XP with IE6. That's a lot of PC's, and I'm sure it's similar in other parts of the country. The workflow and CRM client databases and such for departments like Housing and Social Services ALL require IE6, and they're not legacy systems but actively developed and patched. Blame the manufacturers. Council's are not going to upgrade all this or switch to different products for sake of a newer browser. Ridiculous but true. When I bring up security IT guys are telling me 'We got good firewalls'. Haha.

  8. Probably the same reason why I use Windows XP is the same as why I am still drawing a 10 years old car? Because it is there and it is working fine, without any problems at all. So why change something that is not broken. If I change Windows XP to something else (like Windows 7) I would need to buy a new hardware.

    Why is Windows on desktop super-successful? For home users: People are not using Microsoft Windows, they are using PIRATED Microsoft Windows. So it is free and working fine.

    For company users: There are so much of software out there that is only available for Windows. All of the software that exists on Linux, just means that employees will HAVE to learn new software and this learning will take years. Business people don't care if some software costs some money, but they do care if the time is wasted. So instead of migration to something non-Windows (and waste time with learning new software that will do exactly the same as old software) will not make a move at bosses.

    There are also system administrators that have 10+ years of administering Windows and they know this is not simple to do. Switching so something non-Windows means they need to learn a lot of new things and a lot of new things will not be working and so they will need to fix them.

    People will complain if something in FLOSS software is not working EXACTLY the same as it used to work in old software.

    It is not important Windows vs. Linux it is important Windows applications vs. Linux applications.

    There are also big players like Microsoft that only makes programs for Windows like MS-Office which is the best software for office (I am using LibreOffice and before OpenOffice and before MS-Office and I still think MS-Office is the best one).

    There are also others vendors like IBM for example that is only making software for Windows (I mean development software for programmers, administrators - server software is supported by Linux and other OSes, but desktop is not).

  9. I just wonder why my non-IT-blogsite statistics are telling 7,9% of those visiters are using Linux, 6,8% Mac and rest but 3,1% (No info) are using Windows. Visitors are coming mostly from Sweden, Estonia, Finland and Norway.

  10. A good Office Suite and Games is what is keeping Linux from succeeding on the Desktop for the majority of people. When they fix that, then people will be interested.

  11. People just don't know about Linux, that's all. I'm a moderator on (200,000 + users) and we get new Linux users everyday who say things like "Wow, I wish I had known about Linux before." or "Man, I could have been using Linux a long time ago, this is awesome." Companies like MS and Apple have millions of dollars in advertising and what does Linux have? Not much, A funky looking Penguin and 50 million different distros for new users to sift through. It's a little crazy out there.

  12. What is a "desktop user"? My Mom uses a computer for email, web surfing, and a few bits of letter or text file writing.

    Compare that to someone who's addicted to gaming.

    Compare them to a Wall St. "quant".

    Compare them to the capable Win* user who wants to make Win* work with FLOSS (naturally, in the Win* ways of doing things; cf. clamav).

    Finally, compare them to me: happily running Linux *only* since about '94, programmer/sysadmin/dba/... I couldn't care less whether anything FLOSS "works with Win* or Mac." Not a bit.

    So, how do you satisfy each of those? Does Win* or Mac? Does anything? No, hardly; read the news.

    Mix in bitching (see above) from happy FLOSS users who complain about Linux fragmentation (cf. Distrowatch). Damn, that's tiring.

    What FLOSS needs is an easy way to let average users just bite the bullet and jump. *buntu is a good try. Will it ever satisfy all those users listed above? I doubt it.

    I really don't care how many users use FLOSS, as long as it's there when I want to use it and continues to be actively supported.

  13. It fails on the desktop because in many instances it is either buggy, difficult to use, or difficult to troubleshoot. Sometimes all of the above.

    I've been using Linux on off for about five years. I've used most of the major distros on many many different systems, and there is always something broken that requires fixing within the first several software updates or days of uptime.

    I put OpenSUSE on my old laptop 4 months ago. Out of the box wireless wasn't working. I could have fixed it (I've been fixing computers for over 10 years), but instead just removed it. It gets frustrating when there is ALWAYS something or other that doesn't work.

