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,
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
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.
Always install wine.
Install the CrossOver plugin
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
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.
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.
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
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