September 7, 2000

Subtle Linux infiltration

Author: JT Smith

By Robin "roblimo" Miller
Editor in Chief

Imagine buying a network card and getting a free Linux CD. Or buying a copy of the popular multi-OS boot program, System Commander, and getting "everything you need to set up a high performance Linux workstation" as part of the deal. Is this just a marketing gimmick or a totally slick piece of Linux advocacy?
An (unsolicited) review copy of System Commander 2000 showed up on my doorstep yesterday. I used this program successfully back when I was just starting to play with Linux and hadn't yet totally dumped Windows, so I was favorably disposed enough toward System Commander not to dump the box into the trash without taking a look. And the first thing that caught my eye was that TurboLinux and StarOffice CDs were "Included FREE!"

Being an old Linux advocate, I liked this. I have always liked to see new ways to get Linux into the hands of the masses. So I called TurboLinux to see what was up with the idea, and learned that they have been distributing Linux in unorthodox ways for some months now.

TurboLinux spokesman Jacob Webb told me their install CDs were now being bundled free not only with System Commander, but also with products from Linksys, Best Data, Connectix, SMC, Trendware, and Belkin -- and this was in addition to "tens of thousands" of CDs they've given away "at over 200 universities across North America."

TurboLinux Marketing VP Lonn Johnston said they now have Linux "bleeding into a whole bunch of places." He admitted that the company's motives weren't entirely altruistic -- naturally, they want people who try their product for free to come back later and buy from them -- but said their "first objective is to get a ton of Linux out into the market," and that this partner-style distribution system was targeted at vendors (such as Belkin and Linksys) whose products are primarily used in networked environments inhabited by sophisticated computer users who are likely to be open to the idea of trying Linux on their systems, especially if a free copy is sitting in front of them while they're installing something new anyway.

Every single product with which TurboLinux is bundled is Linux-compatible, Johnston said, which is crucial to the evangelism aspect of their mass giveaway because it is "critical that when people get their first exposure to Linux, that it works on their hardware."

In some cases, Johnston admitted, TurboLinux "has done some driver work" with manufacturers before bundling TurboLinux with their products, but he also said that all drivers the company had written were GPL-licensed, available for use with any Linux distribution.

Johnston said the giveaway program "is getting Linux out there into the hands of literally millions of new customers." While he could not say exactly how many new sales had resulted from the partnered giveaways so far, he said, "Our sales in North America are really going up, at least partially because of this effort."

And, Johnston said, even if people who first encounter Linux through TurboLinux's bundling program later turn to other distributions instead, "it's all Linux -- and it's all good."


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