April 9, 2002

Commentary: You cannot sell Linux using love or hate

- By Sandeep Krishnamurthy -

Linux needs to move to the next level. Instead of languishing as an
also-ran operating system, it needs to be viewed favorably by the decision-makers who write the checks. It needs to become the mature adult rather
than stay an impetuous teen striving to carve its identity. To do so,
Linux needs to avoid the two extreme paths -- love and hate.
The community surrounding Linux is legion. Those who like the product,
swear by it. What can you say? They, justifiably, love the product. They
love the fact that it runs and runs, as opposed to Microsoft's products, which crash now
and then. They like its flexibility. Bottom line, they are in love. Yet,
Linux cannot be sold using this love alone. Many of these users can get
Linux into a university lab, but not into a Fortune 1000 company. They can
run a back-end server using Linux -- but not help it diffuse within a company
of decent size. They cannot convince the decision-makers and those who sign
the checks -- at least, not without some serious marketing help.

On the other extreme, the avid Linux enthusiast hates Microsoft. There are
no ifs and buts about this. This hate can be fueled to get some of these
people to use the product. However, it cannot take it to the next level.
When was the last time you bought a product because you hated its
competitor? Moreover, playing on this hate only accentuates some people's
perception that Linux is not a professional product.

What is needed is a professional approach to marketing Linux and educating
the mainstream about it. Already, efforts such as Linux International have
started to take important steps to effectively market Linux. What is needed
is a global consortium of players who can create a global Linux Inc. that
will ensure that the product takes its rightful place in the world.

In order to achieve that, Open-Source thinking needs to be applied to
marketing. For too long, Open Source has been about product development.
Yes, we need good products. What we now need is a collaborative effort to
market products. The thousands of people who believe in the product must
collaborate to develop the right message and disseminate it. Organizations
that have adopted Linux must talk about it and act as references.
Collateral needs to be developed. Flashy online ads need to be developed
pushing the product. Simple calculators showing the potential savings from
switching to Linux must be developed. The basics of marketing need to be
revisited -- identifying the target audience, establishing brand equity, practicing the four Ps of product, price, place and promotion, etc. Perhaps, we need a marketing avatar of Linus Torvalds to marshal these resources.

In the end, what matters is the merits of the product. So, forget about
love and hate. Let us get professional and market the heck out of Linux.

Sandeep Krishnamurthy is an assistant professor of e-commerce at the University of Washington.


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