Why Lenovo Struggles at Linux

I had to read this story Lenovo analyst: Linux on netbooks is doomed” several times because I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. Was this really Lenovo’s Worldwide Competitive Analyst saying things like “You have to know how to decompile codes and upload data”? Really?

I wrote to both the interview author, John Pospisil, and to Matt Kohut, Lenovo’s Worldwide Competitive Analyst, asking if Mr. Kohut had been accurately quoted. I haven’t heard back yet, but then it’s just been a couple of hours. So I searched for other articles about Mr. Kohut, and found some interesting nuggets. Here is his Lenovo bio:

“Matt knows a few things about computers and technology…For several years, Matt has traveled around the world helping customers, sales reps, and business partners understand the Lenovo product lines.”

Sounds like a fun job. I think this bio would be more accurate if it said “…knows a few things about Lenovo computers and Windows software.”

His Lenovo blog has a lot of interesting information on Lenovo hardware, and some insights into why they make certain design and product decisions. For example, the move to the 16:9 widescreen format has been dictated by LCD panel manufacturers because they cost less to produce. Never mind that many computer users prefer more vertical space, like the old 4:3 format, because it’s better for documents. Lenovo crunched numbers and decided that supporting multiple display ratios wasn’t worth it.

Again, software seems to be his weak spot:

“I’m tired of losing vertical space, and I am about to make a drastic change to the way I run Windows. Starting later this year when I run Windows 7, I’m going to start positioning my Task Bar on the left hand side of my screen.”

Drastic? Mmkay.

More on Windows 7 + In Flight Netbooks and Windows 7 and Lenovo ThinkVantage Technologies are fascinating glimpses into the tail-wagging-the-dog world world of Microsoft partners:

“When creating our ThinkVantage Technologies (programs like Access Connections, ImageUltra Builder, and Rescue and Recovery), we’ve used an “embrace and extend” methodology. In other words, we would take a basic function present in Windows and add our own additional capabilities and features on top of it…

“…our dilemma is clear — at what point does Windows offer “good enough” functionality that we should abandon our own tools and focus on something else?”

Lenovo is willing to invest all kinds of resources into mitigating Windows’ deficiencies, and tailoring its hardware to hobble along in step with Windows. And yet Linux is too hard:

“Since the market seems to be asking for more, we announced a ThinkPad T61 with a Linux preload a few weeks ago. Other than a few developers and hobbyists, I don’t expect us to really sell all that many. There’s no value proposition for it. Yeah, you’ll avoid the Microsoft tax, but if you’re a business your IT shop will spend far more in support costs, lost user productivity, and sleepless nights.”

Lenovo’s Linux strategy to date has been:

  1. Issue some press releases on how Lenovo loves Linux, no really

  2. Offer a few token Linux preloads

  3. Hide them so cunningly no customer can find them

  4. For the persistent customers that do find them, make sure to include some entertaining defects

  5. Issue more press releases on how Linux doesn’t sell and give up

When someone makes such giant mountains out of such tiny molehills it makes me wonder. How is it that ordinary Linux users can download and install Linux on Thinkpads, Ideapads, EeePCs, Mini Notes, and all kinds of computer brands and models without it being a big hairy failure? What special knowledge do they possess that Lenovo is unable to grasp? How can anyone in tech these days get away with not having broad knowledge of multiple operating systems, applications, and trends in development? You don’t have to be a total elite expert in every detail, but I think anyone who isn’t informed enough to avoid spouting pure nonsense should not have a job in tech.