How to Create a Desktop Linux Monopoly

Tuesday Feb 12th 2008 by Matt Hartley
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With a concrete set of steps, solid funding, and about five years, you’d have a lock on the desktop market.

What if I told you that it would actually be possible to see a Linux monopoly with the right components in place taking form within a short five-year period? That would be impossible due to licensing and availability, right?

Nonsense. While it would never "out maneuver" Microsoft Windows or OS X from a monopolistic point on view, with certain things in place, a company pushing a tightly controlled Linux distribution could definitely corner the desktop Linux market in a very short period of time.

Getting it right the first time.

Not too long back people were becoming very excited at the prospect of an upcoming Google OS. Despite the constant denial that Google would ever bother to enter the desktop Linux marketplace, people were asking for a Google distro with great enthusiasm.

Then, later on, as if on cue, Everex rolled out an Ubuntu-based PC using a Linux distribution called gOS. Unfortunately despite much fanfare, it appears that U.S. vendors such as Wal-Mart are no longer providing these PCs for sale online. Why is this? Considering the vast array of goodies and Google application offerings, surely this computer should have been a smashing success?

Like other Wal-Mart Linux PCs sold before it, there was a tremendous number of complaints – thanks in part to customers being completely unaware of the trek they were about to undertake with the gOS powered Everex computers. Significant issues with the low-powered hardware and total absence of "real support" left many people wanting their money back.

Attempt number two.

With Wal-Mart no longer selling the gOS-based PCs in the online-store, it seems to be too little too late to hear the hoopla about gOS and the newly released. This is truly a real miss for the gOS team, as this time around they have made some significant changes, despite likely still being run on very low-end hardware.

Some of the most notable changes include:

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• Access and integration into Box.net for simple remote data storage.

• Really simple access to webcam functions thanks to a Web-based application called gBooth and a webcam put out by Ezonics.

Both of these additions are really great pushes forward, but it also illustrates why gOS is not likely to lead the way into an eventual desktop Linux monopoly.

Must have key ingredients.

When considering the advantages of what the gOS tried to accomplish with their Linux offerings, the fact is that their success was hit or miss. First plenty of fanfare, then as reality about a lack of certain (expected) features became more apparent, the fanfare once again died down.

In order to see a Linux distribution – along with a combined hardware vendor – truly provide a compelling case to the end user, the company seeking a desktop Linux monopoly would need to make sure the following ingredients were snuggly in place ahead of time:

• Access to a real music store. Despite myself having an affinity for the OGG Vorbis audio format, mainstream music stores are all about the MP3. So I see taking existing jukebox software like amaroK and creating an Amazon music store plugin for the amaroK software. This works because Amazon is now offering DRM-free music and would likely be open to such a deal where others, like Apple, would not.

• Wireless and webcam options. There are instances were wireless availability is needed for desktop machines. And while some distributions like the gOS have done great work at finding a solution to the webcam challenge, the wireless availability is largely left to those selling Linux bundled notebooks. Desktops must be included here.

• The Linux hardware store. Contrary to what Microsoft and Apple might like you to believe, hardware compatibility issues with Linux are quite narrow. To fill in the small remaining gaps, I see the need to create a "store front" where participating Linux users can visit and purchase certified hardware for the distribution looking to corner the desktop Linux market.

Locking the doors behind them.

Once solid user support, consistent peripheral/hardware availability, along with media options like legal mainstream MP3 downloads are put into place, it’s time to lock the users in for life.

To prevent these Linux users from leaving the distribution for another, the following must now be implemented:

• Let's stop the continuous cycle of "beta" seen throughout the desktop Linux world and get a working release that is not filled with "hacks and bugs" out into the community. This should become Job One.

• Provide desktop Linux supported by a company offering subscription based on one-time training videos for their users. The company that does this will discover immediate loyalty from their user-base.

For X dollars per month, the user is then able to learn how to be proficient in software provided by this distribution rather than spending their time trying to remove malware from Microsoft Windows.

• Make it attractive for PC repair techs to provide this particular Linux distribution's support exclusively, while leaving other distros out in the cold. This has been attempted in the past, however these companies’ results have been largely lackluster due to previous issues not being addressed first.

With enough residual (subscription) revenue tossed at PC techs, we would see both clients and repair techs working together in an ongoing basis. In other words, the PC repair techs not only become certified with this specific distribution of Linux, they also becomes a sales force for the distro's subscription how-to offerings as well.

Adding the deadbolt of loyalty with hardware vendors.

Once you begin the slow process of winning Windows converts over, it’s time to begin hammering away on the hardware vendors.

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Assuming the company distributing their Linux distribution has all of the previous tactics in check, the subscription services and user support services should be the bulk of the company's revenue. At this point, the desktop Linux company would want to take some of the revenue and pay some open source developers to create Linux-friendly solutions for hardware that might have not been so Linux friendly in the past.

Start off by locating frequently requested extras such as webcams, multi-function printers, mice and keyboards. Approach the companies that design the devices and offer to develop Linux-friendly versions of the software already provided for Windows and OS X users. If you have two or three peripheral companies well supported, you will then have new items to add to the previously mentioned "Linux store" where users of this supported distribution can purchase specially packaged versions of this hardware.

The five-year plan.

Let's recap. We give everything above a full five years. Given that this idea was well funded from the get-go, the mission was Linux exclusively without any interest or fall back on Windows sales whatsoever. You would have what amounts to a desktop Linux monopoly. Let's review how it happened and why:

1. Start off with a strong distribution. None of this beta nonsense or filing bug after bug.

2. Support what people are asking for. MP3s, DVDs and an online store that sells them created just for these Linux users. Think branding.

3. Using peripherals and hardware that is already well supported, along with other services. Then reinvest those profits into providing non-supported hardware free development options that, once successful, will then be specially packaged and added to the previously mentioned Linux store.

4. Software education and how-to subscriptions, not days at the forums wasting time with things that should have worked in the first place.

5. Build out a base of PC repair techs and make sure to share the profits of this distribution's subscription services are readily available to them.

By following those five steps above, no other Linux distribution on Earth would have a prayer of competing on a level playing field.

Understand that I am not advocating we create such a thing. Rather, I offer this to demonstrate that, with desktop Linux, it’s not the operating system that’s holding things back. Rather, it is a small group of people who have made this a crusade rather than a tool to power their computers.

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