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“Want to” Vs. “Have to” April 1, 2007

Posted by Carthik in commentary, microsoft, ubuntu.

So what is this ground-shattering revelation that forced me to write at 2:45 AM?

It is one of those things that literally make you sit up, and think for a moment. When you are done thinking, you want to write it down – such thoughts don’t happen too often, you see. So here it is:

More people use Windows not because they want to, but because they have to.
More people use Linux not because they have to, but because they want to.

The balance is tipping. Soon, there will be fewer people who will be willing to do what they have to at a high price, and more more people willing to change things so they can use the platform they want to use.

I’ll probably regret writing this a few years from now. It is, after all, so obvious.
What I won’t regret is writing this down before I go to sleep tonight.


1. Vincent - April 1, 2007

Most people use Windows because they don’t know they can not want it 😉

2. Markus - April 1, 2007

Vincent is quite right, you know. 🙂

I just won another little victory against the MS giant: my girlfriend wants to switch to linux, and I didn’t even force her. 😀 She is quite new to computers, so hasn’t learned an awful lot of Windows yet. An untainted soul. 😉 And I can even get a laptop without the Windows tax.. So if you’re a Dane (and live in Denmark), read my blog (actually, this post: http://mdev.dk/2007/04/01/laptops-without-windows-tax-at-laptopsdk) for how to get a cheaper Thinkpad with the Windows license refunded, sort of.

Remember to ask this question to every retailer you’re thinking of buying from! It shows that we don’t necessarily all want a crappy OS as standard.

3. Daniel - April 1, 2007

And most people would rather have a magical mushroom that solves their problems than to have to use computers, so you can tell why many see us Linux wanting people are a weird bunch.

Why can’t they (we ;)) be happy with “normal computers”, “the internet (IE)”, etc.? Their computers are so complicated and idiot (sensu strictu), if you want to watch a video or play a game you have to write a letter: “joe@dearcomputer>video –please …”! And it doesn’t work like normal computers. Wanting to use computers? Weird-do!

Ubuntu has a great potential to change that. People might realize that just as they don’t need to be constrained to a single vendor when choosing the tools of their trade, they can choose how their computers work (as opposed to some billionaire choosing for them). Or we might get MagicalMushroombuntu. Either way, interesting times.

4. Alan - April 1, 2007

Yeah, they have to use Windows because they know of nothing else. It’s like a drug, to come off it would result in “computer cold turkey”.
They believe Windows IS the computer: see their blank expressions on being told of Linux/UNIX alternatives. Watch them reel in horror as you bring up the BIOS screen.”Arrggg!!, you’ve broken my pc!!”
The fact is, Windows is everywhere. But like you say, the balance IS tipping. Getting Edubuntu in schools for example, is in my opinion, a good way to start.

5. JW - April 1, 2007

I think the have-to/want-to perception is pretty accurate. The dominant model (I’ll be brash and assert that assumption/fact) is that people either buy a computer from the Internet or a B&M store. There you find two options most readily available: pre-installed MSFT or pre-installed Mac. Linux needs to wedge into that market better to really tip the balance; and then it needs to market its qualities. Most consumers are lemmings, and they do need to be convinced to buy something, especially if they are being lemming like and “getting a new windows machine because my old one is too old”.

I think progress was made with OS X moving to a more significant set of *NIX underpinnings. They clearly recognized what MSFT needs to recognize: there are now better kernel options and implementations out there.

I’m not sure how to feel about Linux moving into the public sectors. In the least, I think it is a good sign school systems are adopting Linux because they tend to keep their technology longer than most public institutions.

