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Monday, April 19, 2010

Is The Linux Brand Poisoned?

First off, I apologize.

I personally detest using a potentially charged question as a title to any article or blog.

More often than not, it is perceived as sensationalist...
Not that I haven't been accused of that before....but in this instance...It would seem to be a valid question.

 It's taken me a while to put the data together.  I haven't the means or assets to do this any other way than the way it was done and nothing done here could be construed as scientific.  I queried 109 people.  People who either owned, managed or worked as Executive Assistants to those in small to medium-sized businesses.

And for full disclosure, there were 144  businesses or people I approached that would not take part in this survey.

Of that 109 that did, I asked each of them a few simple questions:

The first one being..."What is Linux?"

The results were less than encouraging.

Of the 109 people asked, 71 did not know.  24 of them responded with the generic equivalent of "It's some sort of computer program".  The remaining number were able to accurately describe Linux as an operating system or a server solution.  Out of that 109 queried, 7 used Mac exclusively to run their businesses.  I did not pre-choose the businesses I spoke to.  They were chosen from a three block downtown area of Austin and a large business park located in North Austin.

Obviously, they were also the ones that agreed to talk with me.

They were a diverse group of businesses, ranging from moving companies, caterers, construction and home remodelers to insurance brokers, sign companies and various consulting agencies..  Employee positions ranged from 2 to 713.  The businesses were visited between November 2009 and February 2010.

 I purposely omitted any of their IT or computer tech people from questioning.  We'll discuss the reasons for that shortly.

I am not overly concerned about the 95 people that did not know or were hazy about what Linux concern is for those who knew what Linux is...and how they perceive it.

In our work through The HeliOS Project, our empirical data shows that 3 out of 10 disgruntled Windows users would consider or were willing to try Linux.  Those of that thirty percent who were shown or demonstrated Linux on the spot were impressed and asked direct questions about Linux and how difficult or easy the migration to Linux would be.  Please note that these people were generally home users.

On the business end of it, we got different results. 

Those who were able to accurately describe Linux, generically described it to me as "a technical system that required professional or technical users".

Of the 14 who knew what Linux is, 3 of them identified Red Hat as the "maker" of Linux.  The rest did not know where the Linux system originated.   However; 8 of those 14 stated that they used either Firefox or Open Office as their primary browser or office suite.  5 of the 14 knew what server systems were used in their company.  Two of them were using a Windows server or servers and the remaining 3 used a Linux server or servers.  Only one of them identified their server solution as Red Hat.  None of the 5 used mixed server solutions in their business.

Here is where we believe things get interesting.

Of the 14 who correctly identified Linux as an operating system or server system, 11 of them were willing to look at a Linux Desktop.  2 of that 11 did not know that Linux offered a Desktop solution.

I carry a Dell D600.  For this purpose, I installed a copy of Windows XP.   With no internal CD drive, the laptop is easily bootable to a USB device.  It was that device I used to boot and demonstrate the Linux system.   I did not give them a "guided tour", but instead handed them the laptop and asked them to perform some of the tasks they would normally do on their laptops or work desktop computers.

And for the sake of conversation, it took many of the participants several minutes to grasp the concept of the Live Environment...most could not fathom an entire operating system that could be run from CD or USB device.  How it could access Windows files while not directly affecting or altering the existing data on the hard drive escaped most of them.

Even though they were able to do so without any problems. 

All of them opened a browser and either checked email or sought out a company website.  Three of them emailed themselves an Excel or Word document and opened it successfully, either using the native Open Office application or Google Docs. The ones that opened the document in Google Docs also used Gmail and Google Apps for their email and calendering needs.  9 of them took the time to look through the menus and explore the different applications and system settings Linux offers.  Of the 11 that did work in this Linux environment, 5 of them stated that Linux could, in limited OR full application, work for their company or business.  All of the 11 who used Linux on my laptop admitted that their preconceived notions about the Linux Desktop were incorrect.

I'm not at all sure what can be concluded here, if anything. None of the people who denied knowing what Linux is were questioned further or given a chance to see it at work.  My focus was to identify those who knew what Linux is and seek their opinion about it.

Now, I mentioned that I had excluded IT or technical employees of these companies.  My reasons are simple.  In our attempt to introduce the Linux Desktop into public schools and larger enterprises, we've found extreme bias.  As well, we've also found multiple year contracts with Microsoft that precluded any immediate considerations for switching desktop environments  Our experience indicates that while Linux is often used in server applications, the desktop is shunned as either "not cost effective" or "too technically advanced" for the employee. We have had one IT honcho tell the decision-maker that it was illegal to remove Windows from their computers.

Many of those IT professionals happen to be MCSE's.

I'm left to wonder at the correlation.

It would be easy to draw several conclusions from this focus...and maybe they would many times be incorrect.  This was no where near scientific, nor was it done within any controlled environment.

It was simply an attempt to see what the enterprise, at least in a limited way, thinks about Linux as opposed to what they currently use.  In their mind, does Linux equate to difficult or geeky?  Does the mention of Linux conjure images of complex terminal environments and limited scope and scalability?  Do these notions poison the Linux brand in the applicable market place?

It would seem...

All-Righty Then


PoP said...

In a similar vein, one of my grandsons was using an ancient laptop computer with Windoze XP on it. He was constantly having problems with virii and was also complaining about speed. It was S L O W!!

I convinced my son to let me put Ubuntu on the system. My grandson was pleased with the speed and the lack of virus problems . . . until . . . it was time to use OOo Impress to do a presentation for school that was to be done via a projector that only speaks .pps.

