Linux

Who said Linux couldn't make you money?

The Linux Box has made a name for itself as a small IT firm that specializes in Linux and open source technologies. They have recently announced something big and proven that Linux can make money.

Many times I have considered this very thing: Open a consultancy that focused primarily on Linux and open source. I knew there had to be a way to make it work. Many scoffed and said it couldn't be done, that open source wouldn't sell. Of course now that I've been working with a consultancy firm I see how easy it is to make money supporting Windows (it breaks ALL the time!). Linux, on the other hand, is a hard sell to those who make money babysitting operating systems.

But someone has done it, and done it well. That someone? The Linux Box. The "Box" was established in 1999 in order to provide regional, national, and international customers with support for open source technologies. On top of that, they commit 20% of their budget back into open source software development (to projects like OpenAFS, Moodle, Drupal, dotProject, Jobby, Squid, and more). Located in Ann Arbor Michigan, The Linux Box works closely with the community and has built its business around close collaboration with customers.

In other words - they get it. They get what it means to be a successful IT firm as well as a contributer to the open source community. And now...their hard work and dedication is paying off big. Recently The Linux Box announced a partnership with Canonical to market, sell, and support the Ubuntu operating system. With the help of Canonical, The Linux Box will help businesses in the U.S. to embrace Ubuntu Linux and help with large-scale migration.

I am sure there are many out there who think this model will fail. But it hasn't yet. It's been successful for nearly twelve years and now they are taking it up a notch with the help of Canonical. From my perspective this is big. Canonical has done amazing things with the Linux operating system. In fact, I would go so far as to say Canonical has done to Linux what Microsoft did to PCs in the early days. I say this because I hear Ubuntu (or Ubuntu Linux, or just Linux) heard in more places than ever, from people you wouldn't expect, and almost as casually as you would hear Windows (my favorite sitcom, "Big Bang Theory," even makes references to Linux). Linux has grown exponentially since I first started using it in '98.

And now, what people said couldn't be done, is being done. People are making money with Linux. I have been doing so for a decade as a writer. Red Hat and Novel are making profit with Linux as Enterprise-level makers of competing distributions. Oracle has MySQL and will most certainly capitalize on that. There are Linux magazines, Linux conventions...Linux is just about everywhere now and people are making money from it. And now, an IT consulting firm has stepped into a tiny point of limelight showing the world it's possible to make money as an open source consultancy.

Bravo to The Linux Box. I hope this sparks a number of new Linux/open source consultancies to spring up around the country (and the globe). Maybe even someone from Techrepublic will get the inspiration needed to start their own open source IT firm. This is good news for Linux and open source. And, who knows, maybe we'll see Linux stores across from the Mac stores in malls across the country. It could happen.

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.

38 comments
Barshalom
Barshalom

I am about to embark on selling linux computers as a side business. I work with Microsoft products all the time, but I see a market niche to sell linux systems. The key issue with a linux system is solutions, not just linux in itself. What are the benefits of a linux system for me? Emphasize the benefits and that could be the selling point.

ScarF
ScarF

should be a PC builder/vendor who's selling PCs with Linux pre-installed, under its name. Why not, the same packaging model as Dell's or Apple's - actually, Apple is selling Intel PCs with a non-MS OS? This step must be taken "yesterday".

jfreedle2
jfreedle2

I am tired of hearing about the Linux garbage.

pgit
pgit

I was setting up a wireless access point in an office the other day, and it came time to fire up one of the user's laptops to connect... I was pleased to see this woman had set up dual boot, Vista and Ubuntu options showing on the splash. I chided her (kiddingly) for Vista being the default. =D She said she does use ubuntu for everything except when she has work-related tasks to do. (a doctor's office) If she's just using the internet, reading mail etc she uses Linux. I asked how she came to the point of installing ubuntu and she answered "it just seemed the right thing to do." I didn't ask her to elaborate. (I could, I'm doing more work there Thursday) I've thought about going Linux-exclusive and I may just do it yet. (maybe subconsciously I'm thinking "early retirement?")

sar10538
sar10538

We have been led to believe that the market is all about software sales by the lies of Microsoft, et al, but the time is ripe to move to a service based system. I think a better service can be provided for users like this as it's it's not down to a one size fits all approach as sold by the box pushers and it has more potential to make money for the people providing this service. The big thing that has been holding back the adoption of Linux by business is the impression that is is a very risky area to tread as it has no support. Once they can see that there is very real support, as a providers only or primary service, they will start to take it seriously as the running costs of Windows can be very high in the corporate environment. Licensing alone is a big expense and what with the constant need to audit a companies deployment portfolio means that some business' are having to employ full time people to manage this or risk being externally audited and being caught with its pants down.

