Linux has "only 10 great apps" according to Gnome Creator

Mike Halsey MVP
Sep 29, 2011
Updated • Jan 16, 2013

When Microsoft released a late alpha, but generally stable version of the Windows 8 Developer Preview the other week a great many people, including myself, were greatly surprised.  This is because it goes against everything Windows chief Steven Sinofsky generally believes.  But it was very clear why Microsoft had made this decision.

They know full well that any modern platform will live or die on the number and quality of the apps available for it and, in order to gain any kind of critical mass on tablets and other mobile devices when it ships next year, Windows 8 will need a good number (we're talking thousands) of good quality apps in a wide variety of categories sitting ready in the new Windows Store.

When you count how many great desktop apps there are on Linux, you can probably name 10. You work really hard, you can probably name 20. We’ve managed to piss off developers every step of the way, breaking APIs all the time.

He also cites the confusion caused by so many completely different distributions of Linux on the desktop as a reason for the platform's failure to take off in any meaningful way.

To be honest, with Linux on the desktop, the benefits of open source have really played against Linux on the desktop in that we keep breaking things. It is not only incompatibilities between Red Hat, Unbuntu, Suse, but even between the same distribution.  Ubuntu from this week is incompatible with the one nine months ago. And then there are multiple editions, the KDE version, the Gnome edition, the one that is the new launching system.

It's unusual that only a few short years ago we were all saying that what set one operating system apart from others were factors including ease of use, power and flexibility.  Then along came the iPhone and almost everything changed to the quality and availability of apps, so much so that this has even now become Microsoft's new focus; this is despite the fact that nobody would ever criticise the Windows desktop platform for ever being short of software.

He was also asked about Windows 8 and said...

They are Microsoft, it’s going to succeed. In three years they are going to have this thing on half a billion computers, so it will be out there.  I have to say, I actually like Windows 8. I am not a Windows user. It’s probably the first time that I would use a Windows machine.

This may be somewhat optimistic as first Microsoft will need to placate business and IT pro users who like the flexibility and power of full desktop apps.  There can be no doubt that he is a man who knows what he's talking about though.  He still is critical about Windows though where it's deserved.

Right, and it is needed, they definitely need to fix this mess, a lot of malware, spyware, and the fact that everybody is sysadmin, and has to reinstall their machine every so often.

In the defence of GNU/Linux (which isn't something I'm often accused of doing) it has a lot going for it with modern distributions, I even have a full chapter devoted to it in my book Troubleshooting Windows 7 Inside Out and will probably do the same for the Windows 8 edition next year.


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  1. jared said on June 14, 2014 at 12:44 am

    There is at least one good reason to use windows software: it is better. That is why it is worth money. In our society, we assign dollar values to things and services that are highly valued. Often it is the case that software of high value is not free in the windows ecosystem. Why? Because at least half of the time it is not utter dogshit, whereas with Linux….ughh.

    …oh! And both Linux programs and distros mostly look like trash. Is that shallow? Probably. I don’t care.

    1. WhoCares said on October 1, 2016 at 4:53 am

      I agree with you regards the ‘look’ of Linux, but regards the code of MS compared to Linux distros, I would have to partly disagree. Some of Microsoft’s code is atrocious – despite them having implemented a ‘safe coding’ policy several years ago. I found it was getting that bad in my own department that I actually left the company after decades of employment there as a developer. I just couldn’t condone the rapidly decreasing skill-sets in those involved in MS code’s creation. Also, as a policy, instead of Microsoft designing software that fits to you (isn’t that one of the benefits of software), they instead have decided that YOU (the human) should fit to the software.

  2. - said on March 27, 2012 at 11:40 am

    1995 system… 2005
    Try liveusb, unetbootin
    I think your cd-rs have “rot”

    1. Unclebob said on August 9, 2012 at 5:50 am

      Try using LiLi makes linux distros a breeze.

  3. - said on March 27, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Go to a download site, and look at “top 10 downloads”.

    1. Your choice of text editor
    2. Firefox Opera,or kmeleon
    3. Proxomitron.
    4. Irfanview
    5. VLC
    6. Photoshop (I guess. I don’t like it)
    7. Sketchup (I find it annoying, but can do basic things, and some weird things) Or Blender3D (hard to learn)
    8. MS Office 2000, XP, 2003 (Word, Excel)
    9. Audacity?
    10. foobar2000
    From imagined Linux perspective:
    1. same
    2. same, except kmeleon, but maybe another browser.
    3. same (WINE)
    4. I assume there’s similar, but don’t know.
    5. same
    6. GIMP?? for extensive ‘amateur’ work. (no pro print publisj=huing
    7. Blender3D only?
    8. Openoffice. Gnumeric. Works ok for me. (assume libreoffice is about the same as oo)
    9. Is linux version
    10. I don’t know, but seems there would be.

  4. Sceptic said on December 20, 2011 at 8:07 pm

    “About the Author:Mike Halsey is a Microsoft MVP for “Windows Expert”.”