Ultimately, the solution non-tech-savvy folks need is something that will allow them to move their important details to Linux (such as Ubuntu’s migration tool) and a cleanly operational app that will allow them to run their familiar windows-based programs (assuming no clear alternative exists on Linux). For example, I’m migrating to Linux, and a critical point for me was the ability for Crossover to run a few Windows apps I really want to keep; and I’m sure not running Vista just to keep them… as long as I can help it. That last caveat is a point Linux really needs to address in order to be a truly viable alternative (IMO). It’s the stupid things that hold people back, but those things will keep them on Windows for as long as there are no ways to do those things on Linux — another example is that I’m losing the ability to scan from my network multi-function machine. I love that functionality; but I happen to loathe Vista enough to be OK with losing that functionality.

6. Scott Carpenter - April 1, 2007

I have to switch to GNU/Linux, even though it’s a lot of work for me. The freedom is just too enticing. 🙂

7. mathew - April 1, 2007

I think you’re almost there. However, I’d say:

Most people use Windows because they *think* they have to.

Very few people actually have to use Windows. In fact, many of us have used computers for decades without using Windows.

8. Coll B. Lue - April 1, 2007

It’s amazing because I install all my softwares myself, maintain my websites myself and know computing enough to get by with my knowledge – I didn’t know there was an alternative to Windows except for the AppleMac which I got a taster of at Uni scanning graphics which the lecturers told us were useful to know.

9. Bug #1 « Lagged - April 1, 2007

[…] at Ubuntu Blog, mentions in his latest post: More people use Windows not because they want to, but because they have to. More people use Linux […]

10. Tom S. - April 1, 2007

Some math. Let’s suppose all of the Ubuntu users use it because they want to. This is not unreasonable, after all, they did have to choose that specific distribution.

# of people wanting Ubuntu = Market Share (1% ?) * 100% = 1% ?

All numbers of Ubuntu users I found are old, but the idea is there.

Now, for Windows, let’s suppose only 10% want Windows. I think this is a conservative estimate:

# of people wanting Windows = Market share (say 90%) * 10% = 9%

Depending on what is meant by “more people”, Microsoft probably has more people who choose Windows than those who choose Ubuntu. At what point does this change? It’s hard to say unless we have some better estimates of market share.

11. Roy Schestowitz - April 1, 2007

I’d take this thought further. People defrag and scan for viruses because they /need/ to. Linux users can do as they please.

12. MJ - April 1, 2007

A lot of people use Windows because they are familiar with it already and think it’s too much work to learn another OS.

Is Linux that good?

13. rin - April 2, 2007

Funny. I’m running Windows Vista because I genuinely want to. The features just are overwhelmingly better almost in all areas.

14. Azrael Nightwalker - April 2, 2007

“Soon, there will be fewer people who will be willing to do what they have to at a high price”
Well, there’s also pirated Windows that doesn’t cost that much. Saying that Ubuntu is free won’t persuade people using counterfeit Windows.

15. Ben - April 2, 2007

I’ll take a wild guess and say that you seem to be preaching to the converted mostly. I would switch to Ubuntu in a flash if you could guarantee me that I could run World of Warcraft (the deal breaker for me).

The only other thing I use my PC for is web design and I’m sure I can find alternatives to what I’ve got now. I’m open to it, just show me that it can be done.

16. dennis parrott - April 2, 2007

the real tipping point has arrived in the form of the latest release of Windows… when people find out that they have to toss out their old machines or spend a lot to get them performing acceptably with Vista, they might be receptive to “another way”. that tipping point will come even sooner when they find out that there are plenty of applications they will have to repurchase (or buy updates for, if possible) to get their new Vista box doing all of the same things they used to do with XP/Win2K.

when you look at the added costs of faster CPUs, much more memory and rebuying applications, well, Linux and Ubuntu in particular should become much easier “sells”.

i myself am one such person — i have declared my home a Vista-free zone — i am actively heading off to ubuntu-land and i am not going to look back… just need to figure out how to get photoshop cs2 running under wine to make the whold thing complete!!

17. Ben - April 2, 2007

I’ve also recently downgraded from Vista to XP but I don’t really see the link between disliking Vista and liking Ubuntu, unless you were already sold on it before.