    I refurbed an older Compaq last week. It had a license for Win 98 so I figured install Ubuntu 10.10 in dual boot to give the customer a more modern operating system in addition to 98. After installing all the updates and commonly used software I pulled some of the memory to put in another refurb system. Reboot and now there it won't make it to the desktop. Is it easier to troubleshoot or just reinstall? This was a brand new install that had been up and running for less than 24 hours... And this happens frequently.

    I love Linux and use it for much of my work, but on the home PC platform, being used by people that think Google is their ISP and IE is the only browser (if they even know what a browser is), is a recipe for disaster in many instances.

    Linux works very well on the desktop - when it works properly. Which seems to me to be a 50/50 chance. I was amazed when I did my first install. I don't have to hunt down drivers? Sweet! Unfortunately as often as not something breaks and I'm stuck spending billable hours trying to fix a usually brand new OS install. In this regard Windows is superior.

    Also, what's up with the different terminal commands between distros? Or the way config file locations and names seem to change on a monthly basis between releases of the same distro?

    Because of that kind of stuff I've held off on installing any Linux distro on my machines for some time. I used to enjoy troubleshooting those kinds of problems, but nowadays I have more valuable ways to spend my time than wading through poor or outdated support documentation to fix a problem that shouldn't be occurring.

    I'm aware many issues are due to closed source drivers and such, but it doesn't make it any easier.

  14. @Anonymous 6:44am: This isn't about Windows vs. Linux, this article was about why IE 6 is still around and in use and the implications of it when you could run any other browser on Windows just as well.

  15. Also.... I'm usually not one to complain about fragmentation, but it seems sometimes to be a waste of resources.

    How many lightweight distros for old hardware do we need? How many multimedia/entertainment oriented distros? How many of this or that type?

    I might be completely wrong on this (let me know if I am please), but I can't help thinking is it needed? Imagine if work was being done on 300+ Windows distros at a time. It spreads development too thinly and you end up with a less suitable end product. If auto manufacturers quadrupled their product line that would be interesting. Bad analogy, I know.

  16. @asdfghjkl Regarding your hardware issues... Well Linux was not built to run on your WINDOWS hardware. If you buy Linux supported hardware, then Linux will work 100% without any niggles.

    As for lots of distros... With open source all the improvements those 300 distros make go upstream so EVERYONE benefits from them. Closed source Windows would die with fragmentation because no one would share code yes.

  17. @Jeff91

    And that's why Linux desktop is advancing so slowly. Among other things I do some PC gaming. I'm not aware on any 100% Linux compatible gaming laptops with the hardware I need. After all Linux should be open and easily modified. And not dependent on hardware to run properly? My comment about my laptop was one of many instances. I've used Linux on prob 10 different systems I've owned over the years from homebuilt desktops to POS HP and Dell laptops and the "something is always broken - usually without any obvious or identifiable reasons why" phenomena continues.

    I was reading comments for an article on the possibility of Steam for Linux. Most of the comments were along the lines of "what's Steam? Who cares?". With Steam being one of, if not the largest, PC game distribution platforms it would be a major step towards bringing people over from Windows. It seems sometimes as if most of the Linux user base is made up of systems administrators that don't understand what most ordinary users do with their computers.

    Many different flavors of Linux can be a good thing, but overall from my experience it makes getting them to run right that much more difficult. The user base and troubleshooting info/techniques are fragmented and not always useful for other distros. Instead of having 100,000 people using and able to support, say Mint, you may
    have half that number due to them using other distros.

    I just get fired up sometimes about desktop Linux as it seems many are out of touch with the average computer user and what they want to do with a PC. Blaming IE6 users is shifting the blame a bit IMO.

  18. You think Microsoft writes their own drivers? No they do not. Companies are the ones that refuse to provide drivers, Linux IS free and open so it is easy to write drivers for IF you know the hardware specs - which most often only the companies refusing to write the drivers know.

    Again your "trouble shooting" issues odds are go back to your lack of supported hardware. Do some research, Linux hardware is not hard to find.

    I'm posting this from my Linux powered gaming laptop.

  19. If you want to further argue about hardware with me please read my rant just for this occasion -

  20. IE6 may stink, but for what it is worth, XP when setup right with this right free accessories pretty much rocks. Yeah, I know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But that doesn't change the fact that it has the potential to be a pretty solid OS when implemented correctly. I am hoping Linux makes enough progress by April 2014 (XP EOL date) that I can comfortably use it as my main OS. Right now that main OS is XP, and for good reason.

