A blog for the enterprise open source community
Give Linux with no surprisesJay Lyman, December 9, 2008 @ 1:18 pm ET
In other words, if you’re offering or giving a Linux-based computer this holiday season — whether you’re a big box retailer, online distributor, or Linux fanatic who wants to spread FOSS to family or friends — make sure you tell them it’s Linux. I know, I know. Why offer advice about Linux computers when no one is using them, right? Well, given that Linux represents roughly 30% of the millions of netbooks being sold, Linux is actually being used by consumers like never before. As we see in recent ads in newspapers, online and elsewhere, the word ‘Linux’ is actually appearing a lot more in public. This is a good thing, but there is a danger.
I hope that vendors selling consumer PCs and netbooks running Linux will prominently display and detail that: ‘This is a Linux-based computer, and this is an alternative operating system to Windows XP or Vista.’ When I page through the newspaper, once I slap myself in the face after seeing the ‘Linux Laptop’ EeePC on sale at Toys’R'Us, I am glad to see the word ‘Linux’ (also the same 8G storage as the Windows Laptop side-by-side for $30 less). However, I’m somewhat disappointed that a separate Dell newspaper insert does not mention Linux. The cool, little Inspiron Mini 9 is advertised with its features, but lists the operating system as: ‘Mini OS Powered by Ubuntu 8.04.’ No mention of Linux. Now of course most Linux folks know that Ubuntu is Linux, but most folks reading the Sunday paper don’t know what Ubuntu or Mini OS is. I, in fact, am not sure what Mini OS is? The point is, Dell should follow the lead from Toys’R'Us and go ahead and label the computer with Linux.
Many attribute reported high return rates for Linux netbooks — which have been refuted and likened to the rate for Windows-based machines — to the fact that people just assume they’re getting Windows and are surprised when they don’t. This is probably a sad truth and the lingering effect of Microsoft’s monopoly and good old fashioned user inertia. However, I think the netbook — which represents a different form factor and cost threshold for mobile computing — lends some advantages to Linux, which is constantly being pushed for greater performance, power savings and support. The competition, at least for now, is limited mostly to Windows XP, which is no longer being developed and will be increasingly less supported.
I’m not the only one who thinks sellers and distributors need to be open about the open source OS. Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth says it is critical to let users know they are getting Linux. Perhaps he and Canonical need to reach out and convey this to Dell as the two seek success for Ubuntu in the Mini. Andy Typaldos, CEO of Xandros, which is used in the popular Eee PC, says he thinks the biggest issue is average users assuming and expecting they get Windows with any computer they buy. This will change as a new generation of users — many of whom will be netbook buyers and recipients — enter the picture, but for now I think it is the reality.
However, Linux has enough advantages to stand on its own, whether it is the added memory, storage or other functionality manufacturers are able to add when they avoid OS licensing and use Linux, lower price or forward-looking support. If consumers are simply told this is a bit different, but it is part of this different device and experience, I think they’ll fare better with their new netbooks. If they think they are getting Windows, like a Linux user who goes back to Windows, they will be disappointed.
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