Originally Published: Monday, 2 July 2001 Author: Mark Miller
Published to: opinion_articles/opinion Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

Does Linux Need Marketing?

Welcome to the new opinion section of Linux.com. This week's feature article is an introduction to Linux.com Opinion by correspondent Mark Miller. Miller takes a look at the debate sparked when free software genius and revolutionary Richard Stallman called Ransom Love (of Caldera Linux) "just a parasite". Oh dear! Well, Miller has his own take, which is the point of Linux.com Opinion. Do you have a view on this issue? Be sure to share it with the community in the comment section!

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author and not necessarily those of Linux.com, it's parent companies or employees.

Linux doesn't need marketing but marketers need Linux.

I have just read an incredible article about an exchange between Caldera's Ransom Love and Richard Stallman. Forgive me for interjecting myself into another's fight, but I think this has gotten so tied up in "personality" that it is time to interject the little guy back into the discussion. Before I begin let me say that no, Love, I haven't invested 55 million either. I have invested a lot of my personal time and effort and yes even some money into Linux but nothing like that amount. Still, because this is a community and not just a market I can have my say.

Linux isn't about a business model, it's about users.

Caldera's Ransom Love has made some interesting statements about Linux, the Free Software movement and marketing:

"I know that the open source movement has no clue about marketing, they underestimate it. They say 'here, come and get it for free' and don't understand that you have to extol a product. But we've been in this since the very beginning and constantly working for the success of this movement."

Users create tools that they need to perform their tasks. Perhaps Love needs to remember that if he wishes to be truly successful in the free and open software movement (not market). I think he underestimates free and open software. It started without marketing and can do very well without it. For instance, if every company quit today, Linux and other free software would continue. I also think he doesn't have a good grasp of the about the community involvement that raised Linux this far. Extol a product? Only Apple Macintosh enthusiasts understand the power of community efforts as well as the Linux and open source communities. Evangelism like this knows no limit. It's its own kind of marketing.

Love goes on: "We gave the Linux community more than Stallman with his libraries. Our work helps Linux so much more than a few lines of code." The unique thing that Caldera did was its Network Desktop when graphical interfaces were still fairly rare. Since then they have been left behind by Gnome and KDE desktops.

Let's look closer at the claim that RMS is responsible for only a few lines of code. By recent count (see http://www.dwheeler.com/sloc/redhat71-v1/redhat71sloc.html ), just the largest parts of the GNU suite contain 3,225,657 lines of code. EMACS by itself (largely written by Stallman) contains 627,626 of those lines. The largest portions of GNU alone represent 10% of the total SLOC in Redhat Linux.

So if you have to estimate a commercial value of those "few lines of code" at, for instance, 10% of the estimated cost of the effort to write the code in the RH Distribution, or a cool $100 million. So yes, you could say that RMS and his organization has invested as much as Caldera's 55 million.

While not to belittle Caldera's true contribution to the Linux movement, I think the efforts of Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, and Eric Raymond (and a host of others too numerous to name here) have done far more to raise the movements up to a point where companies have finally gotten Linux in their sights, without the help of the kind of commercial "marketing" that Love is talking about. Caldera wasn't the first company to market Linux, others like Yggdrasil (remember them?) had already made commercial successes for Linux before Caldera showed up.

Nothing is Free

What does Caldera want to give us now? According to Love, nothing is for free. "Someone must pay for it. All these small modifications in the code... all this does cost money. To bring it to the point: The only way to make Linux a successful business is to cash in. This is the other side of the medal. In the future, all Linux applications will have a price tag. That's the job of the movement's marketing department. You will have to pay for it, but of course less than you would pay for NT products because one thing is clear: our main competitor is Microsoft."

Here it comes, the only way to get more is to pay for it. All Linux applications will have a price tag? Guess we had better let all those saps on Freshmeat and Sourceforge know that. That code can't be worth much anyway, it's free. Personally I doubt if anyLinux user or programmer really believes that, only marketing types.

The job of marketing is to get you to pay for it. I think I can do without that. I mean, why pay for what is already free? Service and support.? I've downloaded Debian for free and bought Slackware and SuSE over the years. I'll pay for the services and convenience. I don't have to pay for the product. The fact that I won't pay as much as I would for NT isn't a feature, Ransom.

