Why I’ll Never Offer Ubuntu Desktop To Clients

Imagine a place where all businesses had $0 recurring expense for business related software. A wonderful land where all you had to worry about was convincing clients to pay you for maintenance, and not license fees. Supposedly, Canonical and other Linux-based companies would argue that such a world truly exists. It's a lie.

Okay, I admit that I'm being a bit harsh. But the reality is that Ubuntu and other Linux desktop are not even close to being ready for prime time business operations. The blame doesn't lie solely on Linux, but also on the market.

Businesses feel warm and fuzzy when spending money

There are three reactions I receive every time I offer Ubuntu to a client as a desktop solution:

  1. “What does Ubuntu mean?”
  2. “Will I still have my Window's desktop?”
  3. “Why is it free?” (not in the is it free because it's created by geniuses that want to free software from the shackles of big business? But, everything that's free must suck so why are you offering me this crap?)

Businesses need to operate, and the only way they can feel safe knowing that a new thing will keep their business running is to pay lots of money for it.  It doesn't matter if the thing is horrible.

Ubuntu is still buggy

When a 60+ year-old business owner asks “where did the power button go?”, I would normally think that it was an age-to-technology gap situation.  But not with the latest version of Ubuntu (10.04 as of writing this).  Things on the Gnome desktop regularly disappear, move around, and stop working.  Maybe it's to keep everyone's mind sharp, but to a business owner it's unacceptable.

The market doesn't like Linux

No matter how you want to spin it, the market doesn't like desktop Linux.  Don't get me wrong, I love desktop Linux for personal use and for use on business servers, but the vast majority of the market refuses to cooperate with open source operating systems.

Take Intuit for example, because one of my clients was sporting Ubuntu I thought that it'd be great to suggest Quickbooks Online as a cloud-based finance tracker.  That's when the hilarity ensued.

First, I had to implement a user agent switcher for Firefox because Quickbooks Online didn't support Linux browsers (and still doesn't as of this post).  Everything worked great.

Then they announced that they supported Ubuntu desktop-based browsers.  Fantastic! Now I could get rid of the pesky agent switcher workaround. Wait, just kidding! A couple weeks after their announcement they took it back.  Not only that, they decided to change all the browsers they supported.  No problem, agent switcher to the rescue.

But wait, because they changed their browser support structure the user agent switcher no longer worked.  Needless to say after hours and hours of trying to fix this, we bought Windows 7.  Sigh…

Oh how I wish…

I really wish that I could offer Linux as a viable alternative to commercial desktop operating systems – but I can't.  Although I regularly use Linux for server builds, Linux desktop distributions are still horrible. Although everything is free, the price you pay to ensure that everything will work properly and will be compatible with all web and client-based applications is a no brainer.  Canonical, Redhat, Novell, prove me wrong… please…

Think I'm wrong?  Let me know in the comments!


  • Kev

    August 24, 2010

    Unfortunately you are correct and I am seeing more and more incompatibilities with Linux of all flavors in last couple years– I won't even try watching you tube on a Linux box anymore. I really wish Linux was ready for prime time, but sadly it is not.

    • Dean Soto

      August 24, 2010

      Totally. Flash + Linux = trouble. Flash runs alright, but as soon as there's an update things break and you have to wait or find a workaround.

      It really sucks because where Linux is going to gain mass support is in the desktop market. Yes, Linux servers run 90% of the Internet, but the average person doesn't know that. Make the desktop rock and IT consultants and other tech savvy people can offer it as an option.

      Thanks for the comment Kev.

      • Tex

        August 24, 2010

        Dean, Good article and I agree with you- but your comments are you saying that Windows doesn't have this issue?

        The only difference (in reference to flash) is that most versions of windows you can click, download, run, and install almost seamlessly if you don't care about security. But lets see last time I used Windows XP it was- click to go flash update- click to download it; stupid security warning I tried to download a file- click up the top to confirm yes i want that file- page reloads- file download prompts; save; run -next-next-next restart browser.

        (FROM MEMORY) Compared to my experience with slackware (10+years) is usually- find that file on the website- (eventually)- establish I need the generic .gz version, download it, gunzip it; untar it; mv/cp the file and restart the browser.

        I don't think it's any more complicated- one is all magically done for you; the other is no different to moving or downloading a file from an ftp and then copying it removable media.