If Ubuntu can’t run World of Warcraft you instantly have 7-8 million people right there who would never transition, and that’s just one program. Admittedly, a percentage of them are mac users though 🙂

18. Peter - April 3, 2007

In economic terms, people use Windows because of what we call a *network externality* – a monopoly formed because most folks (say 2 or 3 standard deviations, 95% to 98% in this case) are more comfortable getting what everyone else gets, we also call this the “bandwagon effect.” There is safety, for them, in the numbers. People get Linux because they are primarily bleeding edge – further out (in terms of standard deviations) than the early adaptors (we wont even consider the late adaptors). See, The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. There are still, I believe, too many problems with desktop Linux that will slow the migration from XP to say, Ubuntu. When you install a new program it does not always register itself with the menu (no big deal to us users, big deal to a new Linux user); when you install a second disk drive it doesn’t show up like it will in Windows – to mention just two usability problems. So when there is a Linux problem you can’t ask a buddy at work, or a neighbor, or a family member for help, not usually. And that is why it has created and tends to support its own monopoly.

19. c0smuss - April 3, 2007

Like Peter said, there is safety involved in this decision which ultimately can be enough to led people use windows.

20. Tom S. - April 3, 2007


I agree that there is are externalities at work, but I’m more inclined to blame it on training costs (I’m thinking Paul David’s “Economics of QWERTY”), but those might just be two sides of the same coin. Unlike c0smuss, I don’t think people are necessarily risk adverse about technological change. Back to Pete’s comments, I was also thinking of Micheal Katz and Carl Shapiro’s “Network Externalities, Competition, and Compatibility”.

Besides, as I said earlier, carthik’s proposition is erroneous.

21. Peter - April 3, 2007

Hi Tom , et al–

Your reference to P David’s article on QWERTY is quite apropos; network externalities seem to spawn path dependencies.

I have wondered why universities have not supported Linux (other than the CS departments). The training, I would think, would be less than the cost of updating the 100s of computers populating the labs around campus, certainly less than the required hardware upgrades to support a Vista upgrade, and thus may prove what others have said about the cost of upgrading to Vista motivating the consideration of Linux. But only a few of us are asking this upgrade question on the campus where I teach. Most students use only a few % of the power of the installed Windows software, which OO could easily handle. And when I teach econometrics, I use GRETL, which is available via GNU on MAC/XP/LINUX. Again, my guess is the marginal benefit of a Linux migration is less than the marginal cost.

There are always secondary consequences. If the administration asked me to provide a migration analysis, I would point out that if we graduate students who only know Linux and not Windows it may well negatively impact job offers, at least today. This could be mitigated if students would confidently answer an interviewer who asks, “Can you use Excel/Word?” with “Yes, I can use spreadsheets and word processors in both Linux and Windows. And since I am a Linux user my overhead is less and, cerates paribus, I have more value to your firm.” As usual, this presupposes the interviewer even has a clue what Linux is!

On another note: those who keep trumpeting that LINUX is free miss another fundamental economic principle: there is no free lunch. My migration (which is not complete yet) is slow because of the (re)training investment I must make. There are always trade-offs, there are always opportunity costs, and for Linux to glean more Windows folks the developers need to continue doing their usability homework.


22. Peter - April 3, 2007

Tom –
A ballpark guess on the migration towards Linux could probably be done using an evolutionary game theory model…. hmmmm, maybe after the semester.


23. Linux is Mainstream, Paul. « Ubuntu Blog - April 4, 2007

[…] ubuntu. trackback Paul Thurrott writes at internet-nexus about the previous post I’d written about how more people “want” to use Ubuntu or some other flavor of […]

24. Ubuntu | Carthik Sharma: Linux is Mainstream, Paul. - April 4, 2007

[…] Thurrott writes at internet-nexus about the previous post I’d written about how more people “want” to use Ubuntu or some other flavor of […]

25. Dirk Gently - April 4, 2007

The biggest problem Linux has is that many companies selling third party software and hardware NEED Windows. They NEED people using Windows to be able to pay for their products. Think about it, if EVERYONE (I know, it’s never gonna get that high but bare with me here) switched to Linux, how many software companies would no longer be able to sell their programs?

