Linux vendors are swimming against the current.

Linux vendors are swimming against the current.

Summary: I just finished reading Why hasn't Linux made it mainstream on the desktop? and I think I can answer the question:  Because the average consumer cannot walk into their favorite computer store and buy a robust brand-name workstation with Linux pre-installed with their favorite personal productivity software.

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I just finished reading Why hasn't Linux made it mainstream on the desktop? and I think I can answer the question: 

Because the average consumer cannot walk into their favorite computer store and buy a robust brand-name workstation with Linux pre-installed with their favorite personal productivity software. 

Of course, it's not quite that simple.  Or is it? 

Sure, some of you will point out that the consumer can buy a bare-bones entry-level system with Linspire on it but who makes it?  And will they be around next year?  Marketing is about name recognition and consumers will not by an expensive product from a company of which they have never heard. 

For the sake of argument, Adrian's article assumes that the following statements about Linux are true:

  • Linux is more stable than Windows
  • Linux is more secure than Windows 
  • Linux is easier than Windows to use 
  • Linux is a lot more versatile than Windows 
  • Linux doesn't have the same high system requirements that Windows does

I could take this space and discuss each one of these points in detail.  I might agree with some but not others.  (It really doesn't matter though because each of these points are quite subjective.) 

When I was done, I could simply substitute the word UNIX for Linux without changing another word in my line of reasoning.  Thus, one could easily conclude that UNIX is absent from the consumer space for the same reasons as Linux.  That should be the clue ...

Supporters of Linux on the desktop always want to position Linux in the commodity consumer space but to be in that space, Linux needs to be easily available on OEM hardware sold in that space.  Being available for free for download is not sufficient.  Linux may be easy to use but it is NOT easy to install -- and neither is Windows if you are a consumer without computer experience.  Installing an alternate browser or application is not the same as installing an OS and most consumers run the OS that came with their computer.  Rather than upgrading their OS, they replace the computer -- as if it were a TV set. 

The major players (IBM, Sun, HP, Dell) all sell their enterprise customers x86-based hardware that is bundled with Linux and three of them sell similar hardware (some of it proprietary, some of it x86) bundled with UNIX, if that is what the customer wants.  So, why not in the consumer space?  Simple.  Because the profit margins are too low to be attractive to those OEMs. 

So what about the Linux vendors like RedHat, Linspire, and Novell?  RedHat has deals with Dell and Sun but does not seem to be pushing Dell to make Linux available on their consumer lines.  Linspire, so far, has sought out government and small third-tier OEMs and I am not really sure where Novell fits in -- they may be an IBM partner.  The various other Linux distributions seem to have no influence at all with OEMs, without whom they stand no chance of breaking into the consumer market.

Enterprise sales are driven by total cost of ownership -- not up-front cost.  That's why UNIX dominates when scalability, reliability, and security are paramount.  Linux dominates when scalability is not so much of an issue but reliability and security still play a major role.  Windows dominates when compatibility with workstation-based services comes into play.  Were OEMs willing to sell Linux workstations at commodity prices they might penetrate a portion of this market but they do not seem to be all that interested. 

In the enterprise, TCO is driven by human costs -- not hardware costs -- and what Windows might lack in scalability and reliability it makes up for in training costs and familiarity in the minds of non-technical personnel. 

Interestingly enough, Apple finds itself similarly absent from the mainstream for many of the same reasons -- all tied to the narrow profit margins in the consumer space that make it a 'catch-22' -- to break into the consumer market place, you have to live with very small profit margins but you cannot live with small margins unless you have a high volume of sales, which you cannot get unless you are competing in the consumer space.

Topic: Operating Systems

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62 comments
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  • On the Money

    PC OEM's do not make their money on the hardware sales. They make it upselling to accessories and add on software. With Windows there are a host of applications that can be sold to the consumer. They also make bounties from things like Anti-virus which they offer trial periods for. Linux users by and large don't buy software. That leaves the PC OEM losing money on the hardware sales. It doesn't make financial sense to pre-install Linux for consumers.
    ShadeTree
    • Linux users will buy software ...

      ... whenever the open source community doesn't offer a viable solution for free. Anti-virus is a bad example. There are some anti-virus programs for Linux, but they are not needed to protect the Linux computer. Instead, the virus scanners are run on Linux servers to remove Windows virii. With Linux, the consumer doesn't have to buy a virus scanner for a workstation; this leaves them with more money for something else - perhaps more hardware.