        Do I think it should have to be done this way on *Nix? No; but that isn't a *Nix related issue- speak to the makers of flash and establish why it can't be auto-magically done like windows.

        Much like QB online- its a maker/programmer issue. They can/could support it but we start chasing our tails- We wont support Linux because No one is using *Nix in business; No one in business uses *Nix because the programs are not available. Catch22.

        Cheers, Tex

    • Kat

      August 25, 2010

      The latest GNU Gnash (version 0.8.8) was released just a couple of days ago and the developers now claim that "100% of all YouTube videos should work". GNU Gnash is a free software implementation of the proprietary Macromedia Flash technology (SWF movie player and browser plugin for the Adobe Flash file format).


      • Dean Soto

        August 25, 2010

        That's very promising! Thanks for that.

  • kaddy

    August 24, 2010

    Although I wouldn't say that Linux is ready for Big Businesses as a Desktop quite yet….. I have not had the trouble you are mentioning…. Never had Icons disappear from my Gnome Desktop… Never had Flash issues (in 32 bit)
    But I agree that Ubuntu is Buggy… That is because Canonical are lazy when it comes to Bug Fixes… They are based of "Debian UNSTABLE" and rely on Them for Bug fixes more than they fix bugs themselves….. However, OpenSuse, Debian Stable, and Redhat are Rock Solid Linux Distributions that Rarely ever have noticeable bugs that significantly effect the Desktop in any noticeable way

    • Dean Soto

      August 24, 2010


      It's never happened with my personal Gnome desktop, so when things started moving around and disappearing from 2 of my clients I was thinking it was user error. But as I was trying fix another issue one of my clients had, much of the default panel icons for Ubuntu were gone or moved around. Was really strange.

      I knew that they were based off of Debian Unstable (similar to Fedora is to Redhat), but didn't know that they depended on them for bug fixing. That sucks. I still run into the problem with compatability though even with Redhat and so on.

      Thanks for the comment! =)

      • Shawn

        August 24, 2010

        Your clients moved these icons themselves, a friend of mine had the same issue, aparentally you can click and drag them or easily remove them.

    • oliwarner

      August 25, 2010

      Your shift key appears to be quivering in anger but what you said isn't entirely true.

      Ubuntu is *partially* based on Debian-unstable but that doesn't mean that everything is unstable. If you want to know what it actually means (rather than continuing in your blind assumption), read this post: http://mdzlog.alcor.net/2009/03/08/ubuntu-is-base

      And Ubuntu relies on Debian for bug fixes? Well this is only as true as far as some Debian developers fix bugs in Ubuntu just as Canonical developers fix things in Debian. Red Hat developers also fix upstream issues. Everybody helps everybody else; that's the point of open source. The Ubuntu community does a LOT of bug handling (through its own LaunchPad.net and upstream) and commits plenty of bug fixes to lots of other projects. To say it's lazy suggests you've never been to LaunchPad (itself software developed and open sourced by Canonical to help other open source projects)

      Finally you suggest that SUSE, RHEL and Debian stable (the enterprise versions) are somehow immune to bugs. This is both untrue and rose-tinted. There are bugs and there's a downside of using older (more tested, more bug-fixed) software as is commonplace in distributions with very long life-cycles: you're left with antiquated software. Even when a new distribution version is released, you probably be using versions of software that are 6-18 months behind the latest upstream stable release (that is: the version the application developers consider most recent and stable for production use).

      To sum up my problems with your post, you don't appear to have a single clue how open source distributions work, how cadence-release distributions work, what Canonical and the Ubuntu community do to improve their and others' distributions or anything about enterprise Linux other than a few brand names… In short, you're barely qualified to talk about anything other than your own experiences.

      I wouldn't normally feed the trolls but other people are reading your BS and I think there needs to be some balance for everybody's sake.

      • cassiano leal

        August 25, 2010

        "Ubuntu is *partially* based on Debian-unstable but that doesn't mean that everything is unstable."

        Well… He didn't say that everything is unstable. He said that it is based on *Debian unstable*, which is what I run in both my desktop and workstation, and honestly it feels *a lot* more stable than all my previous experiences with Ubuntu.

        • oliwarner

          August 25, 2010

          "He didn't say that everything is unstable"

          Very true; I inferred that his use of "UNSTABLE" was in capitals to imply some extra significance…. But in reading it again, it's hard to draw any solid conclusion from that post based on the case of the letters. They're all over the place.