  21. Not trying to argue, just pointing out my experiences with home Linux use on various systems and why adoption in the home is low from my experiences. I made the switch to full time Linux use about 1.5 years ago because I was plain tired of Windows. I switched back because it got old spending 10x more time fixing my own system than if I was using Windows or Mac.

    It was the small things like why my eSATA drives weren't detected and mounted automatically without a reboot? Where'd the session gadget go after an update? Where'd the network icon go? Why would I set up broadcast accounts in Empathy just so it would stop working permanently after a day or two?

    To get back to home/desktop use, the above is IMO one of the reasons for low market share. It was enough to get me to switch back for a few months, at least.

    Once again not trying to nitpick, just shed some light on why so many people don't use it. Most of the hardware specific problems I encountered were wireless related. In the last two systems, however.

    Desktop Linux will happen when it can do everything the mainstream does as easily and as troublefree as the others.

    Imagine first time user trying to figure out ndiswrapper and their impression of Linux after that. LOL.

  22. Oops.. meant to add in my last two systems the cards worked fine in Linux. That was only 10% of the issues though.

  23. You are very naive. Linux IS ready for the average desktop user to USE. No one ever said the average desktop user was ready to setup Linux on their own.

    These same users that would fail to install Linux for themselves odds are would fail equally as much trying to install Windows.

    Go buy a Linux pre-installed system and the end user experience is the same (or better) than a system with Windows or OSX preinstalled. Last I checked it was SUPER hard to try installing OSX on non-apple hardware - so why are you complaining about it being a little bit tricky to install Linux on non-Linux hardware?

  24. @asdfghjkl

    I've going to pipe in here with my own "anecdotal" evidence, as that is all you're providing. I ALWAYS have the OPPOSITE experience. Windows (on the rare occasions I set it up) ALWAYS gives me MAJOR headaches, when installing. And Linux (almost) ALWAYS just works. And at least with Linux when something doesn't work there is ONE place (the package manager) to find the fix, rather than searching all over the net.

    Read my experience of installing both on a Dell mini 10 here.

    There's reason that Debian (from which many distributions are derived from, including Ubuntu which has many many derivatives) is called the "Universal Operating System". It's because it runs on more hardware than ANY other OS.


  25. Sharing Alternatives to Windows IE6 and MACs safari.

    Yes I use both LinuxMint and PuppyLinux both are fairly easy to install the first time. Very easy to try without installing simply by booting the LiveCD versions. Puppy also installs from the LiveCD to a USB Flash disk drive. So you can show on your friends computer booting from a USB Flash drive. All the O/S, programs, and data are saved to that flash drive. This means that nothing is left or changed to your friends computer. You take your new files, programs, and data with you after you shutdown completely and remove the USB flash drive back to your pocket! give it a try, only 130MB .iso file to download and burn to a CD. Mint Linux website From Win7 install Linux distros to USB Flash Compare various Linux Distros


  26. First thing: Home users needs games period. Business users need admins that will install and maintain software. I have been talking with bunch of admins and they installed Linux few years ago when Linux was for geeks only and they were disappointed and don't want to have anything to do with it on desktop. Administrators of desktops are NOT! the same people as system administrators who installs software on servers.