      Given that operating systems and PCs are complementary goods, it is axiomatic that lowering the cost of operating systems would be advantagous to the makers of PCs. This is Econ 101 level stuff. If the PC makers are not making money with a relatively high price OS, they should be looking for ways to lower the cost of complementary goods in order to drive up the margins on the hardware.
      shis-ka-bob
      • The fallacy here ...

        ... is that Windows is a high-priced OS. OEMs pay about as much per seat for Windows as the consumer does for an un-supported release of Linux from RedHat or Linspire. The OEM incurs costs for providing OS compatibility with their hardware no matter who the OS vendor happens to be. They have to recover those costs by selling enough machines to break even. Having the OS pre-installed on name-brand workstations is the key to wide consumer acceptance.
        M Wagner
      • Will they buy the software from the OEM at ...

        ... the same time they are buying the hardware? The answer is maybe aon a server but a resounding no on the desktop. The home user that is running Linux doesn't buy software.
        ShadeTree
        • Not True

          I have bought several boxed Distros, as have many home Linux Users. So in fact I did buy Linux software.

          I have also bought several Linux games... Yes Games- commercial games for Linux!!!
          Edward Meyers
          • Read what I said ...

            ... not what you think I said. Did you buy the software from a PC OEM at the same time you bought a PC. The discussion is about what incentive do PC OEM's have to gain from selling Linux. I suspect you bought the box distro's and the games from a retailer. If that is true, my contention is correct.
            ShadeTree
          • I considered it

            Around 1999ish when they were offering pre-installed Linux workstations. If the price hadn't been 200% more for the mid-end Linux workstation over the mid-end Windows ones I would have bought it from the OEM. Did you get that? If the price difference wasn't so much I would have paid a higher price for the Linux desktop over the desktop with Windows pre-installed! I would have been willing to pay 15% more for a Linux pre-install than a Windows pre-install.

            Why? The Linux workstation came with more useful pre-installed software. Some users will pay the same or slightly less (More money for the OEM) if the computer is loaded with useful Free Software simply as it reduces the time you need to download and install the software.

            Then again I haven't purchased an OEM produced desktop for my own personal use since 1999 but have rather self built every desktop for my own personal use since 1999.
            Edward Meyers
          • The ugly truth is many Linux vendors ...

            ... charge the OEM more then Microsoft to install their OS on a PC. This is certainly true of Redhat and Novell. Then there is the added cost of support spread over less users that also drives up the cost.

            You are only one person that says you are willing to pay the OEM for Linux. You are a minority within a minority. There is a vast number of Linux users that think it is stupid to pay for a "free" OS.
            ShadeTree
          • Only becuase they don't think it out

            Linspire OEM deals starts at $100 a year for as many computers you want to install it on. Also the OEMs are not paying just for installing Red Hat but also for support...

            There are many reasons why you would pay for the distro. In fact most other real Linux users, not the astroturfers, who I know are willing to pay for most full distros. I am not in the minority as far based on my own experience.

            One of the reasons why they are willing to pay is because the distro maker then gets compensated for putting together the distro in the first place. With boxed distros there are also extras, such as a user manual, that you do not get by just downloading it.

            Also most full distros are 5+ CDs. The time it takes to burn the full distro is not worth the cost, of my time, in many cases to just pay for a boxed copy.

            There are other factors involved here. The blame isn't all on potential/current Linux users and the distro makers (Some will literally give it away in hopes of selling support contracts afterwards).
            Edward Meyers
          • We offer Linux and I can assure you...

            ... the demand for Linux on the desktop is non-existent. Asfor Linspire, the majority of Linux users snub their nose at them. As I have said, the economics just don't work out. Blame whom ever you want.
            ShadeTree
          • Apple faces the same problem ...

            ... that you describe above. Too expensive compared to a Windows box with similar functionality -- and limited availability. If the consumer could walk into Circuit City (or wherever) and see a Macintosh sitting next to an HP running similar software with a similarly-equipped Linux box on the other side, and all three boxes were the same price, the market could truly determine which is the superior platform. That won't happen for Apple because they need profits from the hardware to stay afloat. MS doesn't becuase tyheir OEMs take all the risks. The OEMs can live with the narrow margins on Windows because they sell so damned many of them! The Linux vendors need to convince the OEMs to take the same risks with Linux in order for Linux to have any hope of penetrating this market. The fact is that the Linux vendors want the lucrative enterprise business more than they want the high-volume consumer market. It's the same thing with the UNIX vendors or they too would have boxes in Circuit City!
            M Wagner
          • Only a few people BUILD anything

            The USA is a nation on component purchases. We don't build DVDs, TV or Computers unless its a hobby to do so. The average consumer (the consumer that makes up the mass indexes and the true profits) wants to buy a box, turn it on and interact with the web. They will also want to tie their PC into their media experience soon enough. Given those parameters, they want something they are familiar with and cheap. And they don't want to install or uninstall anything.