    What more needs to be said ? SPIN? What SPINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN????

  5. Hugh said on November 13, 2011 at 3:38 am

    Historically, Miguel has been a Microsoft fanboy. He’s tried to import a lot of MS technology into Linux (eg. C# (as Mono)). He’s very creative, constructive, and energetic, but has always been a Microsoft admirer. This rubs some of us the wrong way but does enrich Linux.

    As far as the actual claim: the criteria for a “great app” is not laid out in this article so it is very hard to agree or disagree or to compare that number with the number for other environments.

    Linux isn’t very good for distributing portable proprietary applicatons in binary form. That makes it difficult for the traditional commercial distribution model. Example: my daughter bought a copy of Mathematica for Linux. It soon became an orphan as Linux runtime evolved. If she had bought the Windows version, the binary would have run for more years.

  6. programmer said on November 5, 2011 at 4:09 am

    And to add.. a 2005 system with more than enough guts to run anything for min. requirements. It’s not the software so much is getting at it from a download mirror and burning a clean file.

  7. programmer said on November 5, 2011 at 4:05 am

    Only one problem with Linux is the downloads of distros. I’ve tried 3 iso burners and 3 separate hardware burners. I’m burning no bootable install!!! the burn isn’t bootable because there isn’t anything.

    Well a second problem is finding a download server that is ‘up’ and capable of downloading a “pure” file in under 15 minutes at 54 mps!! without a downloader. on four servers.

    I’ve already blown 10 bucks in useless downloads from as many servers and 5 distro’s.

    Sorry guys.. I’m not paying for shipped canned complaints I’ll have to put on a 1995 system.

  8. pcallycat said on November 5, 2011 at 12:39 am

    If the ‘gnome co-creator’ has anything to do with the latest incarnation of gnome, I can only assume by his biased comments and the example that is gnome 3, that the intent is to destroy linux from within. If I am wrong, then I can only assume by the example, that is gnome 3, that they are clueless.

  9. guru oogway said on October 27, 2011 at 10:35 am

    I want to remind something to all you guys…Linux and Windows don’t run parallel. They both point in opposite directions. One leads to ‘freedom’ (Linux) and the other to ‘slavery’ (Windows). So it is unfair and illogical to compare between them. There are many temptations from the dark side…but it will only lead to one fate…..Slavery…. And that’s certain !!

  10. Chris said on October 5, 2011 at 9:33 am

    “Give me control of a nations money and I care not who makes it’s laws”.

    “Whoever controls the volume of money in our economy is the absolute master of all industry and commerce”.

    The real reason why Linux has no had the impact it should have is due to the fact not enough people understand the monetary system.

  11. Daniel said on September 30, 2011 at 2:06 am

    I am not surprised that someone biased as Miguel make that conclusion. He can’t be more wrong though. The simple answer is that people are used to Windows. The lack of a strong company are the main reason why linux has not made it in the desktop. Look what happened with Android when it got Google or iOS with Apple.

    Linux got plentiful of quality apps… that is not the reason.

  12. Forensic Penguin2 said on September 30, 2011 at 12:37 am

    But the update is a real pain in the ass in Windows. Restart. Restart. Restart. While the penguin systems just update apps and keeps on running, and securely at that..

  13. Roman ShaRP said on September 29, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    >> There can be no doubt that he is a man who knows what he’s talking about though.

    He doesn’t. I don’t trust this man.

    – I think that Metro sucks, it is square interface designed for square-head people.

    – Windows Phone 7, featuring Metro, was never well accepted. “According to Gartner, 1.7 million smartphones using a Microsoft mobile OS were sold world wide in the second quarter of 2011, for a 1.6% market share” (Wikipedia).

    – according to Wikipedia, there are ~32,000 apps in WP7 marketplace, ~500.000 in Apple appstore, and ~520.000 in Google Android appstore.

    – Google Android is Linux-based. Miguel de Icaza =didn’t mention it at all=, praising that ugly Metro. What a hypocrite!

    Of course, apps matter. But not only apps – remember, guys, how many good apps and games were for DOS?

    Please don’t repeat that shameful PR like MS’s “Windows Phone 7 kills competition”. Metro didn’t add any advantage to WP7. WP7 is worse than Android, and Metro is worse than any other desktop environment.

    As for Linux apps – yes, there are many problems, but…. I do prefer OpenOffice over MS Office, Firefox over IE, Thunderbird over Outlook, GIMP over Photoshop, Eclipse over Visual Studio, Pascal and Python over Basic, Double Commander over Explorer… and so on. “We shall overcome”.

    With virtualization and emulation, cloud and HTML5, many cross-platforms toolkits – it’s hard to tell who will be the winner (and for how long), but –

    I think that more open and cheap platform will prevail, and this more open will be never MS, and more cheap will be neither MS nor iOS/MacOS :)

    1. Olhohkxov said on October 1, 2011 at 11:41 am

      @Roman ShaRP:
      eh eh eh :)
      I can´t say more.

