Open Ballot: is Linux sexy?


Our kid Graham has an opinion piece up on giving various reasons why he thinks Linux is struggling to break into the mainstream. But his third point - and the one that seems to have turned into a flash point for commenters - is that Linux just isn't attractive enough visually. He said:

"The biggest challenge is sexiness. There's very little of it in Linux unless you're an antisocial geek, and products like the Apple's iPad illustrate this massive divide painfully. As Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, puts it, "Linux can compete with the iPad on price, but where's the magic?" Linux has the programmers, the managers, the community, the innovation, the time and the skill. But to succeed in 2010 and the coming decade, what it really needs is a magician or two."

Do you agree? Is Linux sexy enough for mainstream use, or does it still need more work? Perhaps a side issue is whether Linux needs to be sexy at all. Please post your views below for inclusion in our next podcast - don't forget to add a name other than Anonymous Penguin, and don't forget to provide some sort of explanation as to how you came about your answer. Pedants who happily answer that Linux is just a kernel might want to question whether they are indeed the "antisocial geeks" that Graham describes.

You should follow us on or Twitter

Your comments

Yes, it is

I think KDE on opensuse looks really great, even Ubuntu starts looking better. Since at least 50% of all Computer Users still run XP it should not be a Problem to compet with MS (the Mac has got all the "sexyness" and only 5% market share).

Sexy? Of course... But...

I'm a die hard Linux fan. But I just don't understand the interface differences beweeen say KDE and GNOME. GNOME applications should make look like KDE applications in KDE and KDE applications should make look like KDE applications in GNOME. This makes a big difference for first-time users of Linux. Thank you.

Linux is not sexy at all

The first Linux distro I used was Red Hat 8 or 9. I don't remember exactly which one, but the point is that Gnome hasn't changed dramatically since then! Sure there were improvement but it feels the same. I like the new shiny glossy look of the task bar and title bars in Windows 7. I also like the designs from Apple but you know the default look of Gnome looks old and dusty and rusted.
And KDE? Don't even mention it. They try very hard to be unique and beautiful but seriously I think Gnome is much better ;)
How much does it cost the Ubuntu or Linux foundation or the Gnome team or whoever is responsible to hire some decent graphic designers to make the look of Linux desktop better?

We are getting there

when kde5 is released, E17 comes out of alpha, compiz 1.0 comes, gnome 3 dawns. We will have sexy desktops. kde is too clunky at this moment however I still use it as it is getting better with every release. E17 is certainly sexy but not very well known or widly used, also less user friendly. Gnome three should be good but their development is too slow for me. kde4 try's but we need better graphics drivers. I am stuck on 173xx nvidia ones, nouveau is unusable and my previous ati card with the radeon drivers sucked. effects and things like that are too clunky at the moment in my experience.

So wait a couple of years and we will be stable, sexy, and open. TAKE THAT APPLE but as of now an ipod touchi is far more sexy as the animations JUST WORK and the picture quality is calibrated JUST RIGHT. Right now linux is just coming into the age of sexyness. with the next major versions of desktops our efforts will come into fruitation.

what is sexy for you?

so?! what is it? Most people change the out of the box settings, no matter the OS, in order to make it sexier by their own definition. I think that it is safe to say that all linux desktops have an easy way (no need for anti-social geek here just a mild googling) to change all the aspects of their looks and feel. In xp it wasn't that easy, I always resorted to some dubious package that somebody else created or installed some non-free app so that everything could be changed to my liking. I don't think that sexiness is the problem, imho it just needs more love from hardware and software companies.

Not a Prayer

Ubuntu makes some effort but still just looks different, not sexy. I use a top 10 (distrowatch) distro, and out of the box it looks like something a three year old dreamed up. Take a walk around an Apple store for your answer! Talking of which, I see M$ have just launched the 'Kin' to compete with the iPhone. Oh Yeah, they never learn..........


Kwin/Compiz. 'Nuff said.