            These people are lawyers, housewives and vets; they are not techy anything. Imagine if you went into the doctor's office and the doctor handed you a pair of pliers, and tongue suppressor, a bottle of 16 different types of pills and a users manual. What would you say? That's what a non-techie sees when you hand them a DVD to "install."
            agramont@...
          • Linux: It's all in the price.

            I'm not inclined to buy a preinstalled Linux machine from a vendor either. The last time I did so, it was no cheaper than the equivalent XP box AND I ended up reinstalling everything myself anyway. (The /home and /usr directories were not on separate partitions, for example.)

            I'd much rather buy PC without any OS, [b]see[/b] the price saving through not paying the Microsoft Tax, and then install what I want the way that I want it. You'd think that bare hardware sales would be far, [b]far[/b] easier for OEMs to handle too. After all, there'd be an awful lot less to configure and support.
            Zogg
          • Linspire

            Is criticized by exp Linux users.

            This however is not the market we are talking about. Linspire and Xandros both are aimed at noobs/Windows user converts and not exp Linux users. These users when exposed to Linspire love it!

            The market that we are talking about is perfect for Linspire but not Red Hat, which [b]is[/b] geared more towards the enterprise. Red Hat isn't in this market so why would it matter what Red Hat is charging? Linspire is in this market so it matter what they are charging- and they are nearly giving it away in hopes that the new users subscribe to Click-N-Run instead of using Klik or installing APT and using the Debian repositories.

            The point still stands.

            In many cases it is not the Distro makers preventing OEMs from offering a choice of Linux or Windows on machines. It is how MS handles it's volume license deals that are preventing this.

            It is more expensive, due to how MS licenses Windows in volume, in many cases to ship a computer with no OS than one with Windows on it. I, as have others, already pointed this out about 6 times yet this drivel about how the distro makers need to work with the OEMs comes up each time.

            FYI: Click-N-Run is a huge repository of additional software for Linspire. The User browses to what they want in the repository and clicks on the app. The app is automatically installed and configured for the user. Linspire does charge a fee for this. They also charge for the legal DVD Player which can be installed through Click-N-Run.

            That is two more pieces of FUD in the can. 1. It is hard to install software on Linux (Not with CLick-N-Run) and no 2. DVD Player for Linux (Linspire and Turbo Linux both sell it). If you want to count that the Linux Distro makers charge OEMs to much that is 3.
            Edward Meyers
          • RE: Edward

            The FUD being spread is that somehow Microsoft forces OEMs to ship an OS on every PC. It is simply not true! OEM's ship PC's with the OS presintalled so they don't take calls from users trying to do it themselves and so that the user can turn their machine on and it works. Microsoft does make it easy for OEMs to do this and does benefit from it in return.
            ShadeTree
        • That has to change.

          Linux has to be accessible to the conpumer-illiterate consumer or it will never penetrate the desktop market.
          M Wagner
    • You are correct about ...

      ... TODAY's Linux user. To make money off of Linux users, you have to market to someone other than Linux geeks and enterprise customers who have specific reasons for wanting to put Linux on the desktop -- or on servers in the machine room. You have to show the consumer, who is largely computer illiterate, that they can do everything on a Linux computer that they want to do (and more) than they can on a Windows computer -- and they can do it for a similar amount of Money. All without have ANY specialized knowedge. It can be done -- but not without an OEM commitment to doing so. With sufficient incentives, Dell could produce such a family of consumer machines. But it owuld take a substantial commitment Redhat to make it happen.
      M Wagner
      • Unfortunately Redhat is not interested and ...

        ... in fact puts arduous terms on the OEMs that ship their products and charges them for support. That charge often times exceeds the revenue generated by offering their OS.
        ShadeTree
        • Sorry...Wrong.....

          Dell is already selling PC's with Red Hat linux on them. Another article here, has quoted that 25% of the PC's sold to the enterprise markets, by Dell, have linux on them.

          http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9584_22-6081793.html
          linux_for_me
          • Twenty-five percent ...

            ... of their SERVERS, maybe but certainly not 25% of the PCs they sell to the enterprise. The enterprise is not the consumer though. The enterprise can hire expertise, the consumer has to learn it themselves, or rely on the OEM to pre-install and configure the OS. Dell doesn't sell a consumer-grade Linux box that I can find anywhere on their web site.
            M Wagner