  14. n said on September 29, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Somebody hasn’t played with KGeography! <3

  15. max said on September 29, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    I dont use windows for two years ago, in my laptop in my desktop, i use archlinux, and, its great i got games, office programs, good internet surfing, and too much , and freedom, and learn how a computer works, i don’t know, with linux my computer rules, with windows only have viruses and serial keys,

  16. Olhohkxov said on September 29, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    well, may I ask if there are 10 great applications in Windows?
    by “great” I mean:
    – that really are useful, but no big trouble to the user,
    – that really do what the authors say that they do, no more, no less,
    – that run months and months, years after years without data loss and crashes,
    – that are free, or fair priced, and the user must not pay for what they never needed or ever for bug corrections,
    – that updates are free, or fair priced, and version mismatches don’t create irrational problems

    By this criteria, I found many and many desktop applications on Linux repositories.
    But by the same criteria I have great difficulty to find more than a full hand on Windows market.
    The problem must be the definition of “great” applications, I guess.
    If by “great” I must understand “big companies” and “huge trademarks”, ah, sure, there are very few Linux applications, really.

    Just like “ciny” said: “… this clearly shows he hasn’t used windows for a while”.
    I use both Windows and Linux on a daily basis and I know where my big problems are :)

    1. Mike Halsey (MVP) said on September 29, 2011 at 8:42 pm

      @Olhohkxov There are a great many packages that fit your descriptions including Flash professional, Photoshop, PageMaker, Cubasis, Sibelius, Windows Messenger, Picassa, Google Earth, Visual Studio etc etc.

      Some of these have even revolutionised the world around us (PageMaker and Flash being two examples).

      Your point about “fair priced” is valid but you’ll still be hard-pressed to find equivalent Linux packages with the same power and flexibility.

      1. Krishna said on February 29, 2012 at 1:31 pm

        Faststone, Format Factory, Freemake, PowerDVD, Nero, Rainmeter, the list will go on and on.

      2. Brazen Word said on January 17, 2012 at 8:36 pm

        I can’t speak to all points, but as a musician and composer I’ve found as a user with some moderate programming ability Linux suits my needs better than a software system that would cost $1000s with proprietary software. Much of this is due to Jack, a remarkable program. Other freeware I use and highly recommend includes lilypond, csound, Pure Data, Ardour, Rosegarden, Hydrogen, and Zynaddsubfx, and that isn’t exhaustive. In Linux I feel really inspired by the tools for audio, typesetting, image manipulation, vector graphics – the only are I feel let down by is video. Proprietary is just better here, unfortunately.

      3. Olhohkxov said on October 1, 2011 at 11:36 am

        @Mike Halsey (MVP):
        Flash and Windows Messenger as examples of Windows “great” applications?
        Please, Mike, if you really are a MVP, I expected you can do better than this! No offense, my friend, but if you use Flash, you can use SilverLight too. And you know that in the next years the web and the mobile world will kill them with HTML5, CSS3 and SVG.
        Windows Messenger on other side is very poor compared with the half a dozen applications Linux have that do MSN and more 3 or 4 other IM protocols.
        Picasa and Google Earth, I guess you know, also have Linux versions. I can’t say more.
        Pagemaker is not a day to day application for other than publishing professional, but in Linux you have Scribus, can I name it a “great” app?
        For Cubasis and Sibelius I admit my ignorance, music composition and notation are not my “metier”, but if you Google “Linux music composition” you get a dozen apps, I don’t know if they are “great”.
        But I guess you know what I am saying: if you are a common user that use a computer in his every day life, he(she) will get real “great” applications in Linux as they get in Windows.
        Ever in specialized areas as music composition, digital photo or image processing, or ever database applications, for example, I know professionals who prefer GIMP to Photoshop, Inkscape to Freehand, MySQL to MS SQLServer. The big names of big companies with costly applications to Windows don’t necessarily make “great” applications. There is no cause-effect relation in this case, for sure!
        Btw. you can ever see big Windows software (and hardware) companies coming to the world of Linux this days, I wonder why. :)

      4. Jim said on September 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm

        I wouldn’t have used Flash as an example. It is the one piece of software I really wish would go away and take its bugs and resulting constant updates with it. I’m really hoping HTML5 pushes it into obscurity.

  17. ciny said on September 29, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    “Right, and it is needed, they definitely need to fix this mess, a lot of malware, spyware, and the fact that everybody is sysadmin, and has to reinstall their machine every so often.” A nice article but this clearly shows he hasn’t used windows for a while ;)

  18. Mike J said on September 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    FWIW: some years back I used Freespire exclusively for several months. I could never get my screen resolution right, and eventually I really needed to use my Canon Pixma printer, but there were no drivers for it, so I went back to XP.

  19. Jürgen said on September 29, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Yes same problem with Porsche, they only got ten great engines !

    1. Mike Halsey (MVP) said on September 29, 2011 at 4:40 pm

      @Jurgen, 10 great engines yes but only 1 car :/

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