My son proceeded to blast LINUX as a problem because the default file format for OOo Impress is not .pps. Rather than change the default file format to that M$ format, he cursed Linux and decided to buy a new Windoze computer for his son, my grandson.

Moral to story: Even when you can get someone to try Linux, you can't guarantee they will stick with it because it is "different, difficult and . . . whatever"

Keep up the good work and PLEASE don't get discouraged.


Chelle Minkin said...

And again, what can be drawn from this was unsaid and still conspicuous. Lack of marketing can be found as the culprit.

I think helios has established for us that the corporations who benefit the most from Linux will not take part in any marketing effort. The community seems unwilling to mount a legitimate campaign that reaches the masses, so I think that Linux as a desktop alternative will remain on the fringe and accessible to only those who seek it out.


Anonymous said...

I am not overly concerned about the 95 people that did not know or were hazy about what Linux concern is for those who knew what Linux is...and how they perceive it.

I'm not sure your focus isn't backwards. It seems to me that the 95 people that did not know what Linux is would be the ones to benefit from some education.

Karen said...

I'm saddened by your results, but not surprised. I tell people I play with Linux for fun, and they seem to think I'm some kind of exotic geek. But I long for the day when I can escape Windows. Alas, one of my employable skills is familiarity with programs (ArcGIS, Adobe Illustrator) which have no Linux equivalent or a limited equivalent.


Richard Hays said...

I am a business owner here in Austin and I have other business interests in two other Texas cities. All of them use Linux exclusively. As far as "playing" with Linux, I don't see it as a toy. I am in the music industry and everything we need can be found in the Linux software libraries or repositories. Our entire business runs on Linux. Our shop in San Antonio deals heavily with graphics and CD covers. We produce original artwork and graphics and have never had to rely upon Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator or any other proprietary application.

I suspect many Windows users will claim a dependence upon a particular software title when in reality they have never looked at apps like Inkscape, Gimp and Blender. I'm not saying there are not specific needs for proprietary software. I'm just saying that if many people took the time to explore their options, they would find the open source apps work fine.

Then again, you cannot underestimate the power of human laziness when it comes to learning something new.

Rick Meyers said...

"I'm not sure your focus isn't backwards. It seems to me that the 95 people that did not know what Linux is would be the ones to benefit from some education."

No, I think this particular focus is extremely insightful. What the author has done is to spotlight a problem in marketing and relations. While Linux isn't going to offer solutions for everyone, it is a viable solution for many. The fact that many think the solution is too complex speaks volumes to the amount of work those in Linux have to do.

Of course, it has already been indicated that those huge corporates using Linux could pitch in and lend a hand. How they can profit from doing so is still something that holds them back.

Amenditman said...


What never ceases to amaze me is that you can get 109 corporate types to take the time to talk to you.

About anything!

Let alone something technical.

How do you get past their 'gatekeepers'?

Great work, again.

Thank You

Anonymous said...

Today my boss (our Director of IT) threw a fit when some of the IT staff got into a software discussion. The direct quote (that will be keeping me up at night): "I HATE open source!"

Anonymous said...

I think the people who are unaware of the existence of Linux may be a better (Larger?) target than those who are aware but think it's too technically difficult. The poison that could creep in is Windows 'people' trying to keep Linux hidden and spread the perception to those who do know about it that it's hard.

Off to do a bit of marketing...

Anonymous said...

Funny did the same thing as Jerry the first poster did for the two teenagers....opposite outcome for one. The oldest is now chafing at why his high school doesn't use LINUX, a system he states "it always works". Yes and you don't need to MSCE to keep it working well; it's install and forget pretty much. The other seem's more ambivalent to the Penguin he pines for all the windows games that come with payloads of scumware, the policy is he can have a WinXP cd but he is on his own for any problems and ....he never seems willing to take up that offer.

Colonel Panik said...

Turn on the monitor and the first hit in my BBC RSS feed, today 5-20-2010 is this:

Something seemed wrong with the article, after several reads I realized that it never said which operating systems were being compromised. The BBC has received an email from the Colonel telling them that it wasn't news, it was an infomerical.

Chelle said "Lack of marketing can be found as the culprit."

That is 100% correct, but... most of us lowly Linux users are not skilled at writing ad copy. We sure could use some cut and paste material for our handouts, fliers, and media packages.

With a little help from my friends.....

Peace, Bob

Gavin said...

I think Ken's approach to correct misinformation rather than to hammer out new information is the best place to start for "GNU/Linux marketing". Creating new converts is all well and good, but it should not be done at the expense of allowing misinformation to continue to propagate without check. Even if it were possible to "tell the truth" to one person for every person that hears falsity, GNU/Linux would still be losing the battle because misinformation currently has a head start. If we devote equal resources to both, GNU/Linux has a good chance of spreading in a healthy manner, thus "curing the poison from the brand" so to speak.

A simple Google search of the word "linux" yielded many good resources for anyone who is mildly curious, including the entry in Wikipedia and the Ubuntu project page. So let us say that you are at work and someone (Ken) wants to do a survey. You agree, let in this person, and you are asked about Linux. You do not know a darn thing about it. This person then thanks you for your time and leaves. Curious? Google it! (Because, after all, every noun now doubles as a verb.) There you go. Everything a newbie needs to know about GNU/Linux in just the first 10 hits. Would someone do a Google search and actually read anything about Linux if he/she already "knew" about it? If you think you know the answer to something, you often do not take the time to verify your information.

