September 10, 2009

Linux, Marketing, and Competition

With Windows 7 on the rise in the blogosphere, there seems to be much debate on the validity of the Linux operating system. Is Linux a viable alternative to Windows? Is Linux more secure than Windows or is this assertion a myth? Most importantly, Is Linux ready for the average user?

Additional to this website (which is by no means a successful venture, but costs me nothing to support), I run a small computer business out of Casa Grande, Arizona. After dealing with dozens of clients with their own individual needs and wants, I have come to one conclusion regarding the Linux operating system. The average user LOVES Linux!
It is all in how things are marketed and then supported. Lets give a well known example that most people have heard of, Apple. Marketed as being "easy", "Just works", and "Intuitive", the Macintosh operating system currently holds approximately 10% of systems worldwide. While 10% is not a large margin by any means, it is very significant. In a survey that I conduct with my clients 1 out of 10 have used Macintosh at some point, 3 out of 10 have seen and used in store demonstrations, and 8 out of 10 know what Macintosh is and also know that it is supposedly easy to use. Given the statistics, is Macintosh an easy to use operating system that "Just works"?
Recent statistics from various websites indicate that the most sold handbooks and user guides are most often for Apple related products. This is not just a fluke, it makes sense. Not everyone is going to adapt to a new OS easily, especially something as drastically different from Microsoft Windows. Users are encouraged to learn by ingenious marketing ploys of how powerful Macintosh is and that it is inherently better at certain things (media creation, art, and family friendliness) than Microsoft windows. After learning how to get things done in Macintosh, users often forget about the time spend learning and fall victim to the marketing. These are the zealots most people hear about. They are not stupid, ignorant, or dull. Simply, these people are products of an ingenious execution of marketing and support.
Now, I turn my insightful gaze to Linux. To simply answer my questions posed in my introduction; Yes, Linux is a viable alternative to Microsoft Windows. Yes, Linux is much more secure than Microsoft Windows up to this point. And Yes, Linux is most definitely ready for the average user.
Linux severely lacks any sort of marketing. Instead of silencing the opposition with their own catch phrases and tunes, Linux is at the mercy of ongoing campaigns to dismiss its validity. This is a huge problem if the Linux community expects the world to take their operating system seriously. Furthermore, while support is found in the Linux community, users often don't have the patience to wait for a forum reply or even don't have internet access to even ask a question. The community support is beyond excellent, offering a tome of knowledge that is completely unparalleled by most support systems today, but it is inaccessible to most users. This is like only offering telephone based support in the early 1900's, it will not work for a large portion of users.
It is the above that my company offers. My marketing techniques in the area are powerful and catchy and sometimes awe inspiring. Often I will set up a table in the local mall (With permission from nearby store fronts and mall administration) with a large screen monitor with a customized version of Ubuntu Linux. From there I display the eye candy of Compiz Fusion, the compatibility of WINE, the ease of installing new native programs via "Add/Remove", and the power of modern virtualization to fill in where the others leave off. People are encouraged to ask questions and challenge my knowledge as well as grab any of the distributions that are sitting on the table along with my business card. I always make sure to spout out the Apple dogmas as well as "Free", "stable", and "secure".
It is with this and my support model that I have no less than 15 clients who run a Linux distribution that is customized by me to tailor their needs (not many people, but it is adequate for advertising Linux for only a few months). There can be many more out there as well (people who grabbed a CD and figured it out themselves). My clients are very satisfied with Linux, and after completing the rather large learning curve, they have no problem stating that Linux is easy to use, intuitive, and powerful.
Marketing and support are the key tools in any operating system's adoption. Whether the operating system fits the description does not matter one bit. It is safe to assume that, for Linux to achieve any sort of mainstream usage, the developers, community, and distributors must form a valid marketing and support model. Hopefully my ideas will inspire my readers to do similar demonstrations and offer support models.
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