OPINION

What I Need to Help Sell Linux

When I was asked to write a guest column for LinuxInsider, I sat down and thought long and hard about what I wanted to convey.

I believe with the right approach, Linux can take a great chunk of the market; you just have to give the market what it needs and wants, while allaying its fears.

So here is what I believe would help a small town PC guy like me to help sell Linux to Joe SMB and Sally Home User.

A True SMB Edition

What’s needed is a true Linux SMB Edition, targeting specifically the needs and fears of those businesses that are using Windows — especially those that are still using Windows 2000, which is going to lose support in 2010.

It should run using low resources, thus giving a better performance than Windows on the same hardware, perhaps by using JWM or Enlightenment for the DE. It should have built-in VB6 support and a built-in trial of CrossOver so businesses can have time to convert their users to OpenOffice without fear of downtime.

An SMB Server Edition designed to provide much of the same functionality as AD +Exchange and to work seamlessly with the new SMB Edition would be the icing on the cake. In this economy, showing Windows-2000-using SMBs that Linux can give them a safe and secure OS without the need for upgraded hardware will do a lot to help sway them.

Help Me Help You

For home users, Linux MUST defeat the Winprinter in the long run. The Winmodem and Winwireless were defeated — the Winprinter can be defeated as well! The CLI must be de-emphasized, so that there isn’t a single job or problem that can’t be fixed without a GUI, because CLI is frankly too strange and complex to the users Linux must attract in order to gain market share.

While Wine would be an option, I would have a trial copy of CrossOver Games or Cedega installed, along with a link to a list of all games ready to run and links to download/buy them.

Most importantly, both the SMB and Home Editions should have a “Help Me” link that would allow a Linux “guru” to receive a message from someone having trouble and respond to them — perhaps even remote in for problems that would require major CLI to fix.

Remember, we have to make the customers feel safe and comfortable with their new purchase as much as possible.

A Linux Mart

Finally, I’d like to see a “Linux store” — and by that I don’t mean an Apple style “app store,” because having Click N’ Run installed on many distros has that covered.

No, what I mean is a central link, both on the desktop and start menu, that will take you to an online store filled with hardware that is certified to work with your distro. It should offer all-in-one printers, Wifi USB and PCI cards, USB TV Tuners — all of the gadgets folks want. As it is, it simply takes too much research to buy Linux peripherals, and most folks simply don’t have the time.

I’ve found when you go into stores, the odds of finding items that work with Linux without doing research are almost nonexistent, so an easy-to-use central store where users could buy those items without having to spend hours on forums is a must.

Also, a warning about Lexmark and other brands to avoid would be nice and might bring pressure to bear upon them to make Linux drivers.

So, there you have it, these are some of the things that would help a guy like me to put new Linux machines side by side with the Windows ones.

Some of these ideas may be practical — some not. Hopefully, some will give developers ideas and start the ball rolling. I believe Linux security could really help many out there, if the objections they have to Linux can be overcome.

7 Comments

  • I agree with much of your comments regarding increasing the adoption rate of Linux.

    SMBs just want functionality and security without having to invest tons of money. Not having to replace somewhat old, but otherwise perfectly good hardware is a great reason for considering the switch to Linux. Being able to execute more advanced VBA macros in Open Office would be a great plus. Additionally, being able to mimic a Windows desktop theme in Linux would be a somewhat covert way of easing people through the transition as it simply provides a level of assurance that things aren’t changing too dramatically.

    For the home user, I think the best option is to encourage people to set up their machines to dual boot Windows and Linux. That way they have the assurance that the Windows machine is always there if needed, but I think they’ll quickly find that life is much better with Linux.

    Either way most users would be severely discouraged by having to do anything in the CLI. Therefore, the more out-of-the-box functionality that can be provided by the various distros, all the better. Alternatively, maybe a variety of automated post-installation scripts can be developed to add the extra goodies for the particular customer target.

    Along those lines, I have written an automated shell script that can be run on a brand new installation of Ubuntu. The script will install all of the various multimedia codecs, fonts and so forth as well as add additional repositories and install several different pieces of software. You can check it out at:
    http://www.trybuntu.com/EnableScript.txt

  • You have good ideas, Mr. bennett, and I agree with you. Just writing an article, though, won’t do anything. If you really believe in what you wrote and really want to see it happen, you need to take a leadership role to make it happen. That’s how FOSS works. That’s how life works, actually.

    I can see where the ‘help me’ and hardware store links could quickly become popular and successful, as people could make some money.

    I believe that much of your wish list already exists in Xandros, RHEL, and SUSE.

