Linux

Linux needs boxes


I know this is going to sound silly to many but...

I remember the days of old (that'd be the mid to late '90s) when I could walk into any given sudo-geek shop (Best Buy, CompUSA, Circuit City...) and find boxed Linux products on the shelf. It was usually your standard fare (Red Hat, Caldera Linux, SuSE, Mandrake...) and the price ranged from 19.99 to 79.99. And I'll never forget stepping up to the shelf, picking up my first box of Red Hat Linux and feeling so proud that I was one of those in the shop interested in this operating system. I knew that few others there had the stones to give it a try and it gave my ego a boost.

But even more important, it gave the Linux operating system a presence. People, average Janes, could see for themselves that there were alternatives to Windows and those alternatives could be very, very cheap. 

And they had a shiny, shrink-wrapped box in their hand to prove it.

But now about the only way to get Linux is to download the iso image or, in the case of Ubuntu, know how to request a CD be shipped to you. Just another layer between the people and the machine keeping Linux from growing even more popular.

Linux needs to return to the shelves. Linux needs shiny plastic boxes (and aluminum Christmas trees) so people can touch it and know it's there and real. This gives the operating system, and it's people, validity.

Problem is, it's free. Okay, so it's not really a problem. But it makes things a bit muddy. You see if I wanted to I could take Ubuntu (or any distribution for that matter), repackage it, call it mine, and sell it on the shelves. But not very many people who are interested in the success of Linux have deep enough pockets to foot that bill.

And now with Microsoft releasing a new version of Windows that will pollute the software departments of every store, Linux is going to find it even harder to gain new ground, to entice new users.

So how do we do it? Do we burn iso's on our own and pass them out at every LUG gathering we can? Well, that won't do much because you're preaching to the choir. Do we give them out to our geek-wanna-be friends at Christmas time and tell them they will finally find peace on earth (at least with their computer)?

It's a tough shell to crack. But there has to be someway to get Linux back on the shelves and into the hands of the people. I miss walking through the isles of the geek-stops and glowing because I AM A LINUX USER! 

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

29 comments
mltaunt
mltaunt

Here's my suggestion for putting Linux on peoples' radar screen. Burn lots of copies of Knoppix (runs off CD). Give them to all those people (in laws, siblings, parents) who call you whenever their PC, locks up, starts acting weird, runs agonizingly slow, refuses to do anything unless user follows cryptic error messages (pick one or more). Tell them "just boot from that disc and I'll be over this weekend" (or some such). By the time you get there, you may find they want Linux installed permanently. Works for me!

asgr86
asgr86

Just Try Vista

lastchip
lastchip

It's over-hyped and over-priced!

intj-astral
intj-astral

Yes, the red pill of the matrix; the one that opens your mind and rocks your world. This time next week, I will have finished a continuing ed writing course- with all my submitted work done in Star Office running on Linux. I do my computing with a peace of mind I never had in Windows. Isn't that alone worth trying it? I have not felt this free to write since my typewriter days. Some of you may have only seen them in the movies, but I actually got through college on one.

jlwallen
jlwallen

Why should people try Vista when a free alternative is available? But my point is about availability here. Not about whether or not you should try Vista.

rwe9
rwe9

It has been previously reported that among the other various misbehaviors by the Darth Vaders of Microsoft, is that they have hired shills to put postings positive to MS, and negative to any competition on any web site where they might influence someone. I think you have found someone who is either paid by MS to recommend vista or he should be paid for his irrational devotion to the most destructive software company ever created.

jlwallen
jlwallen

Lobbiests of any kind are nothing more than political snake oil salesmen. they are promising the world but in reality selling the same old junk.

asgr86
asgr86

Try Vista

joel.g.altman1
joel.g.altman1

I can't afford Vista. Ubuntu, however, came free and works great.

jlwallen
jlwallen

I once did a cost comparison between Linux and Windows. To purchase the equivalent applications on a Windows machine that equaled the applications that came on any freely-distributed Linux distribution would cost nearly 4,000 USD. now we're talking TOC

jlwallen
jlwallen

The Gimp :: Photoshop Scribus :: Quark OpenOffice :: Office GnuCash :: Quicken just for starters...

