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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

By Carlton Hobbs on May 03, 2008 (2:00:00 PM)

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What strategy is needed to really spread desktop Linux to average home users? Here are some ideas that just might work.

Journalist Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols argues that

Linux businesses, for the most part, don't do marketing. I think they're extremely foolish not to spend any money on it, but there it is.... Like the Linux companies, many of them were sure that they didn't need to market themselves. Like Linux companies, they thought word of mouth was enough.... Well guess what: it's not. Without marketing, no one from the outside looking in can tell one Linux from another. They just see a confusing mish-mash of names, and unless they're already really motivated, they're going to start turning off from Linux at the very start.

I argue almost the opposite. A large part of mainstream media marketing, advertising, and branding is a means to get name recognition at a very superficial level. Its main targets are people who make superficial buying decisions, and for the right products, this works. Why buy name brand Tylenol vs. generic acetaminophen, name brand cereal, or a thousand other identical products that come off the same assembly line but use different packaging at different prices? From the perspective of the thrifty, the main answers are ignorance and brand recognition.

Of course, not all marketing is to compete with effectively identical products. Consider the American beer industry as a major marketing powerhouse with a few similarities to the Windows vs. Linux market. The major American breweries formulated modern beers after Prohibition to appeal to people who didn't like the taste of beer, and as a side effect the major brewers accepted, these beers taste bad to beer connoisseurs. The post-Prohibition era, even to this day, retains elements of a cartelized liquor distribution industry designed to make it difficult and expensive to compete with the major breweries, such that there have been no new domestic majors in decades. The rebirth of real beer in America was through microbreweries that have small to non-existent marketing budgets. They rely on beer connoisseurs who communicate through beer fan reviews, word of mouth, willingness to experiment, and seeking out the minority of stores that actually carry microbrew and local beers. Beer commercials for microbrews about sports and sexy women would not get many beer drinkers to seek out good beer that isn't already easy to find. Such commercials are just for "all beer is beer" drinkers who are susceptible to brand association marketing and herd opinion.

This doesn't mean that high-cost marketing is innately wrong or bad. It means that if you can increase the marginal sales of your high-profit-per-sale product to people who make quick decisions based on brand recognition, then your marketing expenses were a good investment, but otherwise not. Unfortunately for Linux companies, desktop Linux is a very low profit per "sale" product that is not an impulse choice off a shelf of interchangeable consumer goods. As Red Hat learned years ago, the shrink-wrapped box on a store shelf will not change the current OS market.

So if word of mouth and near-zero-budget advertising are our main prospects, then perhaps what is needed is a better person-to-person strategy. Fortunately, there is definite room for improvement here. One major barrier to entry is lack of Linux preinstallation, and the occasional need for more expertise with compatibility issues. Desktop Linux must partly resolve these challenges through its internal advantage of strong community by strategic and expansionary networking, and by using the big opportunity of failure to address the massive number of PCs that people keep collecting dust, thinking they will upgrade sometime, someday.

Desktop Linux must focus on local communities for recruiting the next wave of users and evangelists. Ubuntu has the right idea with its LoCo initiative. However, to get really local and networked, a distro-centric local community is not the most efficient. If local Ubuntu, Debian, Slackware, etc. users never meet, they will forfeit great networking opportunities. There needs to be local GNU/Linux/FOSS communities with broad ranges of software experience, occupations, contacts, and distro preferences. Fortunately, many already exist, and there is at least one list where people can find groups near them. Linux promoters must recognize face-to-face personal interaction as a primary means for strategic growth of desktop Linux.

Local free software organizations need to be able to offer free Linux installation and encourage people to reuse or donate computers that would run poorly with current Windows systems. Certain groups are naturally good targets to recruit and possibly join as recruiters themselves. Decentralist political groups, neighborhood associations, Parent Teacher Associations, and other educational organizations are also intelligent low budget groups. College groups, homeschool groups, agriculture co-ops, churches, and religious groups are all great places to find people who have spare computers to reinvigorate or donate, or would be willing to have a computer set to dual boot. In general, groups that depend on donations or have small budgets are looking for ways to minimize unnecessary costs. Some of their members would likely be radicalized when they learn what little is required to show others how to switch to Linux.

Local free software organizations need a quick and easy tool to communicate what the GNU/Linux OS can do. Perhaps the best method would also serve as a means of introduction. An organization could create business cards that provide a brief description of the local Linux group, its Web address, and purpose. The card should be visually impressive and colorful. They can let people know that the card itself was designed with only free software, whether it be OpenOffice.org, gLabels, Inkscape, Scribus, or some combination that anyone could easily get through Linux.