As for the M$ IT people... It is often true that they have no clue about EULAs and licenses, but the same can be said for many UNIX and Linux IT pros. There is often a distinct separation in most people's minds between the technology and the legal stuff. Managers, on the other hand, are supposed to know about licensing. Whether or not anyone actually does know is another debate...

Jerry - Blood may be thicker than water, but if I had a son who spoke to me like that (and not just about GNU/Linux) I would slap him up-side the head! Truth and knowledge trump a quick fix in my mind any day of the week.

Kevin (Whizard72) said...

I'm going to play Devil's advocate here. Is the negative perception of Linux truly undeserved?

Taking MPlayer for example, I can install Ubuntu and get SMplayer and Mplayer from the standard package manager. The issue is that Mplayer is often a pretty old version without the latest optimization and improvements. I can't just download a new version, I have to compile from source. I have gotten that to work after hours of (wasted) effort for what amounts to about 25% less CPU usage across two cores. This is a large improvement and that's without hardware acceleration. There's been an

On Windows, All I have to do is download the latest binary (of which there are several for different CPU types) which is optimized for my CPU and DirectX handles any hardware accel my GPU is capable of. I would say that generally, mostly because of DirectX/Direct3D, Mplayer for Windows is superior unless, again, you want to compile Mplayer from source.

The point being is that I generally consider compiling someone else's stuff to be a waste of my time with very few exceptions. I like the option of being able to do so, but why would anyone force me to? Gee, isn't Linux supposed to be about choice?

This story is repeated countlessly by huge numbers of Linux software packages out there. The repository versions are generally old and inferior to the new ones. Too often there is nothing available for Linux except for source code. Seems to me that Windows is better supported by binaries being available easy as you please.

Perhaps Windows' standardized packaging system is the real key here. One Win32 binary will work on all versions of windows since WindowsNT. (with exceptions of .NET, etc)

Standards are something that Windows has going for it. It's not like the open source world where you have countless creative energies forking projects just to implement their own ideas and standards. Creative energies that could have been better utilized by either making existing software better or making anew.

I also want to say that most of the time, Windows gets malware through the fault of the user more than the OS and this is particularly true for Vista and Win7 users.

If you're like me and you don't download drivers from anywhere other than OEM or vendor sites, stay off questionable sites, never use IE, disable pop-ups and ads with Firefox extensions, you should never have a problem with any version of Windows.

Kevin (Whizard72) said...

Sorry about that previous post, I didn't mean to rant and rave. There's so much to love about Linux and it has so much potential to be so much better. The things I mentioned that are holding it back get really truly under my skin at times.

If Apple can take BSD and make a powerful easy to use OSX out of it, why can't Linux do that for PCs? I personally hate Macs because the hardware choices are so limited.

Gavin said...

"Is the negative perception of Linux truly undeserved?"

"If you're like me and you don't download drivers from anywhere other than OEM or vendor sites, stay off questionable sites, never use IE, disable pop-ups and ads with Firefox extensions, you should never have a problem with any version of Windows."


Here you have proven your own point. No OS is perfect - they all come with some sort of fine print. And Ken is the last GNU/Linux user on the planet to proclaim that gold dust will collect on your keyboard if only you would install Ubuntu over Windows.

I am a GNU/Linux user. I am also a Windows user. I also work with Apple computers. I also have an old SPARC-based Sun server at home. There is no perfect OS, no perfect computer. There are countless features of every platform that I think should be "standard" on all computer systems. But they are not. And that is the unfortunate reality.

This unfortunate reality manifests itself as series of "if" statements when talking about every OS/system/platform.

Windows is a great OS. IF you know where to get drivers. IF you know where you can and cannot go on the internet. IF you never use IE. IF you disable pop-ups and ads with Firefox extensions. Etc.

GNU/Linux is a great OS/system. IF you know enough about computers to be able to install your own OS. IF you can provide at least half of your own tech support and know where the help forums are. IF you can compile your own programs in order to get the latest versions. Etc.

Mac OS X is a great OS/platform. IF you do not play a lot of computer games. IF you do not mind paying a large price premium in return for hand-holding tech support. IF you have no idea what "vendor lock-in" means (or you do not care). Etc.



(You get the point.)

Gavin said...

And even within a given OS/system/platform, there are vast differences.

Windows - XP or Vista or 7? 32-bit or 64-bit? Do you need to run DOSBox or XP-Mode to get something to work in 7? Or maybe your printer manufacturer already took care of that for you.

GNU/Linux - Ubuntu or Mint? Or maybe you need Gentoo or Slackware to get the things you need. And if you want Flash or MP3 support, you need to accept some proprietary code/blobs.

Mac - Tiger or Leopard or Snow Leopard? If you have a PPC-based Mac, you are limited to Leopard, unless you prefer Tiger for its speed. But is your iPhone 3GS still compatible?

When it really comes down to it, each person needs to pick what works for him/her. Is Windows the best choice for person #1? Could be. Is a Mac the best choice for person #2? Yeah, maybe. Is GNU/Linux the best choice for person #3? Perhaps. The only real problem with the world of computers is that all three people could be using Windows and never know that they have a choice. GNU/Linux is about choice. And it is about a choice beyond just Gnome vs KDE, despite what some of the zealots would have you believe. If Windows is the choice, then that is great. Personally, I love W7 64-bit, and XP Pro 32-bit is still a great workhorse until support ends. But is Windows really a choice for most people? Or is it considered more of a standard? Perhaps even a requirement?

If all computer users were magically given a choice right now, would every single one of them choose what they have now? Statistically speaking, this is nigh impossible. Would a majority of them choose what they have now? In my opinion, undoubtedly. But for those few who would choose something else, or perhaps even choose to "convert" to multiple options, it seems only fair to give them the choice.