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

How much would it cost to purchase the Windows applications equivalent to the free ones you use, excluding the ones that came with the distro but that you ignore? The LAMP suite is a great bargain, but how many home users write programs for their web-served databases? Free software is always less costly to obtain than purchased software.Comparing free software to software you wouldn't have purchased in the first place isn't a valid comparison. Free iguana chow is a bargain too, but how many people keep iguanas?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"Try Vista" How does your comment apply to this topic? This isn't a "Windows vs. Linux" debate, it's a discussion of the viability of Linux distribution via retail outlets.

rwe9
rwe9

I think most people buy computers, and want the hardware and software to work and cause them little trouble. And, it is the shortage of computers with the Linux os, and other applications on the hard drive, of a competitively priced, and full of ready to go software, is the missing box, not shrinkwrap which appeals to a much smaller group of potential customers.

georgeou
georgeou

ID Software got its start with Doom by asking 711 and computer stores to offer Doom for $10. The stores could get the disks from ID Software for free and the only they they had to do was sell it for $10 and not give it away for free. This was a massive success for ID Software. I don't see why Linux distributors couldn't ask stores to download and burn their disks to sell them at $5 or $10. All they would need to do is give permission to sell it and it would actually reduce their outbound bandwidth requirements.

jlwallen
jlwallen

Stress Junkie hit the nail on the head. I know there are a number of PC manufacturers (www.pogolinux.com being one of them) that offer a discount for choosing Linux as the OS. and that's exactly what companies need to do to get people choosing Linux. We all know that people are looking to cut corners as much as they can. If the average user sees they can cut a 100.00 dollars off their PC cost by choosing an alternative OS - they'll do it for sure. Great idea SJ. now we just have to wave our flag a bit higher so the companies will see it.

stress junkie
stress junkie

The GPL has always allowed a distributor to recover costs of distribution and make a profit. The problems with hoping that stores will do this are legion. First, there isn't much in store demand. Second, it takes time to burn CDs. Then someone has to obtain or make some nice artwork for the package, and people won't buy anything unless it is shrink wrapped. Putting all of that together makes Mr. Store Owner say "Looks like too much trouble." and forget about it. When I hang out at linuxquestions.org I get discouraged about whether Linux has a chance of gaining a huge market share in the home computer market. I see questions that make me wonder if people are just idiots or what the hell is wrong with them. Questions like "I can make my cursor purple in Windows so how can I do that in Linux." Purple cursors. Hmmmm. And these are the people that are already adventurous enough to try Linux. The average home computer user won't be at all happy with Linux when 12 buttons on their 15 button mouse won't do anything in Linux. They won't be at all happy when you can't get graphic hardware acceleration on their new $500 ATI card or when most of the functions on an ATI All in Wonder card won't work. Linux works well in the corporate server environment. Twelve years ago Linux enthusiasts would have been happy to see corporations deploy Linux rather than purchase additional Microsoft server licenses. That day has arrived. Today even IBM offers Linux as an option on their entry and mid level servers. I say that we should declare victory and go home.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"The problems with hoping that stores will do this are legion. First, there isn't much in store demand. Second, it takes time to burn CDs. Then someone has to obtain or make some nice artwork for the package, and people won't buy anything unless it is shrink wrapped." That hasn't stopped AOL from putting CDs in the stores for free, and sometimes eating the added cost of postage.

stress junkie
stress junkie

AOL probably had a big wad of venture capital to take that approach. The only people coming close to this strategy are the Ubuntu people. They give Ubuntu installation CDs away on request, including postage. I suppose that one of the commercial distributions like Red Hat or SuSE could do that. Otherwise who has the money and incentive to do that? I was trying to say that the people at CompUSA or Circuit City have no incentive to create installation CDs and put them in their stores. If a computer store CEO happened to be a Linux enthusiast then they might decide to do that. Otherwise there is no commercial incentive to create installation CDs of one distribution and sell them near the cost to create them. I'm surprised that CompUSA carries SuSE Linux installation kits. They cost US$95 per kit. At least one large chain store has Linux on their shelves. I have purchased several of my SuSE versions from them to try to create in-store demand.

jlwallen
jlwallen

many linux developers are doing everything they can to ensure the stability, security, and scalability of the OS. there needs to be more effort put forth to make sure the 50 buttons on the mouse and keyboard all work with the OS. i know that KDE has taken huge strides to do this and they have succeeded on many levels. but one of the issues i abhor with this is the idea that the Linux desktop must mimic the Windows desktop in order to get people to use it. i have always found the Windows desktop to be rather counter-intuitive and desktops like KDE to be quit intelligently designed. problem is...education. one thing the DE developers need to think about are simple tutorials for first-time boots. it could be as simple as a presentation that walks the user through upon first boot of the DE. of course an experienced user could click on option to bypass the presentation. people just need to be educated. and i know the majority of users don't want to have to learn something new - but if they understood that there are better options, they'd make better choices. so maybe KDE and GNOME need to put a little more effort into educating new users - and not wit LUGS and howtos and RTFMs. because at one point i was told to RTFM and nearly turned away.