Is there a model for such success without advertising budgets? Ask yourself how you heard about and started using Google. Was it through advertising? Google became a giant because the barrier to trying a new search engine was so low and the value quickly obvious. It was used by almost everyone before anyone saw a Google advertisement. If Linux advocates can do the same, then Windows will be in trouble. I don't see how this can happen without active local free software groups that seek out growth, and success would likely be in proportion to the efficiency of local groups. If some are more successful than others, then the more successful local methods could be adopted elsewhere.

All the experience and networked knowledge of local free software cooperatives might be enough that small businesses would hire the local groups to upgrade their computer systems to Linux for real money. Local groups could even have contracts with particular distros that provide paid business support to receive some of the profit. Local cooperatives would not likely make much money, but maybe enough on occasion to purchase a few rounds of quality microbrews to celebrate a few more people unshackled from Goliath-soft. Very few people will get rich with Linux, but a lot of people could be meaningfully less poor with it, and free-as-in-freedom might actually buy the enjoyment of a few free-as-in-beers.

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on Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 62.235.226.120] on May 03, 2008 04:19 PM
Maybe I'm mistaken, but the concept advocated in this article seems to me to be one that has existed for years: Linux User Groups (LUGs), albeit slightly expanded. And as far as I know, they haven't achieved that much as far as massive adoption is concerned. I tend to believe Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is right here.

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Re: Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.191.10.164] on May 03, 2008 05:03 PM
I am afraid I am with 62.235.226.120 on this one. For example only few people understand Linux and free software, but Firefox, OpenOffice.org and Ubuntu are meaningful brands however.

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 212.95.115.58] on May 03, 2008 05:04 PM
Excellent article Carlton, with many useful informations and some great links to fantastic resource (i dunno until now) many thanks and have a great weekend.

with the best wishes,
Jonathan from <a href="http://www.lb-bueroemoebel.de">Büromöbel GmbH</a>

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.6.6.10] on May 03, 2008 09:45 PM
None needed for instance my sister tried Linux then when I had to replace the HD on her machine she said don't bother with windows - another none technical user finding Linux easier to use than other solutions whos not involved or swayed by childish IT politics. The revolution is happening now, but quietly...

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Re: Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.230.205.245] on May 03, 2008 10:21 PM
I do some computer service in my Local area an your are going to be surprise to see the type of people I install Linux in there computer.

The really non-teky type of person: Those people are just to computer alliterated to understand basic Windows OS maintenance to keep there PC working (Defrag, Malware, Spyware, Computer Virus) they just don't know or understand how to keep there Windows OS in order. Therefore A well depersonalized Linux install with a friendly Linux distribution is really all that they need.

The P0rn Freak: Ho yeah those guy's just love to be able to surf and not to have to worries about computer virus and malware.

Victims of a pirate copy of winXP: Those poor soul who have been had when they both there computer. And when they need to reinstall there OS I ask them ( Do you have your copy of winXP ???)

Linux is ready for most people but they need someone to configure it first before they can use it.

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We do need strategies - these ideas are good and we need more

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.192.250.149] on May 03, 2008 10:38 PM
GNU/Linux won't take off until it's easier to buy it pre-installed on new computers. According to Netcraft, only about 0.7% of desktop computers run GNU/Linux today (IIRC Mac is about 7% and Windows the remaining 92%). So there's no incentive for most computer companies to support GNU/Linux.

I disagree with the goal implied in the statement:
"If Linux advocates can do the same, then Windows will be in trouble." It's not only laughably unreal, it's even counterproductive. Comments like this have persuaded Microsoft it needs to squash Free Software, and with its resources, it's doing an effective job of that (see numbers above). Apple is more sensible, it just wants to compete for 5% to 10% of the PC market, so Microsoft adopts a live-and-let-live policy. I just want Free Software to be viable. I think 5% to 10% of the desktop market would be fine; GNU/Linux would be as easy to buy pre-installed as MacOS is today. Microsoft would still have 80% of the market, but hardware makers would have a reasonable incentive to support Linux.

