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Ideas: The Branded OS: (or, Why Advertisers Will Love Linux On the Desktop)

Sep 07, 2001, 08:29 (25 Talkback[s])

[ Further attempts to play to the editor's weakness for Jay and Silent Bob will be summarily ignored. Have a nice weekend. -ed. ]

By Myddrin

Many things have been swirling through my head the last few weeks. LinuxWorld and the announcements from there, Ximian's new product announcements, CodeWeavers CrossOver product, and Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, Kevin Smith's new movie. So how do you tie the IT industry and a big-time move together? Easy, advertising.

I've been patiently-awaiting JSBSB for quite some time. I'm a raving, unapologetic Kevin Smith fan. I have been since someone forced me to sit down and watch Clerks, a comedy about under-employed youth in the early 1990's. Very funny stuff. During the year and half since I first heard the news about the new film, I've been going to NewsAskew for updates on the progress, news and just general stuff about the movie. At risk of losing my geekdom, I have to admit I was looking forward to JSBSB more than Episode II or The Lord of the Rings flick. Seriously.

Between this trifle of a film, and the announcements and stories surrounding the LinuxWorld convention, I started thinking about the commodity desktop operating system. Not so much if we are there, or why we want to be there. These questions have been investigated time and time again by people with more knowledge and eloquent fingers than I. I started to think about what can we expect. When something goes from being a specialized item to being a generally available commodity, what happens?

Then it hit me, advertising.

It's funny, advertising is such a part of the American way of life and culture, that we almost never think about it these days. We buy T-Shirts with movie or band logos and pay extra for the privilege. We download screen savers, advertising our favorite TV show, band, movie or car to our co-workers. For many geeks, even our coasters are advertisements for various Internet Service Providers. Mass advertising is very cost sensitive, so what ever it is needs to be cheap.

Cheap is where Linux shines. Imagine, at the opening of Clerks Sell Out, the promised animated film of Clerks, the first 100 ticket purchasers receive a free operating system. A Clerks branded Linux desktop, simply called Clerks. It boots up to a desktop, the "home" directory is the "Quick-Stop", it plays a little snippet from the film at start up and shut down, or if the systems been idle for more than a few minutes. Various quotes from the film play through out the use of the machine and so on and so forth. Even the applications are branded in various ways. My email for example is not called Evolution or KMail, but "RST Mail" and my newsgroup program is called "Jay's Corner."

Imagine how much your average raving fan-boy would enjoy such a thing. And better yet, how many people would see it. How many copies would be given out to friends and neighbors, and other raving fan-boys. Picture a themed OS for a TV series that evolves with the series, automatically introducing new characters, or even giving hints to this week's episode. The marketing department would go nuts!

Of course, this is just a cheesy example. Probably not the best, but an example. The question presents itself "Why not just do a Windows theme?" Well, two reasons:

Linux, by it's open source nature, is much more theme-able than Windows. You can get down into the core of KDE or GNOME and replace the smallest iota of functionality with your branded goods. Secondly, your target eyeballs get more from a free operating system than they do a free theme. If pursued correctly, the user will get a standardized package that will run most of their key Windows programs, more stably, more securely and in a more fun environment.

What Would Be Needed

There are a few simple things that a company interested in selling a service to brand Linux would need to do. Some are specific to a branded distro, and some are just a good idea for any consumer Linux os.


When installing the operating system, basic four things would need to be done.

  1. Always install wine.
  2. Install the CrossOver plugin
  3. Go through the start menu of the existing Windows installation and add those applications (running under wine) to the desktop menu. Along with the additional development mentioned below, this should give them access to the key applications. (Word, Excel, and so on.)
  4. Parse the network/hardware settings of the existing Windows installation and use that to set up the dial-up internet accounts, printers and so forth.

This would ease the users into Linux, by letting them use at least some of their core applications. Of course, since they are installing a branded OS, they will probably want to run the branded versions of Mozilla, open office and email programs, but they will have some of their core legacy apps still available to them.

Other non-essential items would be things like handling the partitioning for the user, and installing user essential applications such as an office suite, email client, web browser, and so on.

Of course the installer would be heavily branded, since we are talking about advertising.

Development To Fund

For this type of usage, Linux needs a little work. A company based on the idea of selling branding services would need to fund development work with wine. Bringing wine up to the point where essential legacy applications can run stably would be essential. This would mean MS Office, Internet Explorer, Outlook, MS Money, Quicken, Quickbooks, educational titles and so on. I am not the best person to make such a determination, and some heavy market research would be needed to help make the final choices.

Of course funding some desktop development would be essential. In particular, funding development on a common clipboard standard. Allowing WINE, QT apps, GTK apps and so forth all use a common clipboard (or at least communicate their contents to each other using a standard API).

Additional desktop development would include expanding the themes functionality to the level required by the company's clients. This might mean desktop background images that randomly turn into movies for example, or allowing odd-shaped Windows.

Branding Tools
The last piece of the pie is the development of branding tools. This would be an end-user product to open and apply branded themes, as well as a brand producer product to create the themes in a standard, installable format.

Making Money

Obviously, such a company would make the majority of its revenue by being contracted by companies to create branded themes and pressing the CDs. At first these would be marketed at technically capable people. As adoption increases, however, ISPs, hardware and software vendors seeing an increase in Linux usage would start making more of their products work with the OS, allowing less and less technically capable users to be targeted. Eventually, when desktop penetration is on the order of 20%, CDs might be sent out with cases of soda or cereal or what not.

At this saturation point the company would need to provide some other service to a pay the bills. Offering users a small fee for basic support and access to software updates(a re-branded Red Carpet express service, for example). The support would be made cheaper by requiring the installation of ssh, thus allowing the support people get in an nose around in the computer, rather than having to ask the user to do a series of unfamiliar steps. This would reduce the amount of time support staff takes to do menial tasks.


Such an idea can be done. The questions of course, are should it be done, and will it be done. In the same order, the answers are I don't know and probably.

As to whether it should be done, well that's a matter of opinion. It's a cute idea and a great way for even small companies to get their name out there. There might even be enough interest that it could expand Linux usage. It would attract people who want to impress their personality (corporate or otherwise) unto their computer to Linux. On the other hand, advertising is such a part of our lives, do we really want to extend it to something we spend so much time with?

Regardless of if it's a good idea or not, it will probably happen sometime. Probably from either a game manufacturer or a movie studio. The movie studio is obvious, include in a DVD a themed OS. It is such a cheap way to provide advertising, due to the GPL allowing massive copying, that someone, somewhere in will unleash this idea upon us. With a really good job branding, all they would need to do is an original release of a thousand or so CDs, and the rest of the job would take care of itself.

PS:If you don't mind adult humor and crude language, I would highly recommend seeing Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back. I've not enjoyed a movie as much as that all year.