April 30, 2002

Good-bye Best Linux, hello SOT: Company focuses on business customers, new Internet protocol

Author: JT Smith

- By Bruce Tober -

Product names can be a problem. Especially in today's global
marketplace. Four years ago, the 11-year-old Finnish company, Suomen OhjelmistoTyo (Finnish Software Engineering Company), began marketing its own Linux distribution, SOT Linux, throughout Scandinavia.
However, the company's marketing gurus decided a name
change was in order because SOT in Swedish has a negative connotation,
meaning "disease" or "soot." So they rebranded it "Best Linux."

Now, with Scandinavia no longer its primary market, having gone global
in a big way, the company has rebranded itself again, back to SOT Linux. Of course, "sot" in English means "drunkard," but well, you can't win 'em all. Or as Jon
"maddog" Hall, executive director of Linux International says, "The next time that
someone compares 'SOT' to the English word 'soot,' remind them that
soot is carbon, and carbon lubricates fine machinery."

As part of its renaming, the company is also launching its first new
release in more than two years, SOT Linux 2002. The new distribution comes in both a desktop and a server set and includes full
support for the IPv6 Internet protocol, a new Windows migration tool, near-
complete Linux Standard Base compatibility and support for various Winmodems. "And,"
says company CEO Santeri Kannisto, "the entire OS has been fully
compiled using the new GCC 3 compiler."

When I interviewed Kannisto at CeBIT 2000, he'd said the company's "main
target is home users. Caldera and all the others -- they think business.
They are trying to make something for everyone, and I think that's a bad
idea."

So why the change to a server focus? "We are targeting more and more businesses right now, because of the market and failure with the original business model," he said. "We delivered over 500,000 downloads of that version with close to zero revenue, and that has forced us to the change. (It's) the same good old problem of how to make money with free product."

In addition, Kannisto hopes for income production from a "download key
scheme" the company is setting up. "It's a system in which we give the
base product free," he said. "If customer wants the maintenance/updates he has to
pay for agreement. After that he gets a download key for installing them
and unpacking their sources. This is how it works in SOT Office." SOT Office is an
office productivity suite the company is introducing.

A slightly different version of the scheme is implemented in SOT Linux.
There, "the download key enables users to install commercial software
from the CDROM," Kannisto said. "That software is mostly licensed by third parties and we are not allowed to distribute it freely. Therefore, the packages are
encrypted on the CDROM and cannot be installed without download key. In
SOT Linux, there is special product called the Download package, it includes
the registration fee, technical support for installation and download
key."

The company is also setting up a "pay for maintenance" scheme with SOT
Office. "If either of those work, we can return to the original strategy,
otherwise we have to turn more and more to business users," Kannisto said.

Kannisto explained the original marketing strategy to me at CeBIT 2000. He said it was "easy."

"You look at what Microsoft was doing in its early
days and do the same." Is that still SOT's strategy?

"Yes, exactly but not that strict anymore," Kannisto said. "SOT
Office supports migration to Linux, and we had to release it because
Sun pulled out StarOffice from Linux users. We have been working with
SOT Office for past 1.5 years, as I was expecting something like this to
happen when Sun bought Star Division and released its source code."

Asked if the company is still looking to equal or overcome Microsoft's
lead on the desktop by imitating its marketing strategies, Kannisto answered: "Yes, but the path has proven to be longer and require more
money. Anyway, the aims still exist, and the strategy is the same."

One of SOT Linux's big selling points has always been an easy
installation. Back in 2000, Kannisto said, "Also important is the
installer. We are making it better and able to detect more devices all
the time." Which, of course, is all well and good, but all
distributions claim to do that. So I asked how SOT is doing it
differently than the other distributions.

"Our current special expertise and spearhead is the IPv6 technology," he said, "and a readiness for future mobile solutions on mobile
phones, mobile PDAs and mobile phone stations. Reasons to this might be
obvious because of our origin and location, but unfortunately I am not
able to comment this any further. Time will tell."

Kannisto added: "We have taken two years to craft a well-tested and
stable Linux distribution. It has been long and sometimes even
frustrating period of development, especially seeing others go through a
number of releases during this time and having our customers ask when
our new version would be ready." Wasn't he
afraid of losing at least some of SOT's customer base?

"For sure yes," he said, "but on the other hand a well-prepared and
tested distribution is what customers have been asking from us. Many
Linux users are frustrated by too early released distributions and a too
fast update cycle. I am convinced it has been worth spending the time
and effort for this release, because we can now present to the community
a rock-solid distribution."

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