Linux must work not being sexy

I use Linux already 10 years.
I bought a new computer HP-130be (64 bit). The last model available in Belgium.
Windows 7 on the first drive and I installed Ubuntu 9.10 on the second drive
In Windows 7 no problems at all.
3 problems in Ubuntu
1) Blu-ray writer can read CD's en DVD's but not write a simple CD
2) Ralink RT3092 Wireless 802.11n 2T/2R PCIe is not working.
3) TV card Conexant Systems, Hauppauge HDPVR-1250 model 11296 (rev 04) is not working

Before buying in a shop it is not possible to try out if it is working in Linux even not with a live CD. I was looking around for several months.
It must work not being sexy. I don't need a shiny desktop and wobbly windows but hardware that works.

A problem someone dont think about

linux is absolute sexy! the problem is relations! many people think that linux is overcomplicated an just for geeks, therefore they dont think that they care about make it short people think that linux is by geeks an for geeks an therefore not stylish. I myself use sidux an think that is sexy even tough it isnt focused on that.

to shanita

I sugest u use sidux. litle more complicated but have great hardware support.

Hardware support and sexy

Personally, the ipad isn't that sexy to me, but let's pretend that I'm one of those people that bought the assumption that it is sexy and I want to get screwed over on another Apple first generation product . . .

Apple is monolithic. The ipad can have some pretty sexy software interfaces when the hardware was designed by the same people. The problem with getting Linux up to your "sexiness" standards is that Linux isn't building its own hardware like Apple. For example, it took a very long time before 3D was supported for my device, and now ATI has dropped it from the linux driver support so I will have to hope that a decent, open driver has now been reverse engineered. On older computers I have installed Linux on, linux is hands down sexier than the original software it was installed with.

For me, Linux's "sexiness" is sometime lost in cases when Linux tries to copy proprietary apps (eg. "let's make an open-source MS Word!") instead of innovating from scratch. In a way, though, it makes sense that innovative designers would want to work at a company like Apple to help pay back their student loans rather than contributing their ideas to open-source where the pay probably isn't as good.

In the end, if you want to really compare linux to a product such as the ipad, you first have a have a device with cutting edge hardware and completely open specs, and open it up to the community to develop software for it. On comparable hardware, linux is already more sexy in terms of eye-candy if you google videos of tweeked configurations on youtube.

The true "sexiness" though of Linux is that it can be almost anything you need . . . and most Linux users need something that is functional to create, as opposed to the ipad which is basically for interacting with content only.

Linux is actively sexy; the Apple ipad is passively sexy.

Linux is like the dependable, committed hard-working spouse you marry for life. Products like the apple ipad are the tarts you pick up on a street corner for their looks only. I only considered buying an ipod when rockbox supported it, and I might consider an ipad once Linux can be run on it (but no USB jack??? probably not this Apple ipad version).


Linux already is sexy to me, and i dont really care if the people who doesnt even know what a browser is dont think it is sexy enough.

And since we cant point out that Linux is just the kernel, i'll instead point out that Debian's version of Firefox is called Iceweasel, not Icemonkey. :P


Anything you have to justify as being sexy isn't sexy. Apple know they can get away with a lot because they hide it all behind the shiny shiny. Although the latest Ubuntu has made a big step forward in design (i.e. by dropping the brown - wait, that sounds wrong) it's all still a bit 'blocky' compared with OSX/Win 7.

It is now!

I did feel that desktop Linux out of the box was kind of dull looking and was holding it back somewhat, however if you just take a look at the last few major distro releases and the new ones coming *cough* Ubuntu 10.04 and KDE variant *cough* they look super sexy. All desktop Linux needs now is to sort out it's audio play back and get a decent video editor and we're off to kick some Mac OSX and Windows ass!


No it is not simple as. Gnome shell can be good looking but gnome 2.30 is so amazingly boring.

KDE can look well but it usually looks messy.

Windows 7 is the best mix sadly of minimalist (kinda) usability and neatness.

re: firemonkey message

I agree with our point of view, and great humor. I am a litle bit tired of people complaining its sucks and is old looking without reason or much knownledge of the difrent distros or that difrent distros exist at all.


