It's been more than a decade since the Linux desktop became usable. It's older than Mac OS X, and technically speaking, X11-based GUI computing pre-dates Windows. Yet here in 2009, Linux desktops comprise a very small segment of the computing world. This isn't due to lack of options, performance, or stability; it has more to do with Linux being viewed as a geek option only. And quite frankly, it is.
I don't think this is a bad thing. After all, a GUI desktop is a tool, like any other computer program, and those who know how to use it have a leg up on everyone else. Simple things like middle-button paste are terribly useful but are completely lost on the majority of the computer users the world over. Maybe that's the way it should be.
One of the main roadblocks for ubiquitous Linux desktops is hardware driver support. Desktop and laptop manufacturers use a wide variety of chipsets for various components like Wi-Fi, video, and so forth. Most of the time, Linux drivers can be had for these chips, but not always. Hardware manufacturers are generally lax about providing Linux drivers for their hardware, even today, and the drivers that may exist might not be feature-complete, turning the process of getting a Wi-Fi card to work into a three-hour task. That's far more time than most people would ever want to spend on such a mundane process. Honestly, it's more than I want to spend too. However, the benefits of running Linux on my workstations and laptops far outweighs these issues.
That's the key. I see the time required to wrestle Windows into submission as taking far more time over the life of the system than the potential pitfalls of installing Linux on the system to begin with. The upfront investment is outweighed by the relatively constant care required to keep a Windows installation sane and virus-free. A stitch in time saves nine.
So maybe this is how it should be, at least for home computing. Those who know and understand computing at a greater level than the rest of the world choose to use tools that allow them more time to further their work and their productivity, while those who can't be bothered run whatever is on the system when they buy it. The haves and the have-nots, perhaps.
Then again, there are all those Mac users out there who have the best of both worlds -- an attractive, fully functional desktop system with no worries. The rising number of Mac users speaks to the success of Mac OS X, perhaps aided by the problems facing Microsoft Vista.
Frankly, it's still too early in the life of the personal computer for the Linux desktop to see widespread adoption. Microsoft found fortune by providing a relatively easy-to-use GUI for business computing that ran on standard hardware. While the Mac OS was better than, say, Windows 95, it ran only on Macs, which cost more. That made the decision for most companies and thus the status quo.