The importance of distribution: India's open source CD push

The importance of distribution: India's open source CD push

Summary: India's free CD program reminds me of the early days of Linux. If it weren't for cheap Linux CDs a lot of users may never have gotten their hands on Linux.

TOPICS: Open Source

India's free CD program reminds me of the early days of Linux. If it weren't for cheap Linux CDs a lot of users may never have gotten their hands on Linux.

License terms that allowed redistribution were only half of the deal. It doesn't mean a lot to allow free distribution of an OS if people don't have the means to actually get the data back and forth. Back in the bad old days of the Internet, when a "high-speed" home connection meant a brand-new 56K modem, downloading an ISO image for Red Hat Linux, Slackware or Debian took quite a while -- a couple of days, if you were lucky enough to enjoy a connection to the Internet that wasn't disconnected mid-download. I shudder to think how long it would take to run a simple "apt-get update; apt-get upgrade" on my Ubuntu system if I had to cope with the 33.6 connection I had when I first discovered Linux. (Not that Ubuntu was a consideration in 1996...)

Linux wasn't exactly a household name either, and you weren't likely to see copies of Red Hat, SUSE or Mandrake (now Mandriva) Linux at Best Buy or CompUSA. Even if you did, a lot of folks were unwilling to plop down $30 or more to get a copy of an OS they'd never tried. (Yes, it was once possible to buy the basic Red Hat Linux Standard boxed set for about $29.95. Times have changed.) 

But vendors like and CheapBytes allowed experimental geeks to get their hands on Red Hat, Slackware, SUSE and other distros for a couple of bucks, plus postage -- without tying up the phone for three days. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I actually used to work for many years ago.)

Cheap Linux CDs, plus user-initiated events like the Linux Demo Day helped get the word out in lieu of big marketing bucks. A lot of emphasis is put on the quality of Linux and open source software,and rightly so, but that doesn't mean much without a good way to get the software distributed in the first place. It's easy to forget, now that Linux is supported by big guys like Novell, IBM and Oracle, how far it has really come. I know several folks who make a living working with Linux now, that got their first taste of Linux from a free CD at a Linux User Group (LUG) meeting or from or CheapBytes.

Distributing open source CDs to users in India probably seems like a small step, but distribution is a major key to adoption. As Dana points out, localization also gives open source a leg up on Microsoft and proprietary software. It should be interesting to see whether the free CD push has a major effect in India.

Topic: Open Source

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  • Linux is more expensive!

    I've been using Linux about 8 years along with Windows. Most cost is not for Windows or Linux. Most is for hardware, not operating system. Frankly I spend more money to buy new Linux CD distributions than for Windows OEM licenses that come with new PCs.

    Linux has no use other than running Apache and PHP web-servers.
    • Nice try at trolling..

      however, you may want to change your story so that you don't look like a noob. If you have been using Linux for 8 years and can't find a use besides Apache and PHP, then you should just stick with Windows.
      Patrick Jones
      • Well said...

        Fully agree with Patrick.
    • Not Exactly

      In business, hardware cost is inconsequential - software and support costs dwarf that of hardware.
      Roger Ramjet
      • Costs

        Malware, including viruses, worms and Trojans, cost global businesses between $169bn and $204bn last year, making it the worst year on record by a wide margin, newly published research has claimed. According to digital risk management firm mi2g [...] with around 600 million Windows-based computers worldwide, this works out at between $281 to $340 worth of damage per machine. [...] "There was a global epidemic underway at the same time last year with the MyDoom, Netsky and Bagle variants causing significant productivity losses across the globe. "Windows computers in over 200 countries were infected. Judging by events which unfolded between January and April 2004, there could be a choppy cyber-sea ahead, made all the more complex by new and more dangerous malware families yet to emerge."

    • Ubuntu

      Ubuntu Linux:

      You can get ubuntu CDs for free:

      And its specifically designed to be used as a desktop system :)
  • The Good old days

    I purchased most of my Linux stuff from CheapBytes! I still have my RedHat Linux 2.0 disk (don't have the 1.0). Maybe its worth something?

    This is good news for Indians. The promising geniuses that live in abject poverty now have a CHANCE to shine. There are many programs to bring computers and connectivity to the Indian countryside - and I applaud them!

    Now what are WE doing - here in the US - to bring computers to the poor?
    Roger Ramjet
  • The poor?

    Well, basically, the poor get free medical care, free education, free food and a free college education. The issue is, why are the poor not taking advantage of this? I'm almost done with my student loans some 9 years after college. That's a lot of payments! If my parents were poor I could have had everything, including meal-plans, etc. for free.

    More important than helping the poor is helping the middle class. The US middle glass is expected to do everything on their own. They have to pay for everything but they are not rich. Its true that the middle class spends far too much on trite things like SUVs, but housing is not trite and very very expensive. We have to think about catagorizing our youth by potential, not parental income, and giving free rides based on that.

    Just to finish my rant, I was passed up for almost every scholarship not because of grades (which were pretty good in High school) but because I wasn't a woman, a minority and my parents were not dirt poor. Bascially, as a middle class white guy I'm hosed from all social benefits.
  • Well, it not only cuts down on corporate piracy, but

    increases exploitation of volunteers for someone else's corporate gain.

    Maybe not now, but you can bet IBM or Red Hat or Novell or even Microsoft will want their cut. Of your work.

    Pity the GPL, GNU, and other open source licenses didn't make a tiny disclaimer that open source could not be used for profit. Oh well!
    • Misconception about the GPL

      > Pity the GPL, GNU, and other open source licenses
      > didn't make a tiny disclaimer that open source
      > could not be used for profit. Oh well!

      This would be a ridiculuous clause to have in the GPL. The GPL is not designed to eliminate the ability to make money off of open source (or rather Free software), but rather to shift the making of money on software from restrictive licensing to service and support. If the GPL restricted people from making money supporting products they created or even from products they didn't create, it would be just plain stupid to ever release software under the GPL.