Q'sDad
Q'sDad

Walmart has sold Linux Computers on-line for years. Look up "Linspire" under Electronics at Walmart.com. I only found one today, but at Christmas time, they were selling several models.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

and I have brought that up to people who work at these places. From what I understand at one of them, there are people trying to push for this addition. Some problems that occur is in the support. If people buy an HP or Dell system with Linux pre-loaded, then they will be looked at first for support. If the support is not excellent, then they probably lost a customer for future purchases. Support, especially for additional OS's can cost a lot not only to setup, but to continue with. This leads to a lot of financial descisions, which do not look good on paper. If 1 out of every 30 people purchase Linux, then yes, it may be worth it to setup, but for 1 out of several hundred, it is not worth it nearly as much. So far none of the big guys wants to take this on. And finally, which versions to choose from? There are more than a few, and whatever they sell, they will need to have support for. Each has their own issues and different styles/setups/tools.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

From what I understand, PC makers such as Dell, IBM, HP, and others are forced to sell a system with an OS (by Microsoft), but the OS does not have to be an MS OS. That means that they cannot sell a system without OS, or MS will pull the licenses. Then, although they do offer Linux on some systems, it is only offered on higher end systems and not for home use. That is partially because they do not expect to sell many of them, and possibly because of benefits from MS (no proof on this, but I am sure). To obtain a white box system, it is either build it yourself, or find a smaller places that will put them together. Sometimes they can be found, but usually with inferior parts, and older technology, but at a cheap price.

lastchip
lastchip

I've been saying for ages, lack of good quality tutorials and well written documentation is a major reason (along with poor marketing) Linux distros are held back. The "man" command is OK in itself, but a: you have to know how to access it, and b: it can seem very intimidating to even some IT professionals. Let's face it, anything in "man" was written by developers, for developers and frankly, Joe public has almost no chance of making sense of it. Joe user does not want to know he/she needs such and such a library to make something work and the apt-get system to a point resolves that, but the fact of the matter is, if Linux is to make significant inroads on to the desktop, application installations have to be via a GUI, accompanied by clear documentation. You have to look at it from the perspective of a new user taking a machine home for the first time. Can he/she click and go? Because that's what modern home computing is all about.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"The average home user doesn't even know that Linux exists or what it is." Don't you think some cheap CDs in Wal-Mart would help fix that? Many people here state that Linux is not trying to compete with Windows. Great, but if there's no marketing going on, the majority will remain unaware of your product, no matter how great. Most distros already have some kind of logo. Stick that on the front and brag about the security. Artwork problem solved. Any garage band can afford to burn a few hundred CDs and sell them at cost at the local pub. Best Buy can surely afford to crank out a few hundred thousand, stick them on the shelf at $5.00 each, and rake in the cash. (Use the money they make on interest on unfulfilled rebates.) Make it live boot with an option to install, and include a link to purchase documentation and support. Damn, why aren't I doing this? No entrepreneurial spirit, I guess.

stress junkie
stress junkie

I think that the point of having a large manufacturer offer the option of installing Linux in place of Windows would be that the average home user would be exposed to the option for the first time. The average home user doesn't even know that Linux exists or what it is. If the Dell web pages that configure a computer had a step where you choose one operating system or the other then more people would choose Linux. The same goes for other direct marketing manufacturers like Hewlett Packard et. al. If the average home user could save $100 by selecting Linux then some of them would give Linux a try. Another advantage is that corporate sales would have the option of having Linux preinstalled. If you could save $100 per computer by choosing Linux over Windows then people who purchase 100 computers at a time would give some thought to using Linux.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You have to get away from the "big box" retailers. Any local independent computer store will be happy to build you a box without an OS, and most will install Linux.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

It's damn hard to buy a "naked" PC or a PC pre-installed with Linux. I'm pretty sure this is due to MS pushing the OEM market

mcgimenez
mcgimenez

I'dont know if in the states the situation is similar but here in Europe is it almost imposible to buy a PC without his MSWindows license. If it were posible to buy it without OS or with any Linux flavor, many guys will take that way. This (IMHO) will be a far more important issue than seeing Linux boxes. But Microsoft knows it and put his pressure on main distributors that keeps saying that: "If you don't want the OS then I can't sell you the computer" The only chance, then, is self assembled computers or (even worse) paying for something you don't like and are not going to use. P.S.: sorry for my bad english.

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