  • Arup

    August 24, 2010

    Bunch of hogwash, there are serious bugs in Windows and Mac too, Mac breaks and so does Windows, even the much hyped 7, about disappearing buttons in Ubuntu, I can show you cases where my Windows 7 buttons disppear or stop functioning, get over it, its software and its meant to have imperfections and as that goes, Ubuntu comes closest of matching and surpassing expensive bloated Windows and Mac and that too for free. As for businesses feeling warm and fuzzy, have you seen the economy lately, they would feel warm at the word FREE. Just admit you are a linux hater and be with it. Don't hide under a facade.

    As for those claiming troubles with Flash, its another horsepuckey, flash x32 works fine now with all three major distros as long as you have the right video drivers installed. Plain and simple, don't go around spreading FUD.

    • Dean Soto

      August 24, 2010

      LOL!! Linux hater? You kidding me? Check out some of my older posts. My first few videos sing the praises of Ubuntu for business use!

      I use Ubuntu 10.04 for the sounds and some low-level audio editing for my podcast. I'm no Linux hater, but I'm a business man and I know what sells with my clients. Windows 7 is far from perfect and so is Mac OS, but they are supported and much less buggy. That's my opinion.

      • Shawn

        August 24, 2010

        I would have to agree with the previous comment 🙂

        As far as a desktop enviroment goes, there isn't anything wrong with Ubuntu. It comes with all of the basic software you would need, and nearly anyone could install a package from the point and click software center… So a website complained that you were useing Linux? I find it very hard to believe that there was only one soultion and that all of a sudden it wouldn't work anymore… Websites that are designed for only one browser or one operateing system are very poorly managed, yes, but there are many workarounds… Before buying windows I would have installed Internet explorer or at the very least posted a thread in Ubuntu's forums…

        And as for your problem with flash, this is the very first that I've heard of this issue and I use Linux everyday. Either you were just extreamly unlucky, or the previous poster hit the nail on the head with this one…

  • benQ

    August 25, 2010

    Yeah, you should move them to CentOS (even for the desktop) or to RHEL or SLED. With RHEL or SLED they get the warm fuzzy feeling of payin money AND they get a stable power horse operating system.

    Then: moving to Windows 7 for a Browser issue is nuts. You may have tried IE through wine (no kidding).

    Anyway, a migration from Windows to something else always means that some habits have to be changed. People do not like changing habits, they prefer to pay and suffer as long as they are ony USED to pay and suffer everything is OK. If you are able to break their habits in parts to enable them to migrate, they very often see that their situation has improved even though they had to replace some of their most often used programs. There is no painless migration. People love the status quo.

    I hate to agree with Steve Jobs, but FLASH just sucks, it is proprietary, buggy, recource hungry (on many many hardware). I really hope that HTML 5 matures and spreads fast enough to get rid of Flash in the short run …

    • Dean Soto

      August 25, 2010

      I am tempted to go offer RHEL, but I run into the same problem of compatability on the application developer's end. I tried IE through WINE and it worked, but Adobe Reader (which was also needed) doesn't play well with WINE and IE through WINE won't run the native Adobe Reader. It's rediculous, I know.

      I still run all file and web servers using Fedora and Ubuntu (could use RHEL but haven't had a need).

      Totally agree with regard to Flash. Not sure HTML is the Flash killer yet, but's it's impressive so far.

  • Criter

    August 25, 2010

    "Things on the Gnome desktop regularly disappear, move around…"

    Well, you can always use awesome WM, you funny little bugger 🙂

    • Dean Soto

      August 25, 2010

      Very interesting. I'll give it a try! Thanks! Even has a Deb package, nice!

  • KimTjik

    August 25, 2010

    Even though I don't agree with the general opinion of the article I respect the decision. I don't understand however the logic of your argument. Your main example doesn't tell anything particular about Linux limitations. It only tells the story about how some residents of the Web still struggles or neglects sane standards. In my opinion examples like these only proves that those companies failing to provide quality Web services adhering to standards are the ones not ready for prime time.

    You article isn't very coherent because in one section you complain about changes of the Gnome desktop (e g not changes to the vanilla Gnome desktop, but customisation done by Ubuntu), and in another you say you bought Windows 7. Windows 7 has the start-button in common with previous versions, but to even mention Windows 7 in the same article proclaiming that serious business needs a static desktop doesn't make sense. The Windows desktop has undergone many changes for good and worse, and because of cost and doubts we live with three widely used versions simultaneously, XP, Vista and Windows 7. So much for a coherent Windows desktop. Your 60+ business owner would have to understand the new layout of the power button in Vista and Windows 7 as well.