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

Why would one limit their business market? Virtually every consulting firm that I have experience with supports Windows and Linux. Why not do both? Why limit your potential income?

skippythetubrat
skippythetubrat

I work for a non-profit agency which operates a second-hand IT gear retail outlet. Basically we refurbish/repair/recycle IT gear and use the profits for charitable work. I'm one of the techs on site. I'm also a long-time Penguinista. I've run a Linux desktop since 2000. We try to keep a few Linux boxes in our store front at all times. Generally they're decently spec'd whiteboxes that come in sans a Windows activation sticker. Rather than simply parts the system out I'll build it up a bit, attach the best monitor/speakers we've got on hand, toss in a *nix compatible printer, load Linux Mint, add some more applications than what is included in the standard install and put it out as a package deal. The last one I put together didn't even make it off my workbench before someone decided they absolutely HAD to have it. The shop where I'm working is getting to be known among the locals as the place to go if you want a Linux install done, want a pre-installed/pre-configured Linux box or just have some questions about it. We're by no means a Linux-only shop - but offering it as part of our services/sales has added to our bottom line - and that's a good thing. I know you can make money off of Linux. I'm doing it.

dnck1985
dnck1985

system 76 is another example.

Lennie_
Lennie_

"Can a Linux-only IT shop survive ?" Look at Redhat they _are_ a services/consultancy firm, they are a top500 firm.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If it's in a large market where there are enough potential customers aware of Linux, sure. I wouldn't try it in a town with a population of less than, say, 250K.

IndianArt
IndianArt

Insightful and Interesting article, Jack Linux stores in Malls is a great idea. This will take away the drudgery and the technical expertise in installing any OS, including a Linux OS. I know this sounds silly, but I feel most people don't have the time or the skill to install an OS (Windows included). They would find experimenting with hardware intimidating (and even dangerous!) :) Plus, these stores can save us money as most PC's come with Windows pre-installed and we pay for that in license fees already included in the price of that computer. These stores can sell accessories that are Linux compatible along with Linux compatible software. Although I am a hardcore Ubuntu fan and I know millions use it, I have to admit that most people I know had not heard of it. Linux stores can help. Also, I feel it should be marketed by letting people know what it can do, like email, browsing, word processing, photo editing etc. It should be marketed with emphasis on stability, safety, speed, security, cost etc. It should be marketed with emphasis on the fact that it runs great and popular programs well like Firefox, Picasa, Google earth, Chrome, Desktop etc. I know there are online stores selling Ubuntu computers, like: http://www.eightvirtues.com http://www.system76.com/ But I'm not sure if there are any 'regular' stores that sell it pre-installed. Can a Linux-only IT shop survive? Sure, and I feel they can not only survive but also thrive because there is so much value. I like the stability and the customization. An OS like Ubuntu Linux is very user friendly. I feel more software should be written around Linux, which will enhance productivity that would save time and effort and save and make money. God knows, we need that help in this economy! ;)

jlwallen
jlwallen

they are already selling pre-installed Linux systems. I've reviewed one of their laptops and they are top-notch. a bit on the pricey side...but the hardware is good and the software, well, you can't beat it. ;-) www.system76.com

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Dell announced it would sell systems with Linux pre-installed a few years ago. Linux advocates cheered; consumers snored. Dell still sells them, but you have to be Indiana Jones to find that corner of the web site.

jlwallen
jlwallen

why is it you are tired of hearing about Linux?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

So I don't turn it on. I'm tired of people whining about subjects they aren't interested in, but seeing an article with that subject in the title, opening the article, and reading it anyway.

rtruck
rtruck

Don't click on links with 'Linux' in the title.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

That way she can boot Ubuntu exclusively, and keep Vista off the Internet (and safe from Windows malware) -- except for the occasional need to connect for updates, etc. I prefer VirtualBox for this. After logging in, start VB in a second desktop workspace and launch Windows. Then click between them to run the OS you need at the moment. No need to reboot just to check your email!

