Paul Ferris: The GNU/Linux desktop-adoption drive of 2005
by Paul Ferris
That's great it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes an aeroplanes, Linus T is not afraid ...
-- with tribute mostly to R.E.M. It's the End of The World (as we know it)
A lot of people over the years, myself included, have speculated that GNU/Linux would make a gradual push onto the desktop, having a higher presence by now but the adoption would have been gradual. Quite frankly I've been amazed at how slow this adoption has occurred. I've also been shocked at just how much tolerance the average Windows user has for viruses, trojan horses and spy-ware. Huge amounts -- far more than I would have ever predicted. Yet here we are, at the end of 2004, darn near 10 years since the public began to adopt the Internet, and the pain level is higher than ever.
So predictions are dangerous to make in the desktop-Linux-adoption game, but I think the public is reaching a pivotal pain point. Evidence can be seen multiple places for this (I've provided a few links at the end of this article for reference).
All you have to do for confirmation is ask any friend, relative or acquaintance who has any decent connection to the Internet about their latest Windows virus and spy-ware escapades.
Let me know if you run into someone who has not been affected or infected.
So I can warn them...
The pain point is here, in other words. It's all over. All that stands between today and a mass GNU/Linux migration is a vector of some kind that will allow people to easily try out Linux without the hint of destroying their precious Windows box in the process. Now, in the past, that was extremely difficult. One of the problems with Linux was that (a long time ago) it was hard to install. Then it was supposedly hard to use. Today, it's easier and faster to install Linux than Windows in my humble opinion. Yes -- I've done both recently and I'm talking an average install on average hardware. Ease of use has increased up as well.
The main issue for today and the foreseeable future comes from the fact that when someone buys a piece of PC hardware it typically comes with installation or recovery media for Windows. Your average Joe simply doesn't tend to comprehend the things that a typical Linux geek understands. Boot-able Linux CDs that don't destroy hard drive data and things like multiple partitions to run multiple OSes are foreign ideas that are frankly, way out there. People tend to buy a PC, in other words, and use it out of the box with whatever it came with.
It's an appliance, in other words. They're not used to ripping into the guts of their refrigerator, for example, and pulling out the control software so it'll run cooler.
So my prediction is that Linux desktop migration is going to hit the people with broadband connections first. For one, if someone has the cash for a decent broadband connection they probably also have some cash to spend on other luxury items. This whole infection insanity is likely driving them to the brink of change. Rounding out the decision matrix is the simple thought that using high speed Internet ought to be an experience of clicking on web sites that don't have something to do with spy-ware and virus cleanup. Actual usage of the product, as opposed to defense against it, in other words, may drive some people to switch to a GNU/Linux experience.
The only item left, in other words, will be where to buy a decent pre-configured Linux box. While it's been possible to purchase cheap Linux boxes over the web for quite some time, the type of customer I'm envisioning is more impulse-oriented. I suspect that a vendor will have to rise to this challenge that's got an indifference to the Windows tax. This vendor should also have an extremely large piece of retail space. They should have a distribution channel that can handle a large demand for hardware. They have to be able to spin on a dime, and offer this kind of solution right now.
There are already a couple of vendors that fit this bill. One of them is Walmart, and the other is Target. If I had to put my money down right now on a vendor that stands the most chance of doing this, I'd lay it on the Walmart folks. For what it's worth, they're already shipping Linux boxes via the web right now. You can get A PC, sans monitor, for all of $200 bucks U.S., or a laptop for less than $500.00.
All they really need to do is place the PC they're selling on-line today on display in their electronics area, with a great big sign that says something to the effect of:
This is a practical solution that nets several bonuses. For one, the user that has the PC can try Linux for under $300.00 U.S. This is relatively inexpensive for people who are already paying something between $15 to $50 bucks for a broadband connection of some kind. Factor in the cost of virus and spy-ware updates, the time it takes to constantly clean a Windows based PC, and it will probably offer some healthy ROI right away.
They can surf the web without concern on the Linux box and relegate the Windows box to migration. Even better, just a game machine of some kind. It avoids the whole "how can I run my Windows applications on Linux" issue. It avoids all of the usual geek speak about partitioning, installation and live distributions.
When it's all said and done, quite a few people will have discovered that a lot of stuff is in a Linux distribution -- boring things like Word processing software, web browsers, email clients and the usual office schlock -- enough to get their day to day stuff done.
There will be a huge contingent of people, in my humble opinion, that discover that they can get real work done with their Linux box. These people will wonder (hopefully loudly) where this operating system came from, why the mainstream press didn't suggest it sooner, and why Free Software as a whole has been so misrepresented so often.
This opportunity isn't going to come from Dell, HP, or even IBM (heck IBM wants out of the home PC business). These vendors, while having sparse Linux offerings here and there for home PC buyers, don't have the ability to easily offer a storefront to customers on the scale that's going to be needed. They also have to worry about the political $hit-$torm that's going to arise out of offering wide-scale Linux adoption to a Microsoft-installed customer base.
So, Target, Walmart, are you listening? A golden opportunity has arisen. You have the chance to sell a few hundred thousand PCs without a huge amount of marketing. Word of mouth will be enough. Setup the kiosks and let the product do the rest.
I've taken the liberty of writing them directly and asking them, and I urge you dear readers to do the same. Some of you can attempt to talk them out of it as well, but I'm confident that the cash opportunity will win in the end.
Bonus points for this vendor are there for the taking. Whoever does this will probably sell a few more printers too (hint: they should be conveniently labeled "Linux Friendly"), printer supplies, monitors and so on. People don't just have a bunch of Windows-infected PCs lying around, they also have a bunch of Windows-"Friendly" junk as well.
Make no mistake, someone's going to see the cash and the opportunity. The frustration level is reaching a peak. It's only a matter of a few weeks now. We're fast approaching the GNU/Linux desktop-adoption drive of 2005...
Paul Fericyde Ferris is a husband, father, Linux geek, and more. FeriCyde Chat is an LXer.com feature.
References: Pivotal Pain Points:
Chris Spencers' "An Open Letter to a Digital World".
Kim Lux's letter to the Ottawa Business Journal.
Simon Moores: A bad case of worms...
Cyberinsecurity: The Cost Of Monopoly How The Dominance Of Microsofts Products Poses a Risk to Security.
This Christmas, give the gift that doesn't keep on taking ... (a shameless plug for one of my rants)
Target corporate contact information.
Walmart store feedback form.
Walmart already offers cheap Linux-based computers via its web site:
A sub-$500.00 laptop.
A sub-$200.00 PC.
Prior Marketing Practices of Microsoft Discouraging Vendors from Selling non-Microsoft products:
It's common knowledge that Microsoft has in the past written contracts that violated anti-trust law. Basically, by the time the United States Department of Justice gets around to halting these practices, the damage is done. It takes years to bring a company with the resources of Microsoft to trial. When caught, Microsoft simply enacts new contracts that appear on the surface to address the problem, all the while maintaining the same pressure to exclusively sell Microsoft products, as far as the hardware vendor is concerned.
There are rumors that things are better now and they might be somewhat, as it's possible to order hardware today that has Linux pre-installed from vendors like Dell and IBM. The basic fact, however, is that the vast majority of current off the shelf software for desktop computers is being written for Microsoft Windows. This is due in large part because of the enormous inequity (read lack of competition) in the marketplace. It wouldn't make sense, for example, to write software for an operating system that was essentially banned from the marketplace via pressure from Microsoft. It still doesn't make sense ... at the moment.
CNN: Text of federal complaint against Microsoft. (May 1998)
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