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.54.195.125] on May 04, 2008 12:21 AM
I think the masses are confused about "which" Linux to buy. No really knows what Linux is except there are names such as Ubuntu, SuSE, Redhat and such out there. Once you talk to people about Linux - they don't even understand that Linux has absolutely "No" GUI so now they have to make a decision - what GUI to buy. Oh - I'm sorry, what is a GUI? Yes the masses do ask these questions. Until the masses understand to go buy KDE or GNOME "Desktop" they are "NEVER" going to understand a "kernel". They don't understand "GUI" -- let alone a "KERNEL". Everyone understands Mac is a GUI (Windowed Desktop) and everyone understands that Microsoft is a Desktop (Windows) but, NO ONE understands what the heck a "KERNEL" is...OR why it is being compared as a "Desktop Windowing System". Are you kidding me? What is Linux. A kernel? I do haircuts - what is a GUI? What is a Kernel? Oh - it looks like "WINDOWS"! Okay - I understand that. Windows - of course.

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Re: Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 99.249.95.158] on May 04, 2008 07:35 AM
Yes, it may seem like a confusing mess. The most 'user-friendly' way to explain is to explain it in terms relevant to them. For instance:

Linux User: "So you're interested in Linux? Great! Now it's gonna be a little different from what you're used to, but don't worry."

Average User: "Okay... what's different...?"

Linux User: "Unlike what you've been using, Linux comes customized for specific target audiences. You need to choose something made for your needs."

Average User: "What?! what do you mean?"

Linux User: "What I mean is, Linux is kind of like buying a car. When buying a car, you buy a car that is practical for you. In the case of Linux, choose something that sounds like it suits your computing needs like windows has"

Average User: "So... I pick one?"

Linux User: "yeah, but the choices you need to make are geared towards how you want to use your computer. *offers distro links*"

Linux User: "If you need help, don't be afraid to ask"

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.211.187.254] on May 04, 2008 12:27 AM
This marketing talked about in the above article is that of Ubuntu LoCo teams. They support Ubuntu in their local area, provide marketing, as well as CDs. They also hold events for Ubuntu users. This is one of the many reasons Ubuntu has done so well with average users.

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.54.195.125] on May 04, 2008 12:31 AM
Yes - I agree! Who cares what Linux is. Linux is a program called Redhat? or SuSE? or Mandriva? All these "names" are Linux. Whew - they must do battle a lot over who is the best? So what is Redhat? or SuSE? or Mandriva? are they all Linux - then why not call them all "Linux"? Are they all so different that you can't tell the difference. Why would you want them to be different if they are "ALL" Linux? By the way - "What is Linux"? Okay - well, now you're telling me that I need a "Desktop" program called GNOME or KDE to see what I get when I get "Linux". Oh - I understand now -- you don't want me to know that Linux is "NOT" a desktop but, that KDE and GNOME are but you don't want me to know that KDE and GNOME are in fact the desktops I need to do all my work with. Well, what about Linux? Do I need Linux if I have KDE and GNOME? What is Linux? Now I am confused...? What is Windows? Oh - KDE and GNOME are like Windows...that's what you want me to know but you won't tell me. Oh - so I am supposed to figure this out on my own...I have never used any computer but "Microsoft Windows". Oh - Microsoft Windows is not a computer? You have me confused now for reals. I work 8 to 10 hours per day using my computer and it's called Microsoft Windows. Everytime I turn it on - it tells me so. What did you say Linux was - again please?

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 203.96.59.45] on May 04, 2008 12:41 AM
Can't they just put a chat function in the operating system? If you want one-on-one?

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.251.81.70] on May 04, 2008 03:56 AM
The elusive Linux they, whoever they are, need to figure out what they are selling that consumers can't get elsewhere. Free is not selling, surprisingly. Introduce a free (as in beer and speech) operating system and you'd figure people would flock to the thing. But they are not, in droves. In fact the OS with the highest price of all is making the biggest market share move (that'd be Apple) right now.

What this tells us is that, contrary to what many (including me) would like to think, marketing matters. What are you selling Linux? And remember, free (either kind) does not appear to be working so well.

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.117.163.216] on May 04, 2008 05:10 AM
The latest Kernel allows every new laptop to work out of the box. Wine is so much better than even a year ago. I installed on my brand new HP laptop and it is fast. With it I can sell others to make the switch especially since MS is killing XP. Linux distros have a golden opportunity to bury vista lets get to work and do just that, hey

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 87.179.215.173] on May 04, 2008 10:42 AM
I would say, why call it Linux if you are using Ubuntu.. The OS is Ubuntu and it is based on Linux..
There are many brands like Nike, Adidas , Puma, Converse and so on.. but we still call them "shoes"..
You see thats why Ubuntu, SuSE, Redhat, Debian etc. are all brands and flavors and we still call them Linux.
its just that easy..

The main word PC is for Windows, the Main word MAC is for Apple, the main word Linux is for Ubuntu, Debian, SUSE, Redhat etc..