Whilst all the different distros vie for our trade with their sexy little desktop numbers (ooo, gone all tingly!) the "Linux" branding is not a sexy singularity - it's a hareem! Get them all working together on a single, open, sexy branding that everyone, Linux user or not, can relate to and drool over. That would get the geeks excited!

GNOME Shell will make the whole Linux world sexy

I think GNOME Shell will make a huge difference, considering that it's going to be widely-adopted by the GNOME-centric distributions when it's completed and released. Considering its brilliant combination of effects and usability, I think it will make Linux -very- sexy.

Sex isn't that important!

May be I'm just too practical but for me the OS needs to work in the background and not get in the way of what I'm doing. So, in order of importance to me...
1) the hardware must work without glitches.

2) from the point when I click the mouse to when something happens must be as near instantaneous as possible.

3) the applications should allow me to do things and not be too restrictive.

4) the design should be clear and easy on the eye. (You shouldn't have to search for that elusive button or hot spot.)

So there, the sexy bit is the last on the list but then, people do love bullshit, so perhaps, it is really number one!

When I update Mint, (which I use), the first thing I do is change the desktop scheme so, please ignore much of the above!

Yes - but it has to be polished first

I think Linux is way sexy. Compiz and Kwin are amazing. We have everything you can get in any other distro, plus more. The real problem isn't that it isn't there, but how much work you have to do to get it working.

Users are lazy and stupid, simple as that. They aren't willing to do ANYTHING or learn ANYTHING. It could not possibly be easier to install software on Linux through a package manager like Software Center, and yet the myth that it is difficult still persists. Why?

How hard is it to install Compiz and turn on the "Magic" that is already there. Not very, but users are not even willing to do that. It has to "just work", as well as read their mind, make toast, walk their dog, and record their favorite tv show.


Yeah man, of course linux is sexy. I would much rather have a laptop running linux down my pants than a mac.

Yes it's sexy...

...well my Ubuntu installation from January is after two months of playing with the theming/compiz (goodbye wobbly windows, hello cube) and removing the brown. This is the problem as identified above. It ain't sexy enough out of the box and yes it needs a magician.

It needs a figurehead like Steve Jobs, iconic enough to get up and say "I LOVE IT" and have people believe him/her.

If it is to compete against Apple.

However if Google is possibly the biggest threat to Microsoft (who aren't sexy, they are evil, but come off looking cuddly if you believe the marketing) then Sexiness is not required. Google is bland, soulless and crikey am I sick of the primary colours. Gmail is a visual eyesore and very dull. But I digress...

dont understand sexy

Have been running Ubuntu 8.04 since it came out not a lot of problems only one kept windows alive on my machine that was a laser printer that would not work the problem seemed to be my firewall was not prepared to let a usb printer to connect
A magazine tip worked like a dream shut down fire wall while the printer connection was made and all worked after firewall was turned back on.
Tried ms help desk for a windows problem, waste of time I know , Two weeks later all Id got was a heap of spam Yes,I was stupid enough to hand over my email address to a goon on the help desk.
But only had to tighten up on my security settings and ive dropped down from 20 or so a day to about one or two a week.
Is that sexy

Linux is not sexy... It's super sexy!!!!

Ubuntu 10.04 looks very sexy in my opinion, it still suffers here and there because of GNOME but the notification system, Software Center, notification area and new themes and branding make it really sexy.

Yeah, pretty much.

Macs look nice, but i hate the multiple document interface. Windows is a joke. They just seem to copy MacOS/Gnome then dumb it down a bunch and assume you will never be able to navigate any settings interface without 128x128, or bigger, warped, shiny icons that mostly resemble something physical, but not well. I really enjoy the classic/futuristic mix of KDE4 and the simplicity/smoothness of XFCE. Gnome is okay, but too FisherPrice (like Win XP theme).

No it is not

Is Windows sexy? is Mac sexy?
Operating system really aren't sexy are they?

