Social proof and the year of the Linux desktop

Toward a Desktop Linux Alliance

The point here is not to replace or sideline anything that anyone is doing already, but to take on crucial tasks that we're currently completely skipping. For instance:

Could We Have Some Market Research?

Our understanding of where mass audiences are is currently very vague and relies almost entirely on personal anecdotes. It's healthy to have opinions, but let's check them against the data.

Linux insiders who are brainstorming about how to market Linux often exchange ideas that sound plausible to each other. The problem is that even a robust debate can identify bad ideas. There are few protections against great ideas that make sense but still happen to be wrong.

For instance, there is a common complaint that desktop Linux hasn't gone mainstream because the options are too bewildering. Sounds plausible, but is it correct? How many Windows and Mac users could name even one Linux distribution or desktop environment? Who knows? We could keep arguing about it without it ever going anywhere, or we could gather the data.

Such data could, in the spirit of open source, be published for the benefit of everyone in our ecosystem.

Publicity and Influencer Engagement

Desktop Linux needs better social proof. A direct way to get it is to appear in mass media; not only will many people see it, they'll intuitively realize many others do too. That's where it would really help to have a great publicist on the case.

We also want desktop Linux to casually appear in conversation, as the iPhone does now. This could be nurtured with a content marketing campaign to promote Linux to bloggers, podcasters, and so on: not just in technology, but across all topics.

The Big Picture

The great tragedy of desktop Linux is that the software gets better all the time, but the social and psychological context has almost everyone deciding that it's not for them without even trying it. That's not meant to discourage or downplay the value of further improvements to the user experience and code. These things are always improving, because there's already a wide recognition that they matter, and Linux has great leadership to press ahead on the technical side. If Linux is to get a fair hearing with the world beyond its insular community, the social and psychological context – the only bit most nonusers even know – needs an equal measure of organization and leadership. If you want to read more of my thoughts on these topics, check out the Sunlight Manifesto [9]. There's also Make It Linux [10], a grass roots collective to promote desktop Linux to a wider audience in a way that engages intuitive reasoning. This is in a very early stage, and we're still figuring out what we're doing, but if you've got any ideas or want to get involved, please drop in to our Telegram group [11]. You can follow us on YouTube [12] and Twitter [13], too.

The Author

James Mawson is a technology copywriter, Linux and Raspberry Pi enthusiast, and lover of fried noodles. Visit his website at

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