So dont try to sell Linux, just focus on one Produkt, like Ubuntu and your costumers should know that they are using Ubuntu and that way there is no more confusing.. you dont have to explain sh.t.. :-)

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.223.147.55] on May 04, 2008 01:12 PM
Why not have a text mode menu with pop-up helps for installation, upgrade, and recovery from gui failures sitting on top the kernel? Such a tool would let the completely confused (me) do marvelous things with Linux.

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 125.236.168.62] on May 05, 2008 05:12 AM
There's a whole lot of non-zealots in the world who are interested in Ubuntu (for example) and who have given it a fair go. But at the end of the day Ubuntu (for example) won't go anywhere on the majority of desktops until the main reason that most people use a Ubuntu (..) equipped PC stops being a poor Office 2000 knock off. The original Star Office (before Sun) was rubbish, Staroffice and Openoffice.org have just continued the trend. Hell, for some reason even the Windows versions of Openoffice.org seem to be better/snappier/more attractive to use than the Linux version. Linux video editing = rubbish, The GIMP great - but a bizarre UI for most. The problem is that most of the stuff available is quite good, but 'quite' good is not enough - its got to be brilliant and almost none of it is.
I've basically given up. I still use my linux partition a lot - but only when I need to do proper linux/unix stuff in a terminal.

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.175.86.94] on May 05, 2008 04:31 PM
Whether it is through advertising or other means, Linux needs mainstream media exposure if it is to penetrate the home market. The main advantage to advertising is the control one retains on the message promoted.

I promote Linux on a daily basis. The simple fact is that, outside the IT community, few people have any idea what Linux or Unix are. Most of the people I talk to have a computer at home. Only a tiny fraction are aware of Linux. Far fewer still are aware that it offers an option to proprietary systems. If Linux were well known, you could expect Apple's market share to decline. Make of that what you will.

Lacking media exposure and the consequent public awareness, the effort to put Linux in the home is destined to languish. The enterprise is Linux's real hope for the future.

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.50.65.6] on May 05, 2008 05:00 PM
Well, considering that I spent forever on the phone with someone this weekend to use Firefox instead of IE (because IE got hijacked) I would say that "goal oriented" advertising would be th way to go. This person was not a n00b, but not technically adept was asking me if she could do myspace in Firefox, despite my having said "its just like IE - it does all the same things - but without all the security holes".

After we have addressed the goal-oriented stuff (because that is the checklist against what new users will check), we need to convince them that the software is as good as, if not better than the rest. That is the hardest thing to do... for many reasons. Generally its not better, but it is free.

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.87.37.40] on May 06, 2008 08:37 AM
Companies like Novell, RedHat and Ubunto get more Marketing attention then Microsoft.
Linux is used in the server space but most companies start their discussions around the desktop, So why isn't it happening:

CHANGE... is to hard, an real life example:

I've met my wife at Sun Microsystems, she worked in different sales roles for over 10 years soly on Solaris before we both left to Compaq where she first time met with Microsoft Office. (early 2000) It took her over a year to become a power user on Microsoft like she was on Island Presents/Office and th elater OpenOffice.

Linux & OpenOffice are different, change is the most difficult thing for Humans when it comes to behavior, OpenSource desktop tools will only be popular when our youngsters (at school) start working with these applications right on, then only after 1 generation (takes time, time and time) OpenSource applications may take over..

Note I've started with WordStar, worked with WordPerfect, i've been addicicted to VI before i've been forced to use Word.

Ruud

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.56.43.158] on May 06, 2008 10:56 AM
To me, it doesn't matter how good a Linux desktop is, it can't make it as long as Microsoft has the pre-load channel by the throat. Millions of PC's are bought everyday with no-choice as the only option. Until someone secures a pre-load contract with a known vendor that can be bought at Office Depot or the like, Linux will continue to be a super OS used by small group of people on the fringes who paid the MIcrosoft tax anyway.

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Desktop Linux strategies for marketplace success

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.179.10.251] on May 07, 2008 04:26 AM
Hey, I have an idea. Let's actually DO something...ya think?

http://faq.fixedbylinux.com-a.googlepages.com/lindependence2008-bringinglinuxtothemass

All are invited

Few will show

So the ones that do show will pick the distro's Fox News and NPR see as Linux. Because of your inertia, a handful of people are going to present to the world what THEY think Linux is. I think it's an absolute riot that Ubuntu hasn't responded. That's all the world needs..more ubuntu hype. Good distro, but good by a thin margin, if that.

Seen Fox News ratings lately? They have already comitted to covering this story.

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