Fragmentation is Why Linux Hasn’t Succeeded on Desktop: Linus Torvalds

Brief: Linus Torvalds has finally spoken his mind over why Linux that rules the servers and the clouds has not succeeded on the desktop front.

Linus Torvalds voices his opinion on why desktop Linux didn't succeed

Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Too many choices overwhelm the consumer/customer/user.

Too many desktop choices held Linux back from succeeding as a desktop operating system? Linux creator Linus Torvalds certainly thinks so.

In an interview with TFiR, Torvalds expressed his views on the ‘failure’ of desktop Linux.

I still wish we were better at having a standardize desktop that goes across all the distributions… It’s not a kernel issue. It’s more of a personal annoyance how the fragmentation of the different vendors have, I think, held the desktop back a bit. 

You can watch the entire interview on TFiR’s YouTube channel. It’s a short video where Torvalds has expressed his views on desktop Linux and Chromebooks.

Chromebooks and Android are the future of desktop Linux!

When I met Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, at Open Source Summit in 2017, I asked him why Linux Foundation doesn’t work on creating an affordable Linux laptop for masses. Jim answered that Chromebooks are essentially Linux desktop and they are doing exactly that so there is no need of going after a new entry-level Linux laptop.    

Interestingly, Torvalds also puts his weight behind Chromebooks (and Android). 

It seems to be that Chromebooks and Android are the paths towards the desktop.

In case you didn’t know, Chromebooks will soon be able to run native Debian apps. Using Chromebook will give a slightly better ‘Linux feel’. For now, Chromebooks and Chrome OS are nowhere close to the traditional desktop feel despite the fact they run on top of the Linux kernel.

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Torvalds vs GNOME co-founder on What Killed the Linux Desktop

Back in 2012, Miguel de Icaza, the co-founder of Gnome project, wrote an article “What Killed The Linux Desktop” that desktop Linux is almost dead thanks to rapid development and incompatibility across Linux distributions. He said:

This killed the ecosystem for third party developers trying to target Linux on the desktop. You would try once, do your best effort to support the “top” distro or if you were feeling generous “the top three” distros. Only to find out that your software no longer worked six months later.”

Miguel de Icaza, GNOME Project

He also (indirectly) blamed Linus Torvalds:

Linus, despite being a low-level kernel guy, set the tone for our community years ago when he dismissed binary compatibility for device drivers. The kernel people might have some valid reasons for it, and might have forced the industry to play by their rules, but the Desktop people did not have the power that the kernel people did. But we did keep the attitude.


Linus Torvalds today hit back on Miguel’s claims on a Google Plus thread created by Sriram Ramkrishna. Linus said that Miguel’s cliams are laughable:

One of the core kernel rules has always been that we never ever break any external interfaces. That rule has been there since day one, although it’s gotten much more explicit only in the last few years. The fact that we break internal interfaces that are not visible to userland is totally irrelevant, and a total red herring… I wish the gnome people had understood the real rules inside the kernel. Like “you never break external interfaces” – and “we need to do that to improve things” is not an excuse.

Linus Torvalds

What do you think?

I, along with many other Linux users, have felt the same reason behind the not-so-successful state of the desktop Linux. There are too many choices available when it comes to desktop Linux and this is overwhelming to the new users to the extent that they just avoid using it.

Do I feel vindicated that Torvalds thinks the same? Kind of.

What do you think? Do you agree with the opinion that the fragmentation held back desktop Linux? Or do you think that the multitude of choices symbolize the freedom Linux provides to the users? Share your view with us.

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  • Linus is ignoring the fact that part of this is his own fault. The lack of stable ABIs in the kernel are a HUGE problem. I’m not going to re-port my drivers for your kernel every time you deign to drop a new version (which happens WAY too often), and here’s the scoop, pumpkin: my contracts with my hardware vendors preclude the release of the source code. It’s not going to happen. If the Linux desktop was to become a major force, it’s window was in the ’07-’08 range, and the community blew it. What was needed, more than anything, was stable APIs/ABIs and inter-distro binary compatibility.

  • absolutely…i hate that…whenever someone is bored , its creating a new distro or de…this is wrong. in my opinion linux should be an OS name not only kernel

    – Linux OS
    – with *** desktop environment

    if others still want their special stuff, they can continue but distros must combine effrorts to create one – simple – common linux OS.

  • In 2020 in the middle of the pandemic for something to do I was installing different Linux distributions and evaluating them on performance. I am planning a computer repair, reconditioning charity and using Linux for older systems and the educate users that Linux is not the bad OS.

    No OS is perfect, I plan on offering Linux to users that either can not afford a new computer and have one in a closet etc. Or just do not want to but a new system like me.

    My testing system was and still is a Lenovo M57e tower core due 2, 4Gb ram than I would than use my old T420 as the second test system.

    I tested software to see if it performed as it was intended. Most of the software I tested was what I normally use daily.

    I found that most of the distributions ran better on 3GB to 4GB of ram than 2GB which most state is enough. Mate and xfce now days use the same almost amount of ram idle which means just running no tasks or open apps.

    Ubuntu boots up and starts with 725 _ or + ram usage than if you monitor this it jumps to 1.5 GB in a few minutes.

    I think if all older 64bit Computers used SSD drives the bottleneck with how slow a system is would dramatically decrease. My Thinkpad T520 boots not in around 3 seconds with a Samsung 860 SSD. Cinnamon, gnome, Mate, xfce would not matter which one you would use. I have friends dad using Linux mint cinnamon on a T410 and a SSD installed. This laptop was in a closet for years.

    I think that if Linux wants to have a foot hold we need a universal GUI for main steam distribution which uses a balance of ram and resources. I do not know how people will view gnome when they came from windows GUI. But Ubuntu has great documentation on how to use it now and I found a great site on YouTube for users as well called Linux TV with guides for mostly Debian based Linux Distributions I use Mint myself for many years.

  • Hundreds of distro’s for 2% desktop market share?? Many of them are developed more as a hobby then anything. Just imagine if more were to develop for bigger projects how much Linux could advance and at least keep up with Windows, MacOS and Chrome OS. Fragmenting all that talent isn’t helping anyone, certainly not for 2%.

  • A average PC user just wants their apps they use to work. I think its been proven that if you can run them on a iPad, or Chromebook or Windows PC or Mac then they its more about choosing a platform of preference. Linux is just another OS with a fragmented assortment of many distributions. However it has not allowed much in the way of licensed applications into its realm. So if a Windows user switches they most likely have to also find a replacement for their applications. A much bigger deal then simply installing a OS. Given the type of platform Linux is being free of licenses and proprietary systems. That can present itself as a curse as well as positives. Its why a free OS is still not attracting the attention some think it deserves. Most likely it never will.