For over two decades, Linux has steadily grown in popularity in the server and embedded device markets. However, making significant inroads into the desktop computer space has proven elusive. Linux still only accounts for around 2% of the traditional desktop and laptop market by most estimates. This begs the question – will Linux ever conquer the desktop? Let’s examine some of the key challenges:

Lack of Pre-Installed Systems

Unlike Windows or MacOS which come pre-installed on the vast majority of consumer PCs and laptops, Linux faces an uphill battle. Getting major OEMs to sell desktops and laptops with Linux is critical for mainstream adoption. This requires convincing hardware vendors that there is enough demand and that tech support costs won’t be too high. While some specialty Linux-based PCs exist, most average computer buyers never consider Linux simply because it is not front-and-center on their options list while computer shopping. 

Application Availability

The range of popular commercial applications available for Linux falls far short of what’s available for Windows and MacOS. Software essential for many business and consumer users like Microsoft Office simply does not exist. Popular games and professional creativity suites in areas like video, photo and music editing have also tended to lag behind on Linux. Encouraging developers of commercial closed-source paid apps to support Linux has proven challenging since the economics are questionable given the small user base. While the quality and variety of open-source Linux apps has expanded greatly, perception persists that Linux lacks apps users can’t live without.

User Experience Inconsistencies  

Linux inherits an issue from its broad fragmentation into distributions and desktop environments – significant inconsistencies in user experience. Whereas Windows and MacOS offer carefully controlled, consistent experiences optimized for ease-of-use, Linux as a whole does not. A user trying multiple Linux distributions can get confused by vastly different interfaces, update mechanisms, package management schemes and hardware drivers. While power users may enjoy the extreme customization that 500+ Linux distributions allow, average users face a learning curve with each one. Smoothing out these inconsistencies will involve streamlining the chaotic Linux ecosystem so major issues do not vary so drastically from one flavor to another.

Hardware Compatibility Hassles

Getting some hardware like printers, scanners and specialty devices fully functional on Linux has long posed headaches for users because Linux drivers and firmware lag behind what's available for mainstream operating systems. Hardware vendors generally put Linux compatibility as lowest priority. While these issues have improved thanks to open source community efforts, glitches getting peripherals, internal device components and multi-monitor setups operational are far more common than on Windows and MacOS. Eliminating the need for complex terminal troubleshooting to get hardware working seamlessly in Linux remains an obstacle.

Security Perceptions

Linux benefits from a very well-earned reputation for security among its user base. However, Linux has struggled to convey clear, positive security messaging to more casual mainstream computer users. Many average users grew up with a perception from the 1990s/early 2000s that Linux is terrifyingly complex for non-geeks and requires extensive technical skills to safely operate. Windows conversely persuaded much of the public that security threats are manageable enough for anyone. Changing broad public assumptions that Linux must be intrinsically less secure or stable than Windows requires simpler security communication aligned with non-expert users.  

Commercial Strategizing & Investment  

Linux development depends profoundly on volunteer communities and corporate sponsors with unclear profit motives like Red Hat or Canonical. Persuading shareholders at major publicly-traded software giants like Microsoft that aggressively pursuing Linux/open source desktop dominance could be lucrative has proven challenging. The lack of a single clear commercial entity centrally driving mainstream Linux desktop adoption as a primary money-making goal damages Linux growth potential. Not havingherent long-term business strategies, funding commitments and development priorities on par with Windows/MacOS hampers Linux.

Overcoming these barriers will certainly not be easy for Linux in the years ahead. However, the flexibility, transparency and ethical principles underlying Linux hold intrinsic appeal for many. With persistent evolution centered on user-friendly design, comprehensive apps, unified platforms, universal hardware support, educational outreach and persuasive business planning, Linux may gradually chip away at the current desktop duopoly enough to become an option average users can’t afford to ignore. But with entrenched competitors, Linux reaching beyond 20% desktop market share by 2030 currently seems the most realistic best case scenario. The odds remain weighted against the Linux penguin conquering desktop computing any time soon, but the open ideology bolstering it gives hope.