    There is also a lot of (actually stupid) arguments that Linux is no good:
    1. There is no Linux (it is actually kernel) so when admin has to choose distribution and goes to something like he/she recognized there is 300+ distributions.
    2. They have tried it (some of them all others are just using a stories) years ago when system was for geeks - not working at all.
    3. They are super-heroes on Windows, so they need to learn new things. Thinks in Linux does not work the same way as on Windows and this is frustrating to heroes.
    4. There is ALWAYS some software that is not available on Linux (e.g. Photoshop) or some old GUI business software that was written only for Windows. Two options: run Windows or have a nightmare of using Wine. Wine is fine for general software like Office (if you ignore performance), but if you install some business software and that software requires additional Windows software and that software requires some additional Windows libraries - then you are hell. You will never get enough knowledge and support to fix them. Buying some software Wine software support is little bit stupid - better use Windows.
    5. The main reason is not Windows vs. Linux it is FOSS software vs. non-FOSS software. You know now you have user that is using Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word, Excel, MS-Outlook etc. Before migrating to Linux you NEED to replace all of this software for FOSS in Windows like Firefox/Chrome, LibreOffice, Thunderbird etc. You need to educate people of BENEFITS of new FOSS software. It is free as beer it is not an argument for business people, because they will spend a LOT of time learning new software. And you know non-geeks do not like to ask on forums, IRC, etc for help. They just need to have a working software that works EXACTLY the same as non-FOSS software.
    6. Windows have most of the market share. So you can get admin anywhere you like. Any software/hardware store will know how to help. If you are using Linux then there is a lot of fragmentation. If someone uses Suse it will be hard to help you in Ubuntu, because distro are using different tools to admin. There are also KDE vs. Gnome vs. etc. So if using Gnome you will need to have some time to know around in KDE and vice versa. So there is no STANDARD way of using Linux.
    7. There is no massive migration to Linux from public administration, because they always get a reason to give a pressure to Microsoft to sell them a software on very cheap way. There was also one study in my country (made by public administration sponsored by Microsoft) on using MS-Office vs. OpenOffice few years ago. And there was conclusion that MS-Office is cheaper in 3-years period (I my agree with this argument because you need to teach people to use OpenOffice) and the only condition was 3-years period. So pubic administration decided it is cheaper (for 3-years period) to buy new licenses from Microsoft. This was one of the most stupid arguments, because when journalist asked, What about 4-year period, 5-year period? They had a condition of 3-years.
    8. Supporting companies are not interested to support Linux on desktop because there is nothing to sell. If you support a software you sell hardware + software + teaching. It is difficult to sell free software, you will get into moral questions asked by buyers.

  27. Jeff,

    You just made it to my Firefox Speed Dial of blogs-that-I-read-every-day... and you got linkified from both my blogs -->

    Keep up the great work!

    ~Eric, the Nocturnal Slacker

  28. You're mixing up cause and effect here. IE6/7/8 are used for the same reasons XP is used. People resist to change when their software is "good enough and working fine" (read: full of security holes). But IE usage is not holding back Linux. Nobody is not upgrading to Linux because it has no IE. People usually won't upgrade unless they are forced to do so.

  29. Linux fails on the desktop as no serious player is serious about it.

    It is abit chicken and egg. People will not buy it on mass unless it is easily available and heavily promoted. Fragmentation means that you would have to be a techie to have the slightest knowledge of the best GUI for linux.

    Linux really needs a big player like Google to get behind it and offer its GUI linux OS. Say an Andriod branded pc linux version. Promoting it and making it easily available for purchase. Unfortunately they are off in a different direction.

    It also comes down to apps. If people are used to using IE, Office and Outlook at work and in education then they are more likely to continue with these known options. The question is why corporates and government organisations do not use Firefox or Crome rather than IE. (do not personally like Crome). Again why do companies pay for Office and not use Open Office.

    Open office really has to trump Ms office when Ms office is not available for linux. If people are using open office regularly on the pc both at work and for personal use then it makes linux if it were more easily accessible a more viable option.

    But when i look at open office it just is not inviting to persue. Silly things like not using B, I and U for bold, italics and underline when they are standards in most applications just shows a contempt for making things accessible. That is a silly example but it is the hundreds like it that mean you are left frustrated. Why have an option for xml documents and then not save default in xml etc, etc. Why have a text option and then allow formatting that stops the text editor saving.

    Beyond that look at other linux apps. Why has linux not got a good text editor. Gedit is poor. Why nothing like textpad? I am not interested in some vi equivalent but a serious text editor. If linux cannot even offer a serious text editor what hope is there for other applications.

    Off course failure of java for ui apps does not help and with oracle taking over from sun the chances of improvement are even less likely now.

  30. I have 3 Windows 7 Netbooks. And I recently bought a Netbook with Windows XP Home Edition.And the Windows XP Netbook has got IE6. But I never use it. I use Safefox and Google Chrome. And I also have several other browsers.My Windows 7 Netbooks had IE8.Which I uninstalled by deleting the files. But none of the IE's are very good browsers. And I would not recommend even IE8 for going onto Facebook and other sites.As you will never get good results like you get with Firefox or Google Chrome,or other browsers like it. Andrea Borman.