You seem to have been given the choice. You gave GNU/Linux a more than fair try, and in the end you chose to stick with Windows. I have been given the choice, and I decided to add to my options instead of replace. But there are others out there who need to know that they have a choice, much less be given a choice. That is the true reason that free/open-source options exist.

Kevin (Whizard72) said...

Gavin, your point is well granted, make no mistake, I'm a large fan of the open source concepts and philosophy. I've used Linux enough to be able to compile my own kernels and programs from source. I have enough knowledge to probably make a decent Linux server admin. (I do happen to have a Lamp+File server running ubuntu server in my home)

Linux provides terrific functionality for people who wouldn't have technology otherwise and being exposed to open source early is a great thing for kids to learn that what Microsoft and Apple want you to believe and the truth aren't the same things necessarily.

Although I still feel Windows is the best choice for my desktop, Make no mistake, the list of open source programs I use is staggering. I feel the SMPlayer&&Mplayer combination just beats everything else out there for either platform. I was using Firefox back when it was 'Mozilla' on Windows 2000. I haven't used IE since before version 5 I believe, certainly before 6.0.

I have a long history of using open source and that will only continue as open source software keeps getting better.

Anonymous said...

The claim of multi-year contracts is a dodge to avoid trying or using Linux.
Where I worked before I retired I gradually introduced Linux by first using it as my programming desktop. Then I set up PostgresSQL on a Linux server in my office. After the initial hostilities by the MSCEs died away they then began to take notice, especially after I used an old, soon to be scrapped desktop with Linux and a couple of Python scripts to replace a bulletin board system running on Windows that kept failing on evenings and weekends, requiring them to come in on their dime and reboot it. Tax preparers could not access the results of their submissions. In the year and a half the Linux solution was used it never failed once.

An MSCE was sent to Linux A+ training and was certified. Linux servers began replacing Novell servers as old hardware was cycled out. Plans were underway to replace all 30 servers with Linux. Then, a new Governor was elected, one who apparently networked with MS reps. His first act was to mandate a Microsoft only shop. The state IT department had to drop 10,000 paid Lotus Notes licenses and purchase 10,000 Exchange licenses. contracts didn't mean a thing when you are spending tax payer money. Share Point, the equivalent of a data roach motel, was installed to substitute for the database aspects of Lotus Notes. We lost over 200 databases that no one could import into Share Point, to say nothing of the smoothness and integration that we had developed with Lotus Notes. All Novell and Linux servers were replaced with Windows servers and Active Directory. The LAN began behaving as if it was dipped in molasses and occasional crashes started happening. It took two or three times as long to do what we used to do and some of what we use to do with LN we couldn't do with Exchange+Share Point. For a Gov who campaigned on improving efficiency and reducing costs in IT, he did the exact opposite.

Anonymous said...

GNU/Linux is a great OS/system. IF you know enough about computers to be able to install your own OS. IF you can provide at least half of your own tech support and know where the help forums are. IF you can compile your own programs in order to get the latest versions. Etc.

What do you have to know about computers to install Linux from a LiveCD that you don't have to know in order to install Windows from a CD? Your time zone- check.
Your name - check.
Your keyboard style - check.
All or part of the HD - check.
Click OK to complete the install - check.
Reboot more than once -- wait, that's a Windows installation requirement.

Which half of their "own Linux support" were you referring to? The AV installation? The keyboard logger and viral infection clean up? The rebuild supoort. The reinstall support?

I wasn't aware that Windows users knew where Windows support forums were A Priori!

Linux requires you to compile programs to get the latest version? When was the last time you used a modern Linux distro? I've been using Linux for 12 years and I haven't had to compile a program or a kernel for 10 of those years. I just open Synaptic, locate the app I want, check it and click "Apply". It's installed and a menu option is added automatically. Does it require other apps, files or libraries? They are installed automatically. Removal is just a couple clicks away. A mouse works just the same in Linux as it does in Windows.

I'm using Kubuntu Lucid Lynx and it features the latest version of KDE4 and the various applications.

Thomas Mc. said...

"People who either owned, managed or worked as Executive Assistants"

You know people who OWN exectutive assistants ?

Anonymous said...

People who either owned, managed or worked as Executive Assistants to those in small to medium-sized businesses.

Reading the entire sentence clears it up a bit...I highlighted it for you so it's not as confusing.

or worked as Executive Assistants actually clears it up from your perspective. Still an awkward sentence but it works.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous posted 4/20/10 7:29 PM...
Gotta love those politicos. They're so sincere. Always watching out for the best interests of the citizens and NEVER putting the interests of big business first.

@Colonel Panik...
RE your comment...
"Chelle said 'Lack of marketing can be found as the culprit.'

"That is 100% correct, but... most of us lowly Linux users are not skilled at writing ad copy. We sure could use some cut and paste material for our handouts, fliers, and media packages.

"With a little help from my friends....."

If you'd really like to pursue that effort, email me. Ken has my email address.

I'd also like to direct your attention to a recent blog and discussion on Linux Journal...

IMHO the discussion encapsulates the 5 primary talking points re the promotion of Linux and OSS. Ref specifically the comments by GNUguy (me) and r0000t.

I also have contact with someone that has given several presentations to computer techs re Linux. The purpose of the pres was to educate people re the GPL and point out the advantages of Linux/OSS.

I believe the content is available to begin such an effort.

sndstrm said...

I think that there is a big point being missed. That point being, deep down in all of our hearts we don't want Linux to become as popular as Windows.

