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Editor's Note: What Good is it if They Don't Know it's Linux?

Jul 16, 2010, 23:05 (16 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

Just like Marcel Gagne said, stop apologizing for Linux! "Invisible Linux" is a loser strategy, and it's insulting.

One of Ken Stark's more famous antics has stuck in my mind all these years, when he flummoxed the illustrious panel at the 2008 Linux Collaboration Summit with a simple, polite question:

"My customers can turn on their cable television and in 30 minutes watch five Microsoft Windows commercials. When are IBM and HP going to put the same things on? When are my customers going to be able to see about Linux? Television and radio legitimize the product."

I was not, and still am not, impressed by the responses:

"Your question really ought to be aimed at the folks who make money specifically because it's Linux...."

"You won't see IBM advertising any operating system on television...you may see us offer solutions, services, and products...Linux is a component to build other things."

Do a quick Web search on "invisible Linux" and you will find all kinds of rationalizations why invisible Linux is a good thing, like this one which is repeated as faithfully as any Get the Facts talking point:

"The best "Linux on the desktop" will be invisible. The word Linux will appear nowhere on the advertising. Because it simply won't matter. The focus will be on what the system can do for you, not the architecture.

"Let me point to the most dependably-overused example in this realm: Apple. Think about it. Apple doesn't proudly trumpet how Mac OS X is a derivative of BSD blah blah free software yadda yadda..."

That's right, they don't. Because they're all about trumpeting Mac OS X and pretending that they invented all of it. Just like they do with CUPS:

"CUPS is the standards-based, open source printing system developed by Apple Inc. for Mac OS X and other UNIX-like operating systems."

Apple bought CUPS in 2007. The first release of CUPS was in 1999, and has been maintained all these years by its inventor Michael Sweet. Apple had nothing to do with it, and even now would have no interest in it except for the hidden Unix underpinnings that makes OS X CUPS-compatible.

Apple is far from alone in this, or in being the worst offender. Dell, Lenovo, HP, IBM, Acer, ASUS...the list of bi-polar Linux vendors who act like Linux is shameful, but they still can't resist it, is a long one. "Open Source" is a hugely popular buzzword these days, claimed by businesses who have zero open products and no desire to have any. No worries about claiming "open" creds. Firefox is cool. Sort-of open things like Chrome and Android are cool. But Linux? GPL? The real deal? Can't say those out loud.

Invisible Linux

Just like Marcel Gagne said, stop apologizing for Linux! He wasn't talking about "invisible Linux", but that's another branch on the same tree. All these businesses who are profiting from Linux and Free/Open Source software are real big on branding and name recognition---until it comes to giving credit to Linux and FOSS. Linux/FOSS are the beneficiaries of considerable corporate support, both in code and money. So why the big hangup over the saying the L-word? Is it shameful? Will the other suits snigger? It doesn't help when we go all apologetic over things like Flash is a piece of junk, or forget that 64-bit Linux appeared months before 64-bit Windows, which to this day is plagued with problems and compatibility issues, while 64-bit Linux is plagued only by proprietary crapware like Flash, and performs beautifully on everyday systems and doesn't need elite gurus to install and maintain.

Let's retire that silly bushwah how the OS doesn't matter. Try that on any conscript into the World Wide Botnet, or anyone who has enjoyed a visit from the Business Software Alliance, or anyone who enjoys a big surprise when they renew their site licensing and learn that first taste was just to get them hooked, and now they get to enjoy paying the full freight. "Linux Inside" is a great selling point. It means all kinds of good things: open, secure, efficient, less expensive or free, powerful, with a bedrock foundation of respect for users, rather than contempt.

I expect a chorus of "People don't care about stuff like that, they just want something that works." That is completely untrue. I care. You care. A lot of people care. We shouldn't waste energy on people who don't care, but rather should make it easier for the ones who do. Get the Linux name out there, and as "Linux" becomes associated with successes like Android and Ubuntu, it's going to matter to increasing numbers of people, especially those who prefer to make informed buying decisions. That's our natural constituency. "Linux Inside" is an obvious and positive marketing hook--so what's the hangup?

A Side Note For Marcel

Marcel says in his article:
"Look, if it all comes down to Flash, then add a little note to the effect that Flash has issues, but don't trash yourself, Linux, and FOSS in general by saying the 64 bit desktop release doesn't cut it. That's what we old-timers call 'shooting yourself in the foot'."
Exactly right! Don't follow the Microsoft path of telling users they are too stupid to be trusted with information. Just spell out the pros and cons, and let them decide. Give them some real information. Really and truly, Ubuntu people, we can be trusted with ctrl+alt+delete. We can be trusted with one-click shutdowns. We can be trusted with 64-bit computers. We can be trusted with actual knowledge.