March 26, 2003

Make big money! Deliver 'The Linux experience!'

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -

Okay, maybe not big money, but Massachusetts-based Open-Pc founder/CEO Morgan Lim says he's turning a steady profit. And lately he's been making waves with plans to move a prominent state government agency entirely to Linux.

The bulk of Open-Pc's revenue curently comes from doing something Dell, HP, Gateway, and IBM apparently aren't squared away enough to handle: Selling desktop and laptop computers with Linux pre-installed -- and not necessarily to dyed-in-the-wool Linux junkies, either.

Morgan says, "A lot of our customers are like teachers and writers, professionals but not in tech fields."

He notes that his best-selling laptop is his most expensive model -- an obvious refutation of the idea that Linux users (aside from this article's author) are only looking for the cheapest possible deal and don't care about anything else.

He says, "The people who come and order from us... usually they call by phone after seeing the Web site, and say, 'Oh, you're selling Linux!' They ask about the laptops, we answer questions. They ask about the differences between Red Hat and Mandrake and SuSE. I give them the usual comparison, and say, 'I can do this for you: install Red Hat 8.0 for you, and also burn a SuSE DVD so you can try that too.'

"Our niche is really customization. They call in and say, 'I want this,' and we do it for them."

Promoting Linux Desktops Like Mad

"My personal passion is to see people use Linux on the front end," Morgan says. "Servers are fine, print and file servers are fine, we sell servers and put Linux on them, but the real passion I have is the desktop... a workstation or laptop, you can really reach out to people. And that's where the fight is."

Morgan talks glowingly about a strategic alliance between Open-Pc and Boston University's Corporate Education Center to offer Linux training and certification courses, one that is apparently so new that it didn't show up on the Center's Web site the day this article was written. But his greatest visibility, so far, has come from his effort to help the Massachusetts Department of Revenue move its 3500 worker/users to Linux -- from Windows 95 -- a move Morgan says is fully supported by the DOR's chief administrator of technical support, Scott Akers.

"They have two reasons to look at Linux, Morgan says. "One is money - it's cheaper. The other is that they don't want to have any vendor lockin in the future."

For the moment they're rolling out five desktops on a pilot program. Assuming the test is successful -- and Morgan is confident that it will go smoothly -- Linux conversion and training for the entire DOR is expected to take about a year.

Publicity generated by the DOR's potential Linux move has led to several seminar opportunities where Morgan hopes to connect with more of what he regards as his natural customer base: Small and medium-sized business managers who need help moving to Linux.

He says, "Red Hat is essentially focusing on converting Unix-using Fortune 500 companies... Companies that have 30 or 40 seats, thinking of converting to Linux, who's going to help them with that?"

In Massachusetts, Morgan obviously hopes the answer is, "Open-Pc."

He says his track is a little different from the one most IT consultants take. He stresses that from the moment he first talks to a potential client, he starts planning his exit strategy.

"We're not predatory," Morgan says. "We go in there, set it up, give your guys a little training, then leave.

"We don't want to trap people into the whole consulting marathon.

"The whole idea of shifting to Linux is to lower costs and improve productivity, and if you [the consultant] are going to be there forever, you're not going to lower your customer's costs."

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