Originally Published: Monday, 2 July 2001 Author: Mark Miller
Published to: opinion_articles/opinion Page: 2/3 - [Printable]

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!

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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).

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