    As for putting it all together in a SMB-attractive package…well, it’s not going to happen by wishing. A low-cost starting point is a Web site, a place to gather more ideas, run surveys, and start generating interest. Since this has commercial potential, you should think about ways for developers and documentation writers to earn some money.

    If you just want the magic Linux community to spit something out for you, well, it does happen a lot, but it’s better to invest some of your own efforts.

  • What SMBs want is a migration path as a last resort. They do not normally like to tinker with PCs. That is why they have ancient equipment with obsolete software.

    These folks can use a browser for most network operations. They can use a word-processor. The fact that OpenOffice.org is more like their old version of Office than 2007 is a huge plus. Unless they are using a bunch of macros or fancy formatting, OpenOffice.org will be transparent to them. They likely have not been getting any support from M$ for what they have. The greater urgency is equipment dying. Their old software will not work with new hardware and new software from M$ will not work with their old hardware. GNU/Linux can pull the pieces together for most of their tasks just by booting.

    A side-by-side demonstration is all you need to show the superiority of GNU/Linux. To sell it, you have to show them that there is less pain/cost going to GNU/Linux than Vista/Vista II. That will be easy once you show that GNU/Linux will work on their old equipment transparently. Further, if their old PCs are quitting, you can show them the magic of migrating to GNU/Linux terminal servers with new fanless thin clients. They will love you for the increased performance, low footprint/consumption and reduced noise. Throw in new keyboards/mice/monitors and you are laughing. They will not care what the software is as long as it works a lot better than what they have.

    • It’s not "dumbing down" to have a tool that works the way the person who uses it prefers. Exactly how often do you think the average person uses Start, Run?

      It was running with default Admin rights and tens of thousands drivers and and add on software packages that made Windows insecure. I had to update my Ubuntu twice this week with security patches.

      I’m not understanding all the flack some of the Linux community who rant about not wanting the user to be able to use a tool the way they want.

      Noobies would be better served with a big flashing icon that says "Install other software" on the default install. It’s amazing to me so many people have no idea what a software repository is or what a package manager can do for them. And get frustrated and blow it off then tell a dozen others about it.

      No other OS has anything like this. If you use a /home partition you can have a totally up to date and working OS complete with all your preferences and personal data in 10 minutes. Even if you switch Distros in the same family.

      It’s revolutionary. Yet Windows users fall back on what they’ve been taught and Google problems, hit a mess of CLI instructions, outdated debs or rpm packages…etc.

      During this Vista fiasco Linux gained little marketshare. But a company that markets a POSIX compliant Unix, BSD, with a minimum of a $1,000 cost of entry tripled their share. And their customers brag about never needing to leave the GUI. Maybe you’ve heard of Apple?

      People were paying a $100 premium to get XP installed. Unfounded? Only if you lack perspective.

      • Hi, I am Kevin Bennett, the guy who wrote the article. I pointed out Lexmark in particular because even when they do have drivers they simply seldom work. Even if you do manage to get them to work, no small feat a lot of the time, the reduced functionality makes them worthless.

        For example the X1270 was quite popular around here, and the best I could manage to get with their drivers was to turn an all in one printer into a kinda sorta printer that crashed more than it printed. Go to any Linux forum and you will find plenty of horror stories about trying to get Lexmark printers fully functional. Since Lexmark is the #1 brand being sold in my area this presents a problem and is why I highlighted it.

        In the end for a guy like me to be able to sell Linux boxes beside the Windows ones I need a good 85-90% of the items sold in Walmart,Staples, and Best Buy to work in Linux, either out of the box or with a non CLI installer. right now that just isn’t the case and makes after market support a nightmare. I truly believe Linux can overcome these problems, and I was trying to point out ways to overcome these limitations. Thanks for reading my article and taking the time to respond. Kevin Bennett

  • "CLI is frankly too strange and complex to the users Linux must attract in order to gain market share." What do you call using Start, Run in the windows environment? This premise the Linux need to be dumb down to get expansion is unfounded. Prior to the Windows GUI we had Dos and a lot of non Techie types ( like myself) found their way. A GUI makes things easy no disagreement here but lets stop with the dumbing down effect. It was this dumbing down effect that lead to virus and spyware that has infested the windows world. Please we need to be creating smarter users not more Techies

  • I just went to Lexmark’s website and picked a random printer. The website listed drivers available for debian, foresight, opensuse, and ubuntu. Sure, we prefer open source drivers, but you should really revise your baseless attack on lexmark. Don’t say something you can’t prove!

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