    I've never used Ubuntu – Arch both at home and at the company – but to say that Ubuntu still has bugs is to say its just like all the other OS platforms out there. I could give you a long list here of flaws in the Windows 7 installation process, bugs in detection of said out-of-the-box supported peripherals, loops of installation of missing drivers, weird security policies which asks for administrator rights just to delete an icon on the desktop just because it's installed as an all user setting, and so on. Windows 7 is still one of the better OS Microsoft has produced, that finally gets parts of the security right, even though it's so complex that few actually understand all its layers. Does that mean all have to abandon Windows 7?

    Finally a totally unnecessary part of a serious business desktop, but commented above, flash. You describe flash as being totally impossible to use on Linux. Its performance isn't on pair with Windows version (especially since Adobe for some reasons by purpose choose to not use already well functioning video acceleration), but in my experience (at home, not at work!) it's stable and works well. I and my wife has watched several HD720p on bigger wide screens without any problems what so ever. We don't even own a TV, because we don't need it and everything we want to watch is provided on the Web in good to HD quality. Flash is a curse and probably a technology that will disappear in favour of better ones. If you're serious about business security Flash means a potential big security hole, but that's another discussion.

    The last conclusion, that "the market doesn't like Linux" is very stone age in my view. A healthy market has room for different products, including niche products. If Linux dominates or is a big player in some markets but doesn't become one on the desktop market, it's still perfectly fine. Linux doesn't depend on big market shares the same way as the proprietary competition. I don't preach Linux only networks, but I see an advantage for serious working environments to even kick out Windows clients in favour of using a stable Windows Terminal server in those cases when there's no point or viable option to change crucial software.

  • @mglbranco

    August 25, 2010

    "A wonderful land where all you had to worry about was convincing clients to pay you for maintenance, and not license fees. Supposedly, Canonical and other Linux-based companies would argue that such a world truly exists. It’s a lie."
    False. It exist. Red Hat is at NYSE and has 800 mill in revenue this year and Novell had 800mill in revenue last year. Enterprise linux works and is on the rising, very specially on the public sector. There's a growing market for linux in smartphones which is quite profitable already. This doesn't mean that desktop linux is already profitable. It is not, just yet. And that's your are really speaking about: personal desktop market. Canonical is a desktop market company.

    Finally, you cannot expect people to know the system if they haven't been instructed about the basics. If you give people Linuxs or Macs, they'll have to learn how to use the system. Don't people learn windows and office, photoshop and so on?.

  • bigbearomaha

    August 25, 2010

    Well, There are some issues that keep Linux from having certain success, particularly where the web and mutlimedia are concerned.

    However, companies failing to make their web sites standards compliant is not the fault or within the scope of the Linux community to change.

    Failing to allow access to any OS or browser is a choice made by the web designer. Usually out of laziness, in-experience or intentional 'bad sport'.

    Companies intentionally limiting the Linux version of the software they offer for "free" all over again, is an issue with the company. It certainly is not because the Linux/open source community has not provided the tools or assistance to make a "full" version of the software. This is an intentional choice to "cripple" the software on the part of Adobe.

    As far as Ubuntu, well, Iwouldn't install Ubuntu as a business desktop to begin with unless it was the older LTS version if even then.

    Ubuntu does not package their default version as prepared for an office or business environment, but rather for a home user environment. the IT admin/tech doing the install must do quite a bit of work to remove un-necessary apps and otherwise modify the install to fit a business environment.

    having said that, there is no 'business' oriented desktop out there at the moment that is targeted so specifically and just about every distro one will use must be customized for a business environment. Having said that, it is usually best to start with a "vanilla" install from a DVD or custom ISO as obtained from Suse build service or even the Debian new online build service and customize the ISO before downloading it.

    All in all, I agree with you. I would never install Ubuntu to a business desktop either. It is simply not the best choice to start from.

    It is a bit insincere to discuss comparisons of Linux weaknesses vs Windows weaknesses and primarily listing Linuxes weaknesses. No one should expect ANY OS to be so functional out of the box without issues. Windows is hardly flawless, neither is Apple.

