Originally Published: Wednesday, 10 October 2001 Author: Edward M Kamau
Published to: opinion_articles/opinion Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Why Computer Vendors Should Aggressively Push Linux Systems

In this Linux.com opinion article Mr Kamau writes "hardware vendors should look at their Linux customers as an auxillary sales force giving invaluable word of mouth promotion for their products". This is an interesting idea, especially in these uncertain economic times when blind, ill-informed analysis based on statistics like "number of boxes sold" is more dangerous than ever to the long term health and prosperity of a company.

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Despite the press hype and the loud proclamations of support for Linux from various computer vendors over the past year, little effort was actually put into selling systems running Linux, at least, for desktop Linux systems and laptops. IBM, Compaq, Dell etc apparently thought that simply loading Linux onto high-priced computers and listing them on their Web sites was sufficient to get these systems to sell and sell well. Obviously it wasn't enough, and now some of those vendors, Dell for instance, are scaling back Linux offerings citing poor sales.

Yet where is the aggressive sales effort, the advertising, the rebates coupons, prominent placement on Web sites and through the sales channel? Where are all the sales and marketing tricks and gimmicks that are generally needed to push acceptance of a new product?

It is true that these vendors got into the Linux thing in order to help them sell more computers, not simply because they like Linux. It is also true that the market for pre-loaded Linux computers is small and that it never took off as expected. But those are not the only reasons these companies failed to expand their sales on the basis of Linux. The computer vendors tend to look at Linux as boosting their sales only by the number of Linux systems sold. In other words, if I project sales of 1000 "Windows computers" and then I add Linux systems and I can sell 50 of those, then my sales go to 1050 computers. That logic is only partially correct, in fact, selling those fifty Linux computers will increase total sales volume by more than fifty units. There is a multiplier at work here and that multiplier is that sales of Linux computers create a Linux user sales force for the vendor. That's right, Linux users selling Wintel hardware for the vendor! How does that happen?

Linux Marketing: Sell Hardware

These thoughts occurred to me after I recently purchased an IBM Thinkpad: A nice desktop replacement machine (model A21M) that came pre-loaded with Windows 98. I bought the Thinkpad because I like IBMs support for Linux and I bought the Windows version because comparable Linux models were more expensive. Anyway, I promptly cleaned the machine and installed Linux. Then I went about my normal day, taking every opportunity to show off the Linux system to my colleagues and to gently demonstrate the benefits of running Linux to them.

My colleagues were very interested, most had heard of Linux and wanted to actually see what it looked like, so they came and looked and have been generally impressed. But I quickly noticed that people were also very interested in the laptop itself. They came to take a look at Linux but left impressed with both Linux and the IBM laptop. I have actually been promoting IBM hardware while advocating Linux. One of my colleagues is about to put in a requisition for an IBM laptop and another one, who just took possession of a laptop machine, was so taken with my Thinkpad running Linux that they have investigated returning their model and switching to IBM.

In short IBM may sell a couple of laptops in the near future, due to my Linux advocacy. Now none of these people is actually ready to switch to Linux right now (I'm hoping they do later), but they are ready to switch to a particular vendor's Windows machines, because of Linux. Even though these people buy Windows machines now, there are advantages to this from a Linux standpoint, they will at least be buying Linux compatible machines and will likely be willing to dual boot. In short they will be getting onto the road to Linux.

In thinking back over this, I also noticed that I had in fact recommended desktop computer models to my friends some of whom subsequently purchased those models. This brings me to a second point. Linux users typically are viewed as more technically proficient and knowledgeable by the general computing public. I work in a non-technical field and I have a non-technical background, but since I started using Linux people view me as a sort of techie. My friends ask me about their Windows problems even though they know I run Linux. I always try to help if I can, and in the process I end up recommending not just Linux but also specific computer brands. If that is true for me imagine how much free marketing IBM gets from more technical gurus running Linux.

The moral of this story is that hardware vendors should look at their Linux customers as an auxillary sales force giving invaluable word of mouth promotion for their products. Computer manufacturers should aggressively push their Linux products. They should discount them, offer rebates, advertise them and offer powerful incentives for retailers to carry pre-loaded Linux systems in their stores. In addition, vendors should ensure full hardware compatibility with Linux. Computer manufacturers should aim for a rapid expansion of the Linux user base, even though they do not make much or even any money from that growth right now.

Expanding the Linux market will also mean expanding the Windows market and expanding total sales volume beyond simply the number of Linux systems sold. Though it may seem paradoxical this will benefit both Linux and the hardware vendors. Those people who buy Windows machines will have been exposed to Linux and they will be more likely to switch to Linux, either completely or through a dual boot or some other arrangement. The Linux community does not lose much through additional sales of Window machines, since Windows already owns the consumer market. But we gain tremendously from exposure of Linux, sales of Linux compatible hardware and new users attracted by the aggressive pricing and promotion. For the vendor, the pay off will be the creation of a loyal and evangelizing group of users who will promote your hardware as they promote their favorite operating system.

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