As one wise commenter said, "I think that Linux as a desktop alternative will remain on the fringe and accessible to only those who seek it out". Because that's exactly how we want it to be.

Call me crazy, and tar and feather me, but I think linux awareness is right where it needs to be. For those of us who love it its more than just a stable OS. It's us sticking it to the Man. Saying no the Communism of software and software companies. That feeling is what makes the best software community in the world, and produces an excellent, FREE, open source product.

It's a triumph that it even exists. It's really unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

On the latest software thing... Choose a distro that favours cutting edge over stability. There, fixed that for you.

That's why there are so many distros. horses for courses.

BTW, I pretty much enjoy both using SimplyMEPIS as it is a stable (Lenny based) distro, but we have the community packaging team who are willing, ready and able to receive requests for up to date versions of pretty much anything.

Anonymous said...

Probably you forgot to mention, that you've done your survey at USA.
Try it at other country, better at other continent. You will be surprised.
As for Europeans, more then 90% of the interviewed will know what Linux is, and believe it or not but ~15% use Linux as primary OS for desktop purpose.

Gavin said...

"Although I still feel Windows is the best choice for my desktop"


I do that, too. My main desktop is my monstrous gaming system and I do not allow GNU/Linux on it. For one thing, I would never boot into a distro because I like my games at my fingertips 24/7! (Well... I like having the ability; I am no longer able to game as much as I once did.) For another thing, when I do a vid card upgrade, it is often to a GPU that Linux does not yet fully support. (Ubuntu these days is only 3-6 months behind on driver support, which is a huge improvement over past years, but it still does not pass muster for PC gaming.) I use other systems for GNU/Linux and that works great for me so far.

As for the other free software, I stopped using Windows for anything other than gaming about 2 years ago. It is a much more satisfying relationship now that I have taken the limitations into consideration. ;) I ask Windows to play my games, Windows plays my games very well, and when it starts to get sick we agree to wipe & reload & move on with our lives. A small price to pay to have a gaming system that works and is never bogged down with security software. (After all, how much time would I invest in managing security software that merely delays the inevitable vs the time it takes to reinstall Windows and a few games?)

Gavin said...

@ GreyGeek77

I can see where you would get confused with my comments. I will elaborate on my comments using your comments, so that we can nitpick together.

"What do you have to know about computers to install Linux from a LiveCD that you don't have to know in order to install Windows from a CD?"

Nothing. But that is assuming that a particular Windows user knows how to install an OS. In talking with Windows users yourself, do you think they have any inkling what it is like to install/reinstall Windows? Do you believe that they know what an OS is? Judging from the number of times I have seen that stupid little green arrow (from the Welcome install mode for WinXP) I can tell you that 99% of the Windows users with whom I come in contact do not even know about the magical "reset button" that you and I know as reinstalling Windows. Which is part of what I was trying to say in my comments - that most Windows users have no clue about the fundamentals of operating systems or choices.

"Which half of their "own Linux support" were you referring to?"

The part that requires them to do more than drag their computer to the nearest Geek Squad counter. And those are the lucky ones who are able to pay for semi-professional help! Heck, Apple users have it easy! The Genius Bar really does have knowledgable people! When most people have a problem with their computer, their first reaction is to find a person that can help them. As you find younger and younger people, you find more of a willingness to go out and search for answers, but most people want an on-site expert. Someone with whom they can build a rapport, and thus a trust. Someone who can fix it NOW!

The other part of the equation involves people being able to actually answer questions about their system. Most people cannot, even with written or spoken instructions that tell them exactly what to click or type in order to read the result. And of course this inability to help solve their own problems makes people feel helpless, pushing them back into a hand-holding scenario. If people can pay money to not look like an idiot, they will do it in a heart beat! A corollary to this is an unwillingness for people to devote any time or research into something that they feel is beyond them, or not worth their time, or someone else's job - etc. Take your pick.

"I wasn't aware that Windows users knew where Windows support forums were A Priori!"

Most of them do not. (See reasons above.) The ones that do are often M$ zealots. Do not bother with them.

"Linux requires you to compile programs to get the latest version?"

Oftentimes, yes. See the comments from Kevin to which I responded. For a specific example, let us take a look at Ubuntu 9.10. I am using it on my laptop right now. It is fully updated. The version of Firefox that is installed is 3.5.9. The latest version of Firefox to which Windows users have access is, as per the Mozilla site, 3.6.3. It is a fact, therefore, that Windows users have access to a binary for their platform that is more up-to-date than what Canonical pushes to the current stable release of Ubuntu. Which means, if Kevin and I are not mistaken, that a custom install of Firefox 3.6.3 is required to obtain the latest version for Ubuntu 9.10 users. In the case of Firefox, a .tar.bz2 is available before compiling from source needs to take place, but other packages are not so lucky.

I see my statement, then, as a fact in the context in which it was written. Which is to say that IF you want the latest versions of your programs installed, you need to be able to compile from source.

If I had intended my comments to stand on their own as THE TRUTH, I would have written my own blog instead of commenting on someone else's comment with quotes. ;)

Anonymous said...

I would not worry about the many people who couldn't answer that Linux is a operating system. I guess if you asked "what is Windows" you'd get similar response.

Edward said...

As others have said. Its a marketing problem and the big corps that benefit from Linux are less than interested in marketing it to the general public. Thats because they would have to fight Microsoft and they would rather not do that.

This leaves the rest of us. I'm thinking of Linux User Groups. Lugs are the natural forum for marketing to small and medium sized businesses, since lug members are in that community everyday.