Sagax-
Sagax-

The paradigm in the past has been buy (license) software AND support that software either in-house or outsource. The new paradigm is pay for support/service (sometimes no more than would have been paid in license fees) and use free software. Linux Box success is based upon "hire me and don't worry about the software".

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

I read a couple years ago that MS achieved server _dominance_, (not majority) because many Unix/NetWare boxes had been converted to _Linux_. If the trend continues, Windows servers will not attain majority, and Linux will. Doesn't mean Linux will arrive on the desktop soon.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

You can't be all things to all people, so you target a particular customer base. That's why Wallyworld, Target, Sears, Macy's, and Nieman Marcus can all not only coexist, but succeed.

maxtheitpro
maxtheitpro

Nice post Skippy! Ya can't go wrong with Linux Mint. :-)

jlwallen
jlwallen

take for instance Ann Arbor (where The Linux Box resides). As of the 2000 Census, the city had a population of 114,024, of which 36,892 (32%) are university or college students. So with a population that fluctuates according to school admission and schedule, The Linux Box still seems to be doing pretty well.

Buitremx
Buitremx

I live in Mexico City and I believe that most (maybe up to 80%) of the micro and small entrepreneurs use pirated software. So I'm trying to set-up a Linux IT shop. The people I've talked to are interested because they don't buy original software due to it's high cost (500 USD for a PC and 2K~3K USD for the software, at least) but would get Free and Open Software if it carries a licence. Unfortunately, the investors that I've talked to are not interested, since they can't understand my business plan based on added value and quality service, not on the number of software boxes sold. Luckily, Acer is helping me, first by having several business PC's that already carry Linpus or come without Windows (FreeDos instead), so I can install Linux Mint on them. And they have showed interest in Mint! So, my answer to your question is still a couple of years away, but I hope that I will be able to say a rotund YES!

ScarF
ScarF

Dell had a shy tentative to sell Linux PCs. I believe that Linux needs the same as Apple: a PC manufacturer to sell Linux PCs, only. This manufacturer will have to find innovative ways to sell its stuff and earn money, while avoiding selling Windows PCs. This would be a convincing business able to successfully provide Linux to consumers. The existence of an intermediate layer between Linux and the consumers - geeks able to install the OS on their aunt's PC or consultants for installing Linux in enterprises - is a non-functional model. The consumer must be able to find himself the PC with the OS pre-installed, ready to use, and sufficient documentation to help him accomplish tasks of interest - such as Internet browsing, emailing, using Open Office, managing his digital pictures and videos, listening music etc.

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

I like that. If you don't like the message stop listening to the messanger. I love it!

pgit
pgit

That would be nice. Problem is licensing. She has no disks (recovery partition) and even if she had disks my experience has been MS considers it "new hardware" and it won't install... =(

sar10538
sar10538

That way the end user can have exactly what they want and have it fully supported at the same time. It should cost no more, probably even a lot less as you still have to pay for the support of closed-systems.

sar10538
sar10538

Agreed on the server side as Linux has a very good footing out there in areas like web servers and Oracle has MySQL which has become a strong database solution. It's interesting to see that Microsoft has seen the rise in Samba enabled Linux servers so has changed their network sharing system again, probably in an attempt to counteract this. Microsoft could never stand competition anyway, they don't play well in the sandpit and just send all the other boys and girls away with their tantrums and throwing the sand in their eyes. The main problem on the desktop is that people are blinkered into using apps that are not available under Linux. Despite it's capability of doing 99+% of what 99+% users actually want to do, OpenOffice is on the back foot as users demand MS Office at an infinitely higher percentage cost. It's still the case that users demand specific apps despite there are others that can do as well if not better for the tasks that they need. If more commercial people used it there is likely to be some money put into the pot for Linux apps to be polished to what the industry needs and if you look at the site that this article is about you can see they are more about developing than supporting. Oh, but wait, software patents will likely be used to keep the industry in the dark ages of software box-shifting. IMHO it would be better to give the razor away and just sell the blades, as you make more money that way, but that suites me well. Closed source just ends up squashing competition and this is bad for consumers. People need support for their problems and to tailor things to work for their needs. All this refinement that is developed in the real World can be fed back in to the base so everyone gains and the rate of evolution speeds up. Real people that use the software in the real World can get what they really want then, not what is cooked up in some closed planning meetings that supposedly spit out the next great thing which is only a thinly veiled way of making the old product incompatible and forcing more money out of the users hands. Lets face it, Microsoft's primary business is not to supply software, it's just a money making machine for it's investors and that is who they pander too, not you and me.

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

I was referring to consulting firms not retail. With a few exceptions, Linux in the retail chain has failed miserably. Sure, this article was supposed to be a counterpoint to that, but I just don't see it happening. Until I see Linux boxes flying off the shelves like HP, Dell, Acer, etc I don't think anyone can take a few small examples and reach any kind of grand conclusion. A successful niche, sure, mass market...no where close yet.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I wonder how much difference being in a university town of that size makes, compared to a similar sized place with no college.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

That's what my Congressman does. He's tired of hearing me kvetch, so he just kind of yawns and responds "Yeah," "OK," "Sure," "I understand." That, or I get a form letter. X-( He hears that I'm talking, but isn't listening to what I'm saying. :D

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

I've done this before without static from Microsoft... Your solution is probably to *transfer* the license from the native (hard drive) installation to the Virtual Machine installation. They probably are disallowing you to have the same license enabling XP on both the native install and the VM install, and want to you buy a second one. That means you have to remove the native-installed XP from your hard drive, or at least stop it from connecting to MS for updates -- that's how they "see" you trying to update two installs with the same license key. But you wouldn't need both installs (except, perhaps, for playing 3D games). Once you have the license transferred to a VM, you can run that install from your Linux boot. (Here's an alternative: Run Wine in Linux for Windows software -- but you'd better be good at tinkering. Better: Get CrossOver from CodeWeavers.com, since they've already done the needed tinkering for most popular Windows apps.)

pgit
pgit

Microsoft told me to stuff it when I tried to install the XP that was installed on the hardware (Dell Laptop) in a VM on the same machine running under Linux. Dell told me to talk to Microsoft. I have the install medium. (CD) I also tried on a compaq desktop (XP, have the CD) with the same result. In both cases keys were not an issue, except that the hardware-based keys balked because it detected the VM as being entirely different. Telling them it was going into a VM on the same hardware didn't matter a lick to the MS folk I talked to.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

There are many apps out there that can read the registry and recover her product keys. It's also possible to get a copy of the install disk for any of the Windows versions. (Many think it's despicable that the OEM vendors have stopped providing re-install disks -- what will she do if her hard drive dies completely?) You are correct that moving Windows to a VM will require re-activation, but that's not a show-stopper. Microsoft does allow transfer of licenses to a replacement/repaired/upgraded machine (with at most a phone call perhaps -- but not always). This is true even with an OEM install, provided that the VM is run on the original system. Here's another benefit to making the effort: Backing up & re-installing after an infection or corruption is MUCH easier when Windows is in a virtual machine.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

and you still failed to recognize it...

taylorstan
taylorstan

Remeber HP, Dell, Acer....are all just badges for the system. As far as I know Dell and HP sell Linux O/S computers also. Again, it's about the support. Give someone the same level of support for Linux as Windows and you'll start to see a shift. The major shift will be when the software and hardware makers offer Linux versions of their products.

taylorstan
taylorstan

I live in a town that has roughly 200K in the metro area. There is a medium sized university here, but mostly a commuter/local university for enrollment. I think a Linux Box store would work if it was in one of the malls here. Give the people support for *nix and it will take off. The average computer user basicly pushes a power button and hits the internet. So if something goes wrong, they won't know how to fix it. That's why Geek Squad charges 100 bucks to "fix" your PC and then up-sell you a hardware or software change to "avoid" it happening again. If Linux Box will offer the same type services on top of a much cheaper product(basicly paying for the hardware), then they will strive in any market. Advertising is also the key...."I AM A PENGUIN"....LOL

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