Why is Linux support often such a deception?

I just found an article at Digg.com about GMail finally working in the Google Chrome test shell: Google’s Chrome now works on Linux, crudely. This doesn’t mean the release of a Linux version is coming near, before the actual program works, a lot of work needs to be done.

The Windows version was released months ago

It happens more often that the promised Linux support isn’t as good as expected, has fewer functions or gets less attention from the developers. A good example is Skype, its Linux client is nowhere as good as the Windows version.

I can already predict the responses of people saying it’s just logical, because Linux just has a much smaller marketshare. However, this doesn’t mean that you should pay less attention to an OS if you say that you do support it. I don’t say that Chrome didn’t do this right, but if you decide to spend less effort on the Linux version, please state it very clearly at your website so we know we should look for an alternative program that does value all its users.

Apart from the program installed on Linux, the OS itself also has got support problems. Some netbooks that are sold with Linux have less functionality than the Windows versions, or have bad drivers. This is a bad case and probably partially the reason for of MSI Wind netbooks with Linux being more often returned than the Windows version, which I wrote a blog about earlier.

It seems like the companies and users have a higher expectation of Linux and start with optimism. However, after a while the users get disappointed with Linux, because the hardware they’re using isn’t fully supported by the manufacturer that installed Linux on it itself or because it has less features than the Windows equivalent.
The companies find out that Linux versions aren’t as profitable or popular as Windows versions, simply because the lack of marketshare. They decide to spend less resources on the Linux version resulting in a program that has differences between its different versions. Or they started with a program that already had less functions and thus didn’t became as popular as they expected, which they could have caused themselves by not paying as much attention to it.

What could be done about this? Yes, I do agree that the marketshare should increase in order to make it more interesting for companies to maintain a good Linux version. However, I don’t think that a small marketshare is a good excuse for this. If you decide to support a certain platform, you should do it properly. When you don’t do so, you contribute to a negative image of Linux because people notice that their favourite program isn’t as good at the opensource OS. On top of that, why would you want to serve the whole world? You don’t have to have a huge group of users to make profit or be succesful.

With supporting Linux badly, the companies doing that are at least partially responsable for the reasons that made them support it bad. If they would support it on a good way, there would be another reason to use Linux, increasing the potential userbase for that version of the program.

And supporting Linux can really give you popularity. A good example of this is the MMORPG Regnum Online, which supports both Windows and Linux. Because of the lack of other good and free-to-play MMORPGs, it has become almost the default choice for Linux users that don’t like the overwhelming amount of roleplaying in PlaneShift. Although the group of users still isn’t that exceptional, it’s still attracting a lot of users and binding them to it because of it unique selling point: Linux support.

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  1. Well, the answer is in your post – companies don’t really care. They try the waters, build a Linux-version of their program, but for want of a substantial userbase (how many Linux-users would Skype have – anywhere near enough to make paying the programmers, testers and Linux-savvy helpdesk people worthwile? I wonder) they can’t commit to doing it properly. Making those kinds of investments is just not a decision that you can ultimately defend in the boardroom.

    Getting quality software out there is only going to work if your developers care. If there’s no profit in their sights, that means they need to be happy doing it simply for the love of it. See gcc – I believe people wrote that for the love of it, and it’s excellent.

    As long as the desktop Linux user base is still relatively small (and thus less lucrative to work for), I think you should only expect great Linux support from amateurs (in the French, positive sense) – and thus mostly from OSS projects.

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