What Linux really needs is a healthy and thriving community of lugs, with several in every city. Out of this community we can craft a national lug organization funded by its member lugs. Such an organization would have the wherewithal to produce Linux marketing materials that can then be customized and used by local lugs to educate the local home and business user community.

This is the way we have to do it. The big corps won't do the marketing for us.


Unknown said...

In 1995 I started using Slackware installed from a floppy because those were the only books being sold. We have come a long way since then because Linux is superior in some ways. But freedom is freedom, and one option only is never free (as in speech). Linux is probably somewhere in every major corporation today, most stock exchanges and banks, Brazil, etc. use it as their OS because it is superior. These people know about Linux and will choose accordingly. If we allow people to choose, then Linux will get it's fair share, eventually, as the FUD and ignorance is shown to be what it is.

Kevin (Whizard72) said...

First of all, Let me say this: I **HATE** windows servers. I always have and I don't see that ever changing. Windows servers have the same long-term performance issues that the client systems have. They're not secure, RDP is a security hole, They can't handle nearly as much load as an equivalent linux server and that's not even an opinion.

I know of one story firsthand where an unresponsive windows server running IIS was 'temporarily' replaced with an experimental LAMP server that was a generation behind in hardware spec and it started running the intranet and extranet on the same box, under heavy load, faster then the windows server had ever been.

I know of some high traffic sites that just recently replaced their LAMP server hardware that was running on Pentium II CPUs.

I'd be willing to bet that I can build a LAMP server utilizing the Intel Atom 330 cpu (dual core, hyperthreaded) that runs cooler, quieter, uses less power, and has more consistent performance than a Windows IIS server using an Intel Xeon.

sirj77 said...

I recently had to work on a computer for a friend that had viruses. I recovered her files wiped the drive and found out she couldn't find her windows cd. I always have some linux live cd's with me as part of my "tool box" when I work on computers, and I made the offer to install linux. They had no idea what linux was (not surprising), but were open to the idea of very little virus and spyware problems. The deal breaker... she couldn't run her MS Works. I tried to explain that OpenOffice was free and just as good, but to no avail. I have had to fix her computer twice because of viruses. I might have finally gotten her to stop using IE and Outlook, but it's hard to get people to change their ideas and habits. Even if they don't like what they have, they don't like change, even if it is better for them.

Kevin (Whizard72) said...

I forgot to mention I'm a new Linux Journal subscriber and that I will be applying for membership to the Linux Foundation soon to take advantage of the student membership discount. Finishing my degree in computer science, my aim is to obtain official Linux certifications and increase expertise on the Linux server/LAMP stack and use that as my foundation for a career using Linux and open source solutions.

Anonymous said...

Corporations, being profit-driven, want to increase their margins. Take Dell for example. Dell practices what I call "double-tilling", trying to decrease its license costs by using Linux while avoiding to offend Microsoft and keep the third=party OEM revenues coming.

Gavin said...

"You know people who OWN exectutive assistants ?"

Thomas Mc.


Yes, I have one in a drawer somewhere. I should probably feed him again, come to think of it. Very low maintenance pet, though. Just give it some paperwork every now and then and it will not run away! =P

Anonymous said...

@Edward -- I couldn't agree more. Linux and OSS is a grass roots movement and that's not a bad thing. If it had been some corporate initiative, then we'd still be stuck with limited access and/or choice, restrictive EULAs, etc.

But because it is a grass roots effort and thanks to the foresight of folks like RMS, it is open. The down side of that is it lacks certain resources... like a marketing department.

People have considered appealing to the LUGs, but such an effort still requires focus and consistency. To that end, your strategy is the most sound that I've heard.

Focus and consistency are key in a marketing effort. If members of a sales force all make up their own talking points, the competition will find out and rip that effort apart for lack of credibility. So in that sense, variety works against a marketing effort.

Like I said in my earlier post, the content to begin a genuine marketing effort is available. There also is plenty of supporting evidence to validate our claims. But we still need a way to focus the effort. If we could get several LUGs all presenting the same info, I think we'd start to see some results.

There is more rationale to support this strategy than I care to go in to here.

If anyone would like to discuss this further, feel free to contact me at paul at concertedsystems dot com.

Anonymous said...

"The direct quote (that will be keeping me up at night): 'I HATE open source!'"

I'd hazard a guess that he's gotten some heat over his decision to NOT use Open Source within the company. Especially with the current state of the economy. I think I'd be testy, too, after having to defend my increasing software licensing and maintenance budget for the unpteenth time.

Unknown said...

Heh... All it takes is educating people about the alternatives. While there's annoyances- my wife and stepkids all are using Linux these days. The family had all heard of Linux but wasn't sure of things until they tried it. Largely, they've not turned back. Less hassles. More muscle available out of the machines than with Windows7 or Vista.

All it takes is education of the alternative. And I can tell you, Ken, while I can't state how I know this, there's changes afoot in at least one of the major OEMs right at the moment in that space, if I've been told right. And I'm hoping so...means more market share for things like Caster and the other stuff I've ported or am porting. ;-)

FelixTheCat said...

There's a few sources of Linux marketing ingredients including one radio spot put together by Ken and others. The voiceover is available to anyone that wants to use it in their local market and there's plenty of royalty-free music you can use. I don't have a link to the audio file but it's on here somewhere.

Big companies don't market Linux, barely even whisper it, but they'll sure as shootin' sprawl "We recommend Windows!!" over every single stinking product web page. Remember that video from the Linux Collaboration Summit we had in Austin a couple of years ago, where the panel said, "We don't advertise components, just our solutions!"?? Yet, even to this day, they will still cram as much MS advertising they can muster into every crevice.