    I can say that I have installed opensuse education desktop in several small schools I admin for and there are none of the serious concerns you list here. Most of the problems my users face are those that come from using an interface that is new to them. Once they have gained some experience and "play" with it for awhile, there are no more complaints. form students or staff.

    Big Bear

  • nikonaum

    August 25, 2010

    OMG!!! Adobe Flash. I can't see where is the issue with Flash x86_64, I'm running Ubuntu 10.04.1 LTS x86_64 and had just once a problem with it and updated to the 10.1 beta (when it was beta, it's still a beta, but they removed just the sign 😉 ) cleared the problem. I'm doing everything to avoid using flash (not just in linux but in windows too), I really don't like it, it's heavy and slow. http://www.youtube.com/html5 Don't U know it? 😛
    Really I can't remember having gliches in Ubunt, not a thing you described here. I regreted just for one thing– no google audio (at firs) and video chat (later) in LInux, then came a partial solution– came Empathy to Ubuntu but it was a bit noisy and now I am absolutely happy Empathy works perfect and NOW there is the Google Audio and Video Chat plugin which works great.

  • Won

    August 25, 2010

    Cannot burn CDs & DVDs with Ubuntu Lucid release. Looks like they are not going to fix it in Meerkat as well. These tiny issues do bug people. Guys on launchpad fix bugs based on criticality & no. of people who have subscribed (also) – that's wierd if things don't work with your default DVD/CD writer software.

    Same with Me Menu – facebook accounts cannot be linked and Ubuntu has made a fanfare out of it. Again bug is un-fixed although it comes default with Lucid installation.

    Linux community : if something comes default in your system – it's a critical bug. Does not matter if the system admin does not use it.

    • Dean Soto

      August 26, 2010

      Perfect example of the little things that just don't work. I think things like this hinder the broad acceptance Ubuntu.

  • Benji

    August 26, 2010

    Pf, flaming for clicks– shame on me for reading.

  • Dean Soto

    August 26, 2010

    Ha! Flaming for clicks? If I wanted a lot of people to come to my site I'd prefer them to be my target market. Linux users definitely don't fit into that mold.

    I really did write this as a plea to up the ante on the desktop because it would be such a great value to my clients. If I could save them $1,000+ in commercial software, that's a huge win.

  • @tertius

    September 14, 2010

    You're getting a lot of flack on this one!

    I'm with you half way. I love and use Ubuntu for web app development but find its hardware (cutting edge) support lacking.

    I can compile new drivers and compile a new kernel and then my problems may change for the better. But is that really for a commercially viable?

    As others have said about other distros being a little more stable, I can probably agree with that. Something both of us might have to look into.

    All in all Windows is more stable on cutting edge hardware (driver support) and "emulating" a browser just to get a web app to work is coming too close to opening up a whole can of worms with compatibility (as you have described with the PDF printing).

    – an agreeable reader.

  • Dean Soto

    January 3, 2011

    what is this?

  • Andrew

    October 22, 2011

    So linux is not ready for business and is buggy.

    Well I’ve never had a problem with Flash. Never had icons disappearing or moving around. I run my own business and use Ubuntu 100%. I also have it installed on my personal laptops.

    Many European governments and businesses are turning to Linux. More and more of my clients are installing Suse or Ubuntu on both their servers and desktops. The French Gendarmerie are in the process, and may well have finished, to move all their desktops and servers to Ubuntu and have already reported on the millions of euros saved. The British national health service (NHS) are experimenting with linux and its government now requires NHS purchasing and IT managers to give preference to open-source and to explain themselves if they buy from closed source providers (ie. microsoft). The European government is also activity promoting open-source.

    So, not good for business eh? Maybe you should come to Europe.

  • Justin F

    November 19, 2012

    Well Windows 8 did not help this article any, as I now have to hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete then click the power icon, then select if I want to shut down/restart my laptop. On top of that the OS takes up over 16gb of space!
    Ubuntu 12.04 for me please. At least now my employees can’t install Yahoo search bar, Bing search bar, Google search bar, and 35 different messenger programs. Seems like I spend more money on virus protection/removal than I do payroll. I think people would aimlessly click their way into a dark portal if it was applicable option.

  • eric

    February 8, 2013

    i think xp and win7 are great systems but i just loaded ubuntu on to an old laptop.. it kills all of my windows pc’s.. its my fav computer right now.. if i was to start a business, id use linux.. windows is done.. mac, on its way.. linux rocks…