SUSE use a cameleon for a logo, not sexy

Ubuntu use a divided circle as a logo, not sexy

Microsoft use a divided multicoloured flag for a logo, not sexy

Apple use an apple with a bite taken out of it. this is sexy.
A logo that refers to "the Fall", original sin, Newton a whole swath of historical stuff.
While the operating system isn't sexy. The way there produces are sold has a certain hyper surgical bodily referencing about it.
It's all very clinical and physical.
You imagine your self touching Apple produces. Clean white, washed free from sin.

I can't even begin to relate to a Penguin. I don't really want to. They live in a cold place. Sex needs to happen in a warm place or its no fun. Penguins are cute not sexy.


Of course linux isn't sexy, but it dosent matter. It is comparble to a van, ugly but immensely practical. Contrast this to osx which is more like a mini, you start to see that practicality makes up for sexyness. But also like a van the practicality means that it's only used by metaphorical tradesmen.

Sexy to me.

Of course, we're talking about how Linux ***LOOKS*** here.
Frankly, I wasn't attracted to Linux because of how it looks, more that it increased my overall efficiency on computer systems; but I use lxpanel, conky and openbox on my system and I think it looks hawt.

However, that's my taste - I understand that most users want their system to look like some sort of frontend to Starbucks.

So Sexy

MMMmmmmmmmheeeaaah Ubuntu making me so horny,,,Ooooohhh yeeeeeAAAHHHH need to pop ... Ah

It hurts

Linux is so sexy that it *hurts*
People just can't *handle* that amount of sexiness :-D

You can pay for sex or get it free

One is a quick sure thing, but you risk your reputation and can catch really nasty infections.

The other develops, is experimental and gets better over time.

I'm talking windows and Linux, go clean your mind out.


I quite often have people come up to me a look at my netbook and say wow. That it is next to my boring Windows XP machine that I have to use for work only increases the wow.

google "linux sexy"

Honestly, if it is only about "appearance" linux can look sexy too. Go to google images and google "linux sexy" and use one of those wallpapers. Install 3d effects, install a custom designer theme for your desktop, install appropriate fonts. There are hundreds of how-tos. If you don't think reading how-tos is sexy, then pay a linux consultant to make you desktop sexy. Paying an expert to learn to be sexy is so sexy. I bet it would be less than the cost of an ipad. Then you could say "I just paid a custom designer to decorate my desktop" instead of "I just bought an ipad that is the same as everyone else's".

totally agree with the kid

Linux isn't sexy for Windows or Mac people but it is for geeks!

Do you know what I really think is sexy (for geeks I mean)? Having a prompt in less then 10 seconds and a gnome Desktop in less then 20!

Ask other OS if they can do that.

Linux is as sexy as its typical users

Well, the KDE desktop looks damn good and after the 4.3.X release it is stable too.

First we have to understand that those who want their computer to be sexy are the open-internet-explorer-click-on-facebook non technical people who wouldn't even install an alternative program to the problematic explorer or try openoffice. You can't possibly convince them to switch to linux, the only way they are getting open software is if you install it on their computers or if you wrap it in some big corporate name (like google's chrome OS).

Give it a different name and it might work, otherwise the term "linux" is just too closely associated with geeky kids who work on a command line in their mom's basement.

The technical means to make a "sexy" distro are anyway available to everyone, one can easily manipulate the window manager and make a sexy and practical desktop, and still don't restrict the user to only the things the developer wants him to do like apple does.

Right question, wrong wording.

Firstly, when Graham says 'antisocial geek' doesn't he mean 'unsociable geek' instead? Big difference!

Secondly, I don't think an OS should aim to be sexy, especially one which is mainly oriented towards business users. Additionally, unless you are Apple and control the hardware and software, it doesn't matter how good your OS looks and feels, if someone installs it on ugly hardware then the result is still ugly.

Forget sexiness - desirability should be what we're striving for, which is a much broader measurement. For me, I want a Linux system to appear professional, clean-cut, be totally useful, fast, and easy to use. I'd like to see fewer penguins, geckos, and other somewhat immature and arbitrary brands, and see more restraint and consistency.

