The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Return From The Mountain

I honestly thought that if I waited a few days before reporting to you, my thoughts might be clearer and my positions on some things a bit more solid.

They are not.

However, time doesn't pay attention to ambivalent feelings or conflicted emotions so I'm going to forge ahead with my report to you on the Second Annual Linux Foundation Summit Conference held here in Austin Texas. It was indeed one of the highest points of the year for me and I've had a few.

In the first place, I was surprised and humbled by the fact the Linux Foundation held me worthy of attending. You should know that these people spend a butt-load of money to feed and entertain us during the Summit. They obviously had no clue as to my penchant for prime rib and porterhouse steaks...they do now. The Foundation can consider itself fortunate I put away my drinking glass years ago. As you can see...there was ample time to stretch the elbow muscle with repetitive measure. And yes...that is really an acryllic dance floor with live sharks and rays swimming under the dancer's feet. Hey...what's the saying here? "Keep Austin Weird". Establishments like this are doing their best to do just that.

I think it dawned upon me where I actually was when I found myself at the same table with Bruce Perens , Cal Erickson and Dr. Chang-Won Ahn. We were discussing Linux on the desktop and the frustration many of us felt that it wasn't marketed to the people who needed it most. I was more than surprised to find that people at that table knew this topic was my "button".

We all have buttons...and each of us attended the Summit in the hopes that people would pay attention to our buttons...maybe read them and ask about how we came to wear that particular button. Mine is the Linux Desktop. However, it seemed that no matter what the seminar or lecture may have been titled, Linux always returned to it's new shrine.

The Enterprise.

Big Iron tucked away in some back closet and humming away largely forgotten. The desktop for people like Mom and Dad didn't seem to have the energy to merit discussion. On the first day, I took the mic and voiced my concerns and frustrations. while I am placing quotes, be assured that the dialog might not be verbatim but it will be close.

With senior members of IBM and HP on the panel in front of a packed hall, I stepped to the mic and asked the question everyone at the table seemed determined to ignore.

"I can turn on my television on via my digital cable subscription, watch five commercials for Microsoft windows in thirty minutes. I could surf the same channels for thirty days and not see a television commercial for Linux. When are you going to market Linux to the desktop user."

It was quiet in the hall for a slow count of three. The representative from IBM was the first to speak. His response was long and complex, but the meat of it was understood when he quit talking.

"It's not our job to advertise Linux."

Yeah? Well maybe it's not and maybe that's the problem. It doesn't seem to be anyone's "job" to advertise Linux. Sure you use it and most assuredly you dump buckets of money into development and research, but in the final analysis, companies like IBM and HP don't see any significant financial gain from the's a tool for them to achieve the profit they make from the server side.

Big Iron.

Big Money.

Big Budgets.

Joe Barr wrote about this in his usual knock-down style and I like what he has to say...he tied it up nicely in much fewer words than I ever could and if you want a good idea of what was wrong with this year's event, give Joe a read. There was much accomplished at the Second Annual Summit...but there was much not even mentioned. Joe talks about that and hits it out of the park with his commentary.

So not to be discouraged, I took my questions to the place where most of our business got done in that three days...outside the lecture halls and round tables. In the main dining hall outside the auditoriums, we sat during breaks between lectures and talked among ourselves about the things we were there for. See...I now know why I went there, and it had nothing to do with the reasons I thought I had prior to the event.

I found out who my team mates are...I mean really found out who they were. Most importantly, I found out who wants to do the same things I (we) do...and there are many of them. That is why I attended this shindig...the prestige of being invited wore off quickly once I found out the fantastic opportunities this event promised. There may not have been much accomplished physically at the Summit, but you watch what happens in the next year. Many of us mapped out the strategy for the Linux on the Desktop. And not to minimize the Lectures and Round you can see, they were attended mightily.

I found myself sitting with the likes of Perrin, Maddog Hall, Loye Young of Isaac and Young Computer Company, Matt Domsch of Dell, Andrew Updegrove, A Boston Attorney specializing in Open Source matters and of course I was blessed enough to spend some time with SJVN.

What we came away with is what we collectively referred to as the "Linux Disconnect." Here are the mechanics of the disconnect and here is what we have to do to fix it.

We've established that the Big Boys aren't going to lift a finger in the desktop marketing strategy. OK, so let's look at what HAS been done from a marketing perspective. The big news was that Walmart began selling low cost PC's with Linux pre-installed. What didn't get the same amount of news is that they quit selling them due to the high amount of returns they experienced.

People didn't like them because they didn't know or understand the system that was on it.

That would be Linux.

Now I don't hold a degree in marketing, nor do I profess to be a shining star in that profession. I have stumbled around and gotten a certain formula working and as simple as it is, it will work for what we need to do. People need "product awareness". Springing Linux on them when they aren't familiar with it or expecting it is going to kill the sales...and Walmart will attest to that with the returned merchandise statistics for the Linux based pc. Sure they sold out, but it seems they came right back in the door at about the same rate...people didn't like the surprise they got when they turned the machines on.

They were expecting something like Windows.

A market needs to be "softened" before it's presented with a product. Pre-sales advertisements and publicity about this "revolutionary way to operate your computer" would be a good start.

But that costs money...two bucks from a half of a percentage point of just the Linux Users in America would fuel the effort for a year.

And you won't even do that...I mean the readers of this blog will, and you've proven it. But you others? You expect someone else to do it. That "someone else" has given you their answer during the Summit.

"It's not our job to advertise Linux."

Apparently you think it isn't yours either, and in all probability, it really isn't.

But with the same measure of probability, it IS your moral responsibility.