I'm cynical.

msounhein said...

What it comes down to is change is too hard for most people and companies.

Gavin said...

sirj77 - Have you thought about cutting off your personal flow of tech support for Windows? If you do not fix it, no one will come clamoring at your door. Just a thought.

joineric - I would personally like to see GNU/Linux come into prominence, if only to see how it would stand up to the general public en masse. But of course there is also the point to consider that GNU/Linux benefits to a certain degree from being on the fringes. I do not know which is more beneficial for GNU/Linux in general, but I suspect some part of the organizational structure would have to change if popularity were to experience a huge up-tick. Canonical is a decent reference full of possibilities (but not rules) as to what could happen. Still, I would like to see the rate of progress increase a bit. Not massively so, but a bit.

The companies that make use of Linux, or GNU, or FOSS et al, are companies first and foremost. That tethers them a bit in terms of what they can do. Or what they think they can do. And of course being companies means they have a few suits at the top making important decisions. Necessary for a company but not conducive to pure tech & research. Not to mention they are still quite small compared to M$ or Apple. The list of excuses is long, even if it makes good business sense.

I also find it annoying when they develop closed-source software and run it on top of open-source software. Yes, I know they can technically do that, but it is still really annoying! I also dislike it when they commoditize the software to be "certified" to run on particular hardware. What does it matter what hardware I have as long as everything is supported?

Windows servers are just plain confusing. Why does M$ have so many tools for fixing & maintaining & migrating? How about doing it correctly the first time? How about not changing the format of data every time a new product is released? How about: Convert -> Import -> Start? How difficult is that when you are the one who wrote all the software and determined all the data formats? I do not understand.

And why is it that M$ (and others like Apple) have difficulty writing code for explicit protocols? Is DNS really that complicated? Is POP really that obfuscated? Or do the suits think that adherence to world-wide protocols is simply not their style?

Kevin (Whizard72) said...


Hence the reason I said that I hate Windows servers. I love Linux on servers and it's the only thing I will support.

Microsoft (Apple,etc) isn't interested in complying with standards so much as controlling them and/or making them suit their own product lines for their own interests.

Just look at how IE8 can't even pass the ACID3 test. It doesn't comply with W3C standards very well and security? Forget it.

No browser is perfect but IE is a bit like driving through the backstreets of East St. Louis with a Cadillac and $100 bills in the windows.

Mr. Doran said...


I am currently running Linux Mint and am using Firefox 3.6.3 which I most certainly did not compile from source. I added the ubuntuzilla ppa to my sources list. Adding a ppa is not the same as downloading an exec file, but it is not any more difficult. I copied and pasted 3 commands into a terminal to get the latest version of Firefox.

Perhaps the typical user would be intimidated by this procedure, but in my experience, the typical user is not usually interested in having the latest version of Firefox or any other software. All that person wants to do is write an email, edit a photo, or do some other activity.

Someone who is concerned about getting whatever marginal benefit the latest software version is supposed to provide is no a person who is just concerned with using the computer as an appliance. I know, because I am that type of person. Yet, in spite of spending far more time than I should, messing with my computer instead of just using it to get things done, I only have one program on it compiled from source -- the latest org-mode for emacs.

Clearly, only a tiny minority of Linux users ever need to worry about compiling software.

Gavin said...

"Hence the reason I said that I hate Windows servers. I love Linux on servers and it's the only thing I will support."


If you do not mind my asking, why do you prefer Windows for your desktop? I use Windows almost exclusively for gaming because GNU/Linux with Wine is not yet perfect. Have you considered multiple desktops? My laptop, for instance, is a triple-boot system.

"Clearly, only a tiny minority of Linux users ever need to worry about compiling software."


I do not disagree with this. I also fail to see how this relates to anything I have said (typed). Please enlighten me.

Does Linux Mint have the latest version of every program? Do its default repositories contain no packages that are outdated? Are extra repositories available that contain only the latest packages without the need to compile anything? Do you know of another GNU/Linux distribution that does require one to compile from source?

The fact that a particular distro does have the latest version of a particular program chosen at random has nothing to do with what I have said (typed). The fact that not every version of every program on every distro requires one to compile from source has nothing to do with what I have said (typed). The fact that most GNU/Linux users do not need to worry about having the latest version of every program on every distro has nothing to do with what I have said (typed).

My point is that IF you want the latest versions of the programs on your system, you need to know how to compile from source because you will eventually run into that scenario.

That is it. That is all there is to it. Yes, I agree that having the latest versions of all the programs on your system is not necessary. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it would be a terrible waste of time for most users. I would recommend that most users avoid tracking the versions of all of their programs. It is not necessary for most programs. There are a few programs across which I have run that require compilation, and Kevin listed an example of one that caused grief for him. But that is the extent of the topic thus far because everyone else has lost it. Or perhaps never found it.

I am going back to waiting for Ubuntu 10.04...

Anonymous said...

Well... good luck with your Ubuntu 10.something. Ubuntu is nice but is too the wild jungle. There is no law there. Everything changes as you breathe !

I use professionally Linux and I am happy with. But for reading mail, writing docs or browsing the net everybody in the Co. uses Windoze. Not because is better than Linux as OS - far from that. And I can say hand on heart: "Windoze sucks HARD!". But everything mundane you have to do on a daily basis looks better/nicer with it. And is uniform and is the same for everybody. You just throw it there and you use it. YES you have to reboot each other day - occasionally you may lose your work - but that's it - is in the life style of the planet.