Personally, I wonder whether the Linux Desktop could use some kind of formal branding / art director. Someone with good taste, and excellent leadership to drive a revamp of desktop themes, icons, wallpapers, sounds, etc. You could argue Steve Jobs has achieved this through his management team at Apple. You could say Mark Shuttleworth has gone some way towards this at Ubuntu, although I still think that product has a way to go yet before being totally desirable.

KDE 4.4 does look great in my opinion, but not consistently (for example, Google Chrome fonts never look quite right on KDE compared to Gnome). Gnome is just plain out of date, although Ubuntu 10.04 has a great theme, as does OpenSolaris. So I'd say we're close, but until the consistency across desktops is sorted out, which I believe can only be achieved by strong leadership and some talented artists, I fear we'll never quite get there.

You don't have to be sexy...

I don't think looks is the reason why Linux struggles to break into the mainstream. The reasons are:
* Lack of known software, and/or harder to install eg. ms office.
* Lack of games (I don't play, so I don't care)
* Lack of support (My dad won't accept an answer like: You asked wrong...)
* Lack of developers/companies making programs for Linux.

And I also believe that the 6 month release schedule on both kernel and distros can be a problem.

I got mine

My linux is damn sexy... I can't speak for others. My tech-ignorant retired father has also found it sexy enough to use for over a year now.

But what makes it sexy is what might keep others from jumping in; it takes a bit of initiative to make your linux desktop sexy. One either needs to search out their appropriately sexy gtk and metacity themes, or get gutsy and hack their own.

It's the difference between calling someone sexy because what they do makes them sexy, and assuming someone is sexy based on wearing the right brand-name clothing: There are a lot of unsexy people wearing clothing that's meant to make them sexy.

Who cares what colour it is?

I've only been using Ubuntu for a year or so on an HP2133 netbook. Before that it was XP, which, despite what Linux disciples claim, works just fine. But sexy? Neither of them are sexy unless you are some kind of deviated prevert with an OS fetish. What's important is whether or not it works and is easy to use - that's it. I don't use any of the default themes anyway. As a non-geek, the reason Linux doesn't have a bigger market share is simply down to the saturation of the market with pre-installed Windows of various flavours.

If a regular customer buys a PC with a perfectly usable OS (and get over yourselves fanboys - Windows is usable), there's no great incentive for many to completely trash it and install something else (sexy or otherwise), particularly when online comment centres around where the damed buttons are and what bloody colour the default desktop is.

Regular people just don't give a shit about that sort of thing. Sexy? Bollocks to that!


That's "damned" buttons. I don't have a dame fetish.

it's not the look and feel ...

... it's power, flexibility, configurability and security (especially the last!) that make Linux sexy for me. NOT desktop animation, eye candy, horrible dark glassy themes, desktops that echo Windows Vista or Mac OS X.

Keep the desktop lean, clean and legible - the 'sexy' bit is all that hard work under the surface that Linux does so well.

it is the sex

If it's possible for an os to be sexy then...
Linux is sexy because:

Unlike other os it will show you its bits
Its free and easy (no-one likes a ms c***tease or a control freak)
It encourages you to try new things

But mostly it's because of the community tinkerers, hackers, super-users, users, sysadims, overclocking gamers (and other cpu abusers).
We can all take a little joy in the fact that even just using free-software makes the world a little more varied and a little bit better.

Plenty sexy enough

I think that Linux is sexy enough. Plenty of eye candy, including a variety of desktops, KDE, Gnome, XFCE, Enlightenment, and Compiz on top of it. I think that the problem is not one of sexiness, but more of standardization. The Windows desktop all look more or less the same, and Mac desktops are more or less identical (background notwithstanding). With Linux, on the other hand, your desktop can look any way you want. An Enlightnement desktop has a completely different look and feel than a KDE 4.4 desktop. This difference, rather than the lack of sexiness, is why, IMHO, Linux has not broken into the mainstream.