How many of you have taken a tech support call at 10 pm from a 71 year old grandmother, in tears and frustrated beyond any reasonable level because her Windows computer won't do what it's supposed to do? She's done everything she's supposed to do and it still doesn't work. On her fourth call, some tech support agent has knowledge enough to tell her to disable her anti-virus. Bingo, problem solved. A program that shouldn't even be in the equation was the cause of her grief...and millions slog through this tech support ritual every year when they don't have to.

No, maybe it isn't your responsibility to let others know there is a better way to operate their computers.

Or maybe you are comfortable with being a digital welfare recipient. It would seem that many of you are. I've seen nothing to refute the observation.

Two percent of you are not...and it's that two percent that needs to step up. If we can't do it with dollars, then we have to do it with our ability to get others to come to our cause. THAT is what I got out of this Summit...and not in the lectures but during the informal get togethers at social events and at dinner and during breaks. That is when the real meetings took place...that's where things got done.

The enterprise is what Linux is all about right now...that is where the money is going and will continue to go. Again, it's going to fall on that long-suffering and time-generous two percent that carries the rest of "the community" on their backs.

So the Second Annual Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit is history, and only time will tell if history is made from what came out of it. I'm with Joe Barr here...I have good and bad feelings about what I experienced, but it was indeed the experience I am thankful for.

And Earl Malmrose, Bruce Perens...John "Maddog" Hall?

Thanks for welcoming me into the club. Thank you for defining the experience for me.

Now let's see if we can do something with it.

All-Righty Then


Anonymous said...

They were little sharks, right? Not a 30 foot tank with six foot James Bond eaters? (Or ill-tempered sea bass.)

My mother-in-law has had no problem with her PC since I "fixed" it with Linux and she's not anywhere close to "computer-literate". Web browsing and email look pretty much the same. Firefox is pretty much Firefox wherever it runs.

So, maybe Billy G paid people to buy Walmart PCs and then complain about them. It wouldn't even be as expensive as advertizing for Windows. How much would it take to manufacture a thousand alleged whiners who (inconceivably) are too dumb to click icons? Pocket change for Microsoft. And they got their money back from Walmart.

Bruce Perrins? Perens, I think.

Unknown said...

LOL, nothing like butchering the name of your favorite Linux Luminary I say, right? Google corrected my spelling for me when I had his business card right in front of me. Thanks for the heads up.

No, I wouldn't put it past MS to do just that but then again, knowing Computer Users as I do, and coupling that fact with the laziness and unprepared sales forces at any Walmart Electronics department, this turn around was destined. People hate change...that is one of our biggest obstacles. Maybe we can put together some sort of marketing plan to change that.

That will be the determining factor.

Again Ken, thanks for minimizing the damage.


FelixTheCat said...

Looking strictly on the desktop technology side of it, I was at first concerned they spent too much time trying to work up servers and not enough on the desktop "experience" - love that marketspeak! I was finally comforted in the fact that the gaps in technology between servers and desktops is closing. Plus, all the desktop stuff that Con Kolivas fought for a couple of years ago eventually made its way into the kernel by other folks. In fact, the driver project is really making big inroads helping hardware manufacturers create drivers (though not all open) for the Linux kernel.

I was able to press the lawyer group for their take on the whole MS "covenant not to sue" and their 235 patents, and they had some really good answers on them. I can't say much about it since it was a "safe" meeting - answers weren't to be shared - but I hope to get an article on based around it once I contact some of the folks directly.

IBM's work in Linux is pretty hardcore! I do agree with Ken, though, that I'd like to see more Linux ads. Their answer was something like, "We don't advertise operating systems; we advertise our solutions, and whatever they are based on doesn't matter."

Meh! It's hard to see any of them willing to stick their necks out by advertising Linux. I guess they believe hiring developers, returning code to the community, and paying for code projects is enough to pay back for their use of Linux. It'd be even better for us to hit critical mass on the desktop so that consumers will bring Linux back to work or vice versa.

Anyway, lots to say for a comment. ;)

kozmcrae said...

"How much would it take to manufacture a thousand alleged whiners who (inconceivably) are too dumb to click icons?"

Answer: One thousand Acer Ferrari laptops.

"People hate change..."

That is one of the main reasons I switched to Linux. My computer was in a state of flux. I hate change and I seek stability and consistency, that's what I get with Linux, in spades.

Thanks Ken for representing us. They chose well. It was a complete success in my opinion. We've got the intelligence we need to focus our meager forces. This message needs to be carried to the technical blogs. We now have the proof we need. The flying saucer will not come down from the sky and rescue everybody. We are on our own. As long as we have "situational awareness" we're in good shape.

Unknown said...

I wanted to email you but I couldn't find the email address. The front page is huge. I searched for "contact", nothing. But anyways, hope you read this.

I would like to purchase your book. But I don't want to use PayPal. I don't have an account and its too much of a hassle to create one. Do you accept other forms of payment (maybe you could do Google checkout if its not too much trouble).

Unknown said...

hey Coder, email me at helios at fixedbylinux dott kommm with a good email addy and I will get this hooked up.


Anonymous said...

I understand your disappointment that those who have the power to do something lack the will, and those with the will lack the power. Hopefully, someday this will change, but until then there is only one thing that I know how to do, and that's to share what you can with others.
Share your knowledge and experience with the "newbies".
Share your computer skills, whatever level they may be at.
Share your time with those who really want to learn.
Just today, I purchased another 200 blank CD-Rs, every one of them destined to be burned with a Linux distro and given to anyone who expresses an interest in giving Linux a try on their desktop. To date, I have converted about a dozen other users - not exactly an overwhelming amount, but enough that I am encouraged to keep on doing what I've been doing.
I figure that Desktop Linux has got as far as it has on little more than "word of mouth", and regardless of what the Big Boys think, I see no reason for us humble end users to wait for them to catch-up to us!