Should Mozilla release a Linux?

The open source movement needs more than just good code to succeed.

Victor Keegan of The Guardian
Writing in The Guardian in London today, Victor Keegan (right) bemoans the lack of open source activity in Great Britain, which he attributes in part to the geekiness of Linux.

He also notes the strong market share of Mozilla Firefox. Then he asks this question:

Maybe Mozilla's marketing skills should be harnessed by Linux to turn a wonderful product into something people actually want to use.

There is a lot in that one sentence.

First, is Mozilla's success all down to marketing skills?

Second, would better marketing make more people use Linux?

Third, can or should Mozilla get involved in operating systems?

My view is that Keegan is confusing marketing with usability. Firefox is a very usable browser. It installs as quickly as Internet Explorer, and it's intuitive. You don't need its manual.

Other Mozilla projects, like Thunderbird, are slightly less usable. (I like Thunderbird, but it takes a long time to get a summary file on sub-folders, for instance.) As I learned earlier this week other projects, like Sunbird, have even poorer usability reputations.

The Mozilla.org Web site is slick, the logos for its products bright and vivid, but it's not an advertiser, and the Foundation's staff is fairly small. So are the staffs of Open Office and Ubuntu.

And this is basic problem. A free business model doesn't bring in the money needed for support, marketing, and usability a paid model delivers. These are elements the mass market expects in the products it uses.

The recent support given by IBM and Google to the open source movement, coupled with that of Sun and others, needs to be considered carefully, in other words.

The open source movement needs more than just good code to succeed.

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