Do I think we should standardize on a single desktop? Absolutely not. This heterogeneous environment is one of the strengths of Linux.

well... uh...

you see, it can be sexy and desireable for your own computer. I've seen many people go up to a linux computer and say wow, how did you get it like that? but the moment you say "linux" they switch off. it may look good, but the name comes with it's own "uncool factor"

Opinions vary...especially on looks and sexiness.

I am a graphic designer. I design Web sites, graphics and text layouts almost every day. I test these designs by showing them to people (clients, friends, family, users) and asking for their opinions. I hear a lot of opinions. It's amazing how often clients tell me that they don't really care much about "how it looks" as long as it works or as long as it fits the space, etc. BUT, when they are presented with design examples, their strongest reaction and most passionate comments are often related to looks.

I use WinXP and Win7, OS X, and several recent GNU/Linux distros. IMHO they all look pretty good these days. When I show people a Linux distro, they often comment favorably about the looks but they're seeing the changes I've already made to my desktop settings and theme. Out of the box, I think KDE 4.4.x is possibly the best looking of all but I've seen E16/E17 desktops that are astounding. That's my opinion.

Where all of this gets really interesting, to me anyway, is when you try to get long-time Windows/Mac users to actually use Linux. In my experience, Mac users won't switch and I think it's because they are happy with their hardware and software and both are very desirable and 'sexy'. Windows users, often unhappy with the software, mostly because of malware issues, will give Linux a decent test and they are generally happy with its looks and usability. It's problems with hardware support that often cause them to go back to Windows or consider Macs for the first time.

I have had the best success with converting Windows users to GNU/Linux when I set them up with PCLinuxOS or Mint for their first experience. This is especially interesting when you consider that, by default the official stable release of PCLinuxOS still uses KDE 3.5.x and is definitely not one of the best looking distros and Mint uses Gnome and is considered to be reasonably good looking.

Although I regularly test/use's top ten Linux distros, and my current favorite is Arch, I only know a few people that I've introduced to Linux that still use Linux after a few months testing...they all use PCLinuxOS.

I think Gnome plus the Wave

I think Gnome plus the Wave theme (New Wave?) smash anything Apple or MS currently offer. Not sure why people think OSX looks nice -- to me, it's rather garish.

I do agree that Linux has to look nice, but some distros like Ubuntu seem to be increasingly focused on that to the exclusion of things like stability and hardware support. Just take a gander at that popular OMGUbuntu blog. Almost all they talk about is "sexy" new applet this, sexy new icon that.


It can be made to look as sexy as you like with themes and eye candy, and the applications are getting sexier and sexier. I love Gnome do and Docky!

As jimjamjoe said: it will show you its bits, its free and easy, it encourages you to try new things AND it doesn't get jealous, indeed it practically encourages you to try out new things with others!!

Finally, it never asks you for money.........

More Marketing

Maybe we should just setup a Fund and Start promoting Linux...................Wait wasnt that the FSF's Job. No but honestly the only reason we fall short is because we don't have half the money Apple or Microsoft has, so F#@$$% I'll stick to ubuntu and make my family convert then we will be the most open source friendly family I know. That should be enough good deeds for me!

Somewhat, but be careful of sexy vs. personality

Bits of linux are sexy, other bits take a geek to ignore... however; is great... at first. For my parents, sexy is really what they need (parents are my measure for the greater community at large), because sexy will entail ease of use, look and reliability (or is this being overly ambitious). For me on the other hand, once the initial flush of excitement has worn off, I still want to be able to actually do stuff with my linux distro without some simplistic flashy interface getting in the way (and it will be simplistic, it has to be). I take it as a personal challenge when my computer seems unable to perform some new task I want, and linux (almost) never lets me down with its hackability.
So yes please, make linux more 'sexy', but don't destroy its personality in the process

Depends on what you mean by "sexy".

If you're after looks, then go for a 36DD model - but thing is, she might be really ugly on the inside. I don't want that.

I want efficiency, stability and all the features I could ask for - I'm a bit of a family man when it comes to software. Windows can keep their BSOD, Apple can keep their flash-ass animations and graphics.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Username:   Password: