Why Does Linux Need Marketing?

Posted by: Rea Maor In: Linux and Unix - Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, in a fit of umbrage (well, the closest to a fit of umbrage that SJVN gets, anyway) responds to a recent criticism of Linux with the right title: “Why the Linux Desktop will succeed despite itself“, and the wrong post under it. His answer is marketing, marketing, marketing.

What is going on in the Linux community lately? Why raise such a fuss? All you hear from them these days is how Linux needs marketing. Like we were talking Coke versus Pepsi.

The plans would all actually be feasible if it weren’t for – “Doh!” – they give the software away for free, and so they have no multi-bazillion-dollar budget for advertising. And the actions of a few, who try to remedy the situation by shaking free software users down for large sums to market Linux with, are immoral to start with and wrong from scratch anyway. If you think Linux can be marketed by collecting money from volunteers (or coercion victims), think about Tux500 (Google for it; the original site is dead.) and be glad that at least glaringly bad ideas die quickly in an open-source world.

SJVN pinpoints an example from his wife’s marketing business, telling the tale of two law firms. It was wrong for one of them to think that they could get business through word of mouth. Yes, but a law firm is not an operating system, and more importantly there is no known example of an open-source law firm organized by consensus.

To put it bluntly, the whole battle-cry to market Linux has three basic flaws: (1) It assumes that Linux is in it for the money, (2) It assumes that Linux will never win without taking over completely, and (3) word-of-mouth marketing is worse than paid advertising.

To handle point one: Yes, Linux is more established in the business world than in the home, so we have Red Hat and Novell and even IBM making a business venture out of it. But all of this is built on people who wanted a free operating system and software suite because freedom is good. This is why there’s so much philosophy in connection with GNU/Linux software. They’re concerned with what’s right, and let other people worry about making a buck.

On point two: the only benefit of Linux taking over would be that more computer manufacturers, Internet providers, and software companies (such as gaming and Adobe) would support Linux. That’s a good thing, but it’s happening already in very,very small amounts. And you might as well face it; taking over is a lot harder than the zealots know. Apple has been around since before Windows, and they’re still going strong today, but guess what? Apple computers are plagued by the same problems: hardly any games made for it, not a lot of hardware and service support from outside Apple.

Yet here we all are, either using, talking about, or reading about Linux anyway, which ties to point three. I’m using Ubuntu and Fedora now and have checked out a lot more. I heard about it through word-of-mouth. Just about everybody using Linux right now heard about it the same way. Which would you rather listen to, a flashing banner ad or a friend who knows what they are talking about and is passionate about their subject? Linux has something that Microsoft and Apple lack: those zealots! You can’t buy that kind of love.

And Linux keeps growing, but at a very slow rate. But, as a popular Zen saying goes, “It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.” For the impatient, who want it all to happen right now… well, the impatient people are the ones who need Zen the most!

Linux will succeed in spite of itself. But not, actually, in spite of itself: because of itself, in spite of the challenges. It has prevailed for 15 years, and is only more popular now than it ever was before. But it’s time frame is different.

Just to make it clear: I don’t think advertising would hurt. Some companies out there are boosting it. That’s good for them. But there just isn’t as urgent a need to push for advertising Linux. besides, if Linux did things just because everybody else did them, where would it be now?

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