Linux and its closing window of opportunity with OEMs

FreeSoftwareMagazine posted today an editorial about the lack of Linux in OEM PCs. The author states three reasons for this status: lack of demand, Microsoft lobbying and support.

It’s very easy to point the finger to the computer users (lack of demand), the big bad wolf (Microsoft) and the OEMs (tech support). Yes, everyone is to blame, except the Linux companies/community. How stereotypical line of thought from fanatics: it’s everyone else’s fault, but not ours.

In 20 years from now, computer historians will have to write about this promising new OS, GNU/Linux, that sadly never took off and never had more than 2% market share on desktop installations despite it’s huge mind share. Then, the historians will elaborate why this happened, and the reason would be SEGMENTATION. When you have 370 Linux distros (latest count) and most importantly, none has above 25% of the overall Linux market (that’s Ubuntu right now), it means that 25% of a 2% that’s 0.5% from the overall PC market. And if that’s not enough, even if you decide to go with Ubuntu, SuSE and Fedora are big enough (about 13% each) to have their communities stir controversy and problems to the potential OEM company who would like to use Linux for their PCs/laptops. Going with Ubuntu would mean that they will only sell to 1/4 of what they could sell if Gnu/Linux was a single distro.

In other words, the real problem is the fact that “my linux distro is better than yours” mentality, and this just doesn’t work well in the marketplace. If there was a good-enough distro that would be able to have its own monopoly inside the Linux universe (e.g. if Ubuntu had 90% of all the Gnu/Linux desktop installations), things would be much better. OEMs want to sell something that it’s solid in terms of a product line, not having Joe shouting at them why they didn’t install Fedora instead, or having Jane shouting at them why her SuSE RPMs don’t work on Ubuntu. That’s a mess, and OEMs don’t want that.

So until the top-5 distros come together and create a single distro, OR, Ubuntu gets 90% of the Linux market, OEM PCs on a large scale will never happen. And it has nothing to do with Microsoft, or lack of demand, or tech support (which would be much easier as the OEMs would have to deal with a single major codebase and package management) that this article wants you to believe.

Post a comment »

moleskine wrote on December 19th, 2006 at 1:11 AM PST:

The responses to the original article suggest that distros could do more to help themselves. I think the example given was that Ubuntu goes to Sony and certifies that Ubuntu will run properly on Sony laptop models A, B and C. Ubuntu then goes to the major resellers of Sony laptops and does its level best to persuade the resellers that plenty of these laptop models should be in the retail channel and available for purchase, etc.

The market segmentation argument is a powerful one but at least as important, imho, are the blame game and money: that is, blaming everyone else for lack of open-source drivers, etc, but doing nothing myself; and having no money to spend on marketing and retail support. Modern retail is a hugely expensive and specialized business. Most Linux houses haven’t the first glimmer of the money and skills required. OEMs aren’t going to start sticking Linux on their hard disks in exchange for precisely nothing.


oktyabr wrote on December 19th, 2006 at 4:22 AM PST:

Heh, I certainly can’t find any more fault with your opinion than I can with the original article but I also can’t help feeling like maybe both of you are not only floating down the river without a paddle… you aren’t even on the right river!

Choice is what makes linux great, that will never change due to the nature of the open source paradigm that has fostered it. Marketing too does not apply to most linux distros, in the classic sense. Ubuntu will likely start commercial offerings in the form of supporting it’s free operating system, not by selling licenses to OEMs or end users. Even Microsoft is trying to remold itself as a service oriented company as opposed to only selling a product.

Finally, the real “war for the desktop” has just begun. As countries such as China become more and more technologically sophisticated as a populace the number of PCs in use worldwide will also increase dramatically. You think the majority of China’s personal computers sold in the next decade will run Vista?


mm wrote on December 19th, 2006 at 4:44 AM PST:

Don’t faill into the Microsoft market share trap. Microsoft likes to keep the discussion focused on market share, which is defined as the number of copies sold. We know that Linux is rarely sold (boxed or OEM pre-install), so of course the number is tiny.

If instead you look at installed base – the number of installed copies – the situation is very different. Some estimates put the Linux installed base at 2x the Macintosh installed base (about 15%), which is huge. It explains why Microsoft treats Linux as a real threat, instead of “2% market share”.

Linux is doing very well. Many of my friends and family are now running Linux (everyone from a 12 year old nephew to a 92 year old dad). the myth that Linux is not ready for the desktop is only as true as the myth that regular desktop users can install a boxed (not OEM) version of Windows. People like having Linux customized for their specific use, and Linux is perfect for that. Folks seek out people to create (more than install) their Linux environment, much as it was popular to seek out someone to build a custom PC years ago.

You don’t need to worry about Linux, it’s doing very well.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on December 19th, 2006 at 4:55 AM PST:

>Choice is what makes linux great

You see Linux as a project, while I see (everything) as a product.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on December 19th, 2006 at 7:47 AM PST:

>Why I say this ? Because there is _no_ distro that can satisfy everyone.

If a Linux distro desktop was to get 90% of the Linux market it would mean that it would do a good desktop.


l3v1 wrote on December 19th, 2006 at 10:41 AM PST:

“If there was a good-enough distro that would be able to have its own monopoly inside the Linux universe (e.g. if Ubuntu had 90% of all the Gnu/Linux desktop installations), things would be much better.”

Actually, I think not. Thing is, some distros have higher usage numbers because recently there has been a slight increase of overall Linux use, and a fairly – relatively speaking – large number of new users came by, who prefer some specific distros. I hope you get what I mean here. All in all, such numbers do not really reflect how a distro is good or bad (”bad” is not the right word, I know of very fre distroes I would label “bad”). And I wouldn’t ever want to see a specific distro gain monopoly just because a segment of the userbase prefers it. Yes, you could say, and you’d be right that there is value in volume (as J. Schwartz always says) and I respect that. Still, I’d much prefer to choose a leader distro based on professionalism, quality and versatility – highly usable for newbies and highly skilled professionals also – than on sheer download and/or voting numbers.

Why I say this ? Because there is _no_ distro that can satisfy everyone. And that means no matter the monopoly, there will always be another one. This is what FOSS is for. And I applaud it.

For me, it’s mostly the good/bad experience, and the small details that count and place a distro on my good/bad list. Those users who these days raise the preference numbers would not be good enough to be able to distinguish the nuances between different package formats and managers, software base, patch quality and frequency, stability and reliability, and I could just go on.

In the end, I really don’t care whether a specific distro would gain 99% linux market share or not (although this would largely diminish any competitiveness thus reducing development speed, quality and diminishing openness and portability issues). All I do care for is still to be able to find, use and/or develop a distro that fits my taste, even after everyone is swallowed by a FOSS monster.


l3v1 wrote on December 19th, 2006 at 10:49 AM PST:

“You see Linux as a project, while I see (everything) as a product.”

This doesn’t make your lines any more valid, and neither makes oktyabr’s any less valid. That’s a way of seeing things, but it isn’t necessarily the right one.

“SuSE RPMs don’t work on Ubuntu”

Well, well, I remember times when redhat rpm’s didn’t even work on redhat pretty oftentimes (that was somewhere after my slack and before my debian time). So I’d say we’ve come a long way. (BTW, even SUSE didn’t start with rpms, today it doesn’t much matter, but I think they’d be even more better off today if they didn’t choose rpm back then.)


Jeff Rollin wrote on December 20th, 2006 at 10:49 AM PST:

Seriously, I think you write these things just to get page hits. There is no problem with having more than one distro of Linux, as long as they stay broadly compatible. There may be 350 distros of Linux, but there certainly aren’t 350 package formats, or 350 separate commitments to a different window manager or desktop environment.

Ever notice when Microsoft started to take notice of IE6 and turn it into IE7? It was when Firefox started gaining market share and gosh, golly there was more than one browser.

If a distro – any distro, the one you like, the one I like, the on Mr Softy likes – gained 90% of marketshare, that would be nothing but a sad indictment of the state of everything else. Which given that Linux is an open system (unlike, say, Windows, OS/2, the Mac or the Amiga) is not very likely.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on December 20th, 2006 at 11:57 AM PST:

>Seriously, I think you write these things just to get page hits.

I write these things because that’s how I perceive them. I don’t care about page hits on my personal blog. You confuse my blog with news web sites.

>There is no problem with having more than one distro of Linux, as long as they stay broadly compatible.

The problem is that it’s very difficult to stay compatible when everyone likes to tinker. Therefore, I prefer to have a single distro, but made RIGHT. And so do the OEMs.


DavidW wrote on December 24th, 2006 at 1:46 AM PST:

That’s cute– a blog to pass off the marketshare argument as innovative. This exact argument must be reproduced every other week on slashdot. Look if you want a unix operating system with a more unified front– it’s called BSD. Linux has always been more free spirited. The majority of linux users and developers don’t want marketshare, they want freedom.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on December 24th, 2006 at 6:59 AM PST:

>The majority of linux users and developers don’t want marketshare, they want freedom.

And that’s exactly why they stay glued to that 2% and they don’t have ports of all needed modern applications. They get freedom, and they lose functionality. Personally, I don’t believe in software freedom. I just want to do my job with computers. Read here to understand how I think.


Comments are closed as this blog post is now archived.

Lines, paragraphs break automatically. HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

The URI to TrackBack this blog entry is this. And here is the RSS 2.0 for comments on this post.