I have one last hurdle to jump before switching from XP Pro to Ubuntu. I recently got broadband again and need to be able to connect via a Thomson Speedtouch 330 USB modem, and have found various instructions but none work. As soon as that happens, I’m an Ubuntu user full time.

26. Scott Carpenter - April 4, 2007

Hi, Dirk. As far as how many software companies would go out of business if all software was free, that’s not really a concern. There aren’t many buggy and buggy whip manufacturers left either. People will move on to provide more value-added services if they can’t continue to sell the same software to us over and over again. 🙂

27. Duarte Molha - April 4, 2007

Hi Dirk Gently

That is not a problem … I had that type of model on my computer and I was able to install it without much fuss.

I cannot recall where i got the instruction from … but as soon as i find it I’ll post it here 🙂

Best regards,

28. Duarte Molha - April 4, 2007

Here goes the link…


follow the instructions for ubuntu distribuition and you cannot go wrong 🙂


29. Tom S. - April 4, 2007


Good call on an evolutionary game theory work up, I had once thought the multitude, extinction, and resurrection of Linux distro’s as a drift in the equilibrium for the product.


I find that more often than not, open source software doesn’t innovate, instead, spends more time trying to mirror its related pay version.

30. Dirk Gently - April 6, 2007

Duarte Molha, cheers for that link. It’s one of the sets of instructions I followed and had no luck with. I found a few, and have yet to manage to get online with Ubuntu.

31. hikaricore - April 7, 2007

Ben: WoW runs near flawlessly in WINE using opengl mode.
Be aware that using integrated intel video is sketchy at best &
ATI cards can be hell due to bad linux drivers (it can be done
though, sometimes without a fuss). But if you’re really into WoW
and have a decent amount of ram + a decent Nvida card, it’s 100%
possible and not too difficult to setup.

Here’s a few links:

32. Aleko - July 29, 2007

What a load of nonsense! How come you only ever hear this kind of argument from Linux users? “Poor Windows people, they are so desperate to get away from the Microsoft tyranny. If only they knew about the wonderful world of Linux… One day soon the world will become enlightened and evil Microsoft will fall. Yada yada yada…”

The reality is that people use Windows because they can. It’s accessible enough to the average user, which covers maybe 80% of people. Linux, on the other hand, requires uncommon skill, patience, and determination to use and maintain properly. I have tried various Linux distros over the years, and I can write pages of invective about my experiences.

What the Linux community doesn’t seem to grasp, or care about, is that most people are not hackers. They don’t even know what an OS is, and couldn’t care less. It’s ignorant and childish to maintain that they would be better served by something like Linux. Windows has its annoyances, like everything else, but that’s about the worst of it. Everything just works, leaving you free to focus on what you need to do. The whole philosophy of Windows is to make the computer easy to use. That’s why it’s on 95+% of the world’s computers – it wouldn’t be successful if it were seriously flawed.

Ultimately, people use computers to get something done. They want to read their email, listen to some music, watch some videos, chat with their friends, etc. The OS plays a very minor role in that objective. What people care about is their applications, not the OS. The trouble with Linux is that people keep focusing on it, instead of just using it to get something done. It is a great OS for hackers, but it does not belong on the proverbial grandmother’s desktop.

33. Srinivas - August 4, 2007

I think the more importance to be given is for have to because, everything “wants to”…

34. Dilip - August 28, 2007

hi …
i don’t know weather i can write this in this blog…

i changed /usr/bin permission to 777 and now sudo not working..
when i type sudo it is giving sudo:must be setuid to root

and before i didn’t set password for root using sudo passwd root

i am not able to login as root …

plz help…


35. Richard - July 23, 2010

People resist change! Really? Check this out…

Script: Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt

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