After seeing a commercial for a Dyson-brand vacuum cleaner, my mind was kicked into gear as to why the uptake in *NIX operating systems on the desktop (specifically, all flavors of Linux and Apple's OS X) has been so slow when compared to Microsoft Windows.
In some ways, *NIX currently stands as the Dyson vacuums of the computer world. Currently, the only mainstream desktop *NIX system is Mac OS X. Apple only sells OS X bundled with a new PC, effectively making the hardware a giant dongle key for an otherwise awesome operating system. Linux is another great *NIX system, but fails at the mainstream because it simply requires too much effort for the average computer user, and this failure is its higher cost.
I feel the need to pause and define what I mean as the average computer user. This is the person who gets their technology news from mainstream media. This is the person who doesn't realize that Internet Explorer is just a web browser, or even what a web browser is. It's just “the Internet” to them. This is the person who thinks that if they get a Mac, the computer will be near-worthless. This is the person who, rather than upgrading hardware or software, just goes out and buys a whole new computer.
With the idea of the average computer user defined, I can continue. Since Windows has a critical mass of both software and hardware support, it stands as a de facto standard, but not in the standards-compliant sense. It is the most easily available thing, and therefore many will opt to purchase it, despite its flaws. *NIX systems fix these flaws, but do so in a way that leaves it incompatible with existing Windows software. This ultimately means that the user must decide between a system with a higher cost and less compatibility and a system with high compatibility and low cost.
This is where the parallel to Dyson comes in. Dyson, especially the new "Ball" model, fixes perceived design flaws in existing vacuum cleaners. However, you're then stuck in a mess where the only manufacturer of equipment for the vacuum is Dyson, and the only way you can be serviced is via Dyson. Additionally, the vacuum is more expensive than other manufacturers' models.
Just like with computers, the design flaws get fixed, but only with a higher cost. For *NIX to get greater traction on the desktop, the cost has to be alleviated.
One interesting aside I'd like to address in a future blog post is the challenges Microsoft faces in getting away from their previous errors. Another is that I've written this blog post on a new MacBook system, and I'm impressed with the features found in the basic OS X text editor, which include fonts, decent page layout, spell checking, and even kerning.