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The One Issue That Stands in the Way of Mass-Marketed Linux

tux

It seems like just yesterday that I was a user of the ever so popular Microsoft Windows operating system.  But truth be told, I have been using Linux as my primary desktop operating system for nearly a year now.  In this time, I have learned a great deal about the operating system and have honestly found my experience to have been an insightful and eye-opening one.  Having said this, I am now at the point where I cannot (easily) fathom my return to Windows anytime soon and have – despite going through a number of issues towards the beginning of my transition - become quite comfortable and satisfied with the Linux “way of doing things”, if you will.

Having personally gone from Windows to Linux, I have often looked at it as a very promising operating system not only for “geeks” and “nerds”, but mass-society as a whole.  With rapidly growing distributions such as Ubuntu focusing highly on user-friendliness and hardware compatibility, it’s easy to see where Linux could easily become a mass-market product in the next couple of years; a concept that the iSnick blog recently covered in a post about Ubuntu’s potential for OEM installations.  However there is one single problem with a consumer implementation of Linux that could potentially put a damper on Linux’s widespread use by individuals such as you and me.

No, my worry has nothing to do with the “usual suspects” such as software and hardware compatibility, user friendliness, usability, or the transition process.  Rather, I am greatly concerned with how consumer-driven Linux will hold up in one of the areas that Linux is most commonly praised for; security.

You see, when I was real little, my father took me to the beach for the first time.  And being all of five or six at the time, I was all too eager to get my feet in the water.  However, my father immediately warned me of the dangers of the seemingly calm ocean yet potentially deceiving and dangerous current, and told me that even though the water looked safe, it could easily pull me under in a heartbeat.

Looking at Linux, I see a very similar concept.  From the outside looking in, users who have only heard about the Linux operating system or those who have yet to use it in-depth likely know it for the great security that it has become synonymous with.  After all, it seems that we are always hearing how secure and untouchable the Linux operating system is – even to the point where some have claimed it to be immune from viruses, malware, and outside hackers.

Don’t get me wrong.  Linux can be an insanely secure operating system with the right security implementations and configurations.  This, after all, is one of the reasons that Linux (and variants) have been widely used in data-centers and server environments.  However, the fact still remains that nothing is going to be entirely “infection-proof.”  Sure, Linux can be locked down quite extensively, but doing so requires a great deal of know-how (partitioning schemes for drive encryption to prevent mounting and unauthorized resets, a secured bootloader, IPTables, etc, etc.), time, and effort.

Am I saying that Linux doesn’t have a chance with general everyday consumers?  Absolutely not.  Linux has a great potential, but at the end of the day we have to realize that users are going to expect that as soon as they unbox and boot up their Linux PC’s they will be able to go about all of their day-to-day tasks without needing to worry about security.  And even though Linux can be highly secure (and in my opinion is more secure than Windows, out of the box), the fact of the matter is that users cannot simply assume that Linux doesn’t require thought into security and privacy.

But what does all of this mean in retrospect to the mass production, distribution, and sales of Linux-based computers?  Simply put, I can easily see a scenario where Linux became a popular consumer option down the road, only to lose its credibility because end-users were too naive to configure their security correctly because they perceived Linux itself to be entirely secure.

What do you think?  Leave your thoughts in the comments!