Linux may brag with its reliability and functionality and many other qualities... It is not user friendly. And becomes really unpleasant when you have a problem.

So let's be pragmatic - let Linux to professionals. Use Linux for work/serious_stuff and Windoze to play, email and browse the net.

Have fun,

Anonymous said...

""Windoze sucks HARD!". But everything mundane you have to do on a daily basis looks better/nicer with it."

Everything? Not hardly. Most users spend most of their time in a browser. I contend that Firefox is Firefox. What about Firefox in Linux looks better in Windows. Nothing. Now are you talking about the "polish" of Windows programs as opposed to Linux? Ok, I can give you that and give you an example.

I use Linux every day on my computers but was over at a friends house for a party. They wanted to watch a DVD connected to their computer via the television. The "DVD Now" program that popped up was gorgeous. I remember thinking how much better it looked than the old Mplayer or VLC in Linux. Five minutes later the DVD program crashed and they spent 30 minutes trying to fix it. Finally someone installed VLC and the movie played to the end without issue. I guess you are willing to sacrifice function and working status for pretty glassy bobbles.

"You just throw it there and you use it. YES you have to reboot each other day - occasionally you may lose your work - but that's it - is in the life style of the planet."

Your troll status just exposed itself. You not only have to reboot every other day, you have to run resource-consuming anti virus and spyware crap that slows your computer down and often screws up the registry. Don't make excuses for a product that is proven to be inherently insecure and buggy. I haven't rebooted my Linux machine in over 40 days. I haven't lost a bit of work. For me it is NOT the way of the world...maybe for your world, yes.

The rest of your post is just trollish drivel. Ken has hundreds of kids using Linux on a daily basis without problem or crash. Fact is there are very few problems that require a second echelon administrator to fix...most of them are simple. You did not possess the knowledge to fix problems in windows at birth, you had to learn how to fix them. Same with Linux. Most people are simply too lazy to do something different, even if it is better. Linux is the PERFECT system to use for just email and browsing purposes. No virus worries, open most any attachment with impunity and nothing slows down to a crawl becuase your antivirus is "checking your system". Oh, and I suppose you are extremely comfortable with the EULA you had to agree to to use Windows. That alone is a sad, sad thing.

Killer said...

There wasn't a Windows image available for my work PC, so I installed Kubuntu on it myself without consulting with IT. I was worried that I might get into trouble for doing it so I talked to my boss(Director of Software and Product Engineering) and he said that he was glad I did and he wasn't concerned about it because it's now a Linux box and it's solid as a rock! :)

Anonymous said...

This leaves the rest of us (to do linux marketing). I'm thinking of Linux User Groups. Lugs are the natural forum for marketing to small and medium sized businesses, since lug members are in that community everyday.

I've attended LUG meetings in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Chicago and Denver. In my first visit to every one of them, I was ignored by most at best and rudely ignored even when asking a question during the meetings. The general attitude was if you are not interested in what we are interested in, just leave. Most of them were showing off their raid arrays or sharing bash scripts and talking about some obscure hardware problem. Not one of these groups had any interest in a new user focus. They were all exclusive geek boys clubs. Having any of these groups try to market Linux would be a disaster. Not that any of them would have any interest in doing so. I've seen better social skills in behavioral problem groups.

FelixTheCat said...

That stuff about LUGS is sad but true more often than not. Very first install I did had video driver issues so I thought, hey, folks at the local LUG should be able to help. Plopped down, some introductions made along with letting everyone know I needed a hand. The entire meeting no one even said "I feel your pain," much less give me any pointers.

Even trying to have a civil conversation on some of the mailing lists, you get run over with more people wanting to drill you with how wrong your question/assumption/answer/work/choice of friends/spelling/life are, rather than having a decent debate. Geek ego overruneth. I've learned to lurk instead of being active anymore, and only communicate directly to a select few that actually have manners and scruples.

Dare I say, this crap happens in many circles. It does get magnified on the 'Net when people say stuff behind a keyboard they wouldn't dare say in person.

Glad this crew has their heads on straight.

Scott M said...

The name "Linux" carries around a bit of baggage. This is unsurprising, because it was originally developed by geeks, for geeks. I think Ken is right-on with his assessment.

Strong branding stands on its own. Go to Do you see "Linux" --anywhere-- on that homepage?

Here's some food for thought. Most sales pitches are won or lost in less than a minute. You have failed if you either accomplish nothing in that time (the customer's attention goes elsewhere) or if you scare the potential customer off. The best way to succeed in your pitch if you use it to build value in your product. Your job is easier if the customer has heard of your brand, so you don't have to take time out of your pitch to explain too much.

Ubuntu might not be the perfect choice for each user, but it's going to work reasonably well for the overwhelming majority. Canonical's strength is in marketing and brand definition of what would otherwise be a less-than-remarkable Linux desktop distribution. Negative preconceptions might keep Linux off some desktops, but Ubuntu is more palatable.

Brad Fallon said...

Whats the difference between Linux and windows hosting? Do i need Linux on my system to linux host?

Carl said...

I have known about Linux since it started. I never had a computer that could run Linux. Shows what lousy computers I had. Then about Three years ago I started playing with Linux and have been using Linux for the last two years. I am trying to get a LUG started in my community. The several LUG's that were here the hosts of those LUG's all Graduated and moved on and currently there are no LUG's in this area. The only two that are close are both over three hours away - one way. I am not a guru, I would still consider myself a new user. There are so many that refuse to acknowledge Linux. That is because the people who maintain the Servers use Windows and don't want to use Linux. They paid good money to learn Windows.