Mozillaquest ) notes that "OpenLinux Workstation 3.1 brings a change in Caldera product and Linux distribution licensing practices. OpenLinux Workstation, as a product, is licensed per system and cannot be deployed without limit. Caldera will provide a certificate of license authenticity (COLA) with each unit sold, and Caldera expects each customer to have a COLA for each system that deploys OpenLinux Workstation. The Linux Kernel and many applications included in OpenLinux Workstation 3.1 are open source software (OSS) and must be distributed at no charge according to the GPL and other open source licenses. However, such licenses usually allow distributors to charge for their costs in distributing the software and to charge for value added to the distribution packages by the package distributors. Caldera states that it has added its own proprietary software and other Copyrighted material to the OpenLinux Workstation 3.1, Linux-distribution package. Our general understanding of the various open source public licenses is that by adding its own proprietary software and other Copyrighted material to the OpenLinux Workstation 3.1 package, Caldera may impose such per-system licensing practices. Of course that is our understanding, and it is not a legal opinion."

Caldera wants to kill the Goose that laid the Golden Egg here. Their business model won't admit that there are alternatives to Linux as a "product". Of course it is perfectly legal for Caldera to do this: The GPL allows you to add both proprietary and non-proprietary extensions. Microsoft should take note this, as you know they have. The GPL isn't anti-business even if Stallman and others may appear to be. Good thing too, because Love wants Linux to be the business operating system.

"From the technical view this is a major challenge. I hold a lot respect for all these Linux companies and their work. They are no parasites, either. They put millions into the development, just like us. Our job is now mainly marketing. It's sad, because the marketing guys are always seen as the bad guys. We never get the credit. But if we did not do that, none of the Linux companies on the market could survive. We pay 650 people to work for and on Linux, just as Suse or Red Hat do with their 600 employees each. I would call that a large contribution to the open source movement."

I can respect the desire to make Linux a major player in the business world but is it a technical challenge or a mainly marketing challenge? I don't think the technical hurdles are insurmountable; after all, we have supercomputers running Linux. Surely, making Linux a player in the business world will take less than that. In fact, I have my doubts that Linux isn't already there. Giving credit to marketing guys for enterprise adoption of Linux is a bit of a stretch. Enterprises run Linux because it's a better OS than the alternatives: Geeks got Linux to that point on their own, the marketing departments only came in recently. It is still a debatable question about whether or not marketing is a good thing for Linux or free software.

I'd like to point out an important tactical note, in my opinion the number of people you employ is not important to the free software and open source movements. Most of the people you employ are not directly coding. You have managers, receptionists and shipping clerks in that total. I would assume that the total number of people working on Linux at the companies is a small fraction of the total development effort on free and open software. Of course, they tend to be important players in the Linux world, so the ability to fund them is a good thing. Then again certain developers have been given stipends by the free community on their own so if it is important to the community it would happen without companies.

"Certified" software

Mr Love notes that "If you need GNU, download it for free. If you need certified software, you have to pay for it. We don't take away something, we benefit all." This is of course pure and total hype. Certified? By whom? Your company? Some other one? Linus doesn't certify Linux so how can someone else? Any "mission critical" use is going to be carefully tested even if you "certify" it (or at least it had better be if you are smart).

What Marketers don't Get.

  1. Linux isn't a product, it's a tool. I am sick of marketers forcing me to pay and pay. I want to obtain a tool to perform a task and do it reliably and well. If I can get that tool from an open, sharing community then I will. If I create a tool and can contribute to my community then that is better yet. If I can make an honest buck providing a service that is truly needed and not just marketing then that is best.

  2. Linux isn't a service. Linux is huge and complicated and deeply rich in its variants. Over and over I have needed assistance to understand many aspects of it. In fact, most of my troubles with Linux have come down to my own lack of knowledge. Once I obtained that little bit of information that I lacked I have been able to make it do what I needed. There lies a business. Documentation, training, packaging of all the software libraries and their dependencies, the convenience of popping a CD in versus the time needed to download are all services that I have paid for.

  3. Don't sell me software sell me a solution. Man, I hate it when advertising wants to sell a solution! They even use "solution" like it is an entity unto itself. Unfortunately, in this case I'm forced to use the term because it fits. I want a solution to the high costs of a Point of Sale system for my business. I want a solution to my problem of affording all the software I need to run my Computer Science program at University. I want a system that makes running my real estate company easier. I want to have a freely available Linux so I can continue to play around with it and learn more about computers and make my personal life simpler.

Linux will survive and thrive without those who would squeeze every dime from it and leave it as soon as the growth projections dip. Linux will do this because Linux meets a need (Marketing 101) and benefits from powerful community evangelism (Marketing 201 ala Guy Kawasaki). Please feel free to make money from Linux, sell to those that want that, just don't try to make it sound like Linux needs marketers when it is marketers that need Linux as the "Next Big Thing (tm)".

Mark Miller is a user of Linux since kernel 1.1 and can hack together the barest of Perl scripts when he needs to. His contributions to the Linux community consist mainly of articles and a few projects he has been meaning to get to.