Reading slashdot this week, I came across an article talking about a new effort by Microsoft called linuxpersonas.com, which is an online sales kit for Microsoft technologies at the enterprise level and talk various customer profiles out of using Linux. Needless to say, as a consultant that makes part of his living by pitching open-source, and doing installations and maintenance of these free platforms - it’s hard to flip through this site without doing some serious eye-rolling.
In any case, I think this site underscores a serious weakness in Linux/OSS in general - that is, that there is not very much in the way of organized efforts to expand the marketshare with regards to traditional marketing. All too often, Linux and related technologies seem to rely on Field of Dreams style promoting, “If we build it, they will come.” The development community at times seems to be so in love with what they have created, that they consider the dominance of their platform inevitable. To me this feels strangely similar to Karl Marx preaching about the natural evolution to communism, and the historical inevitability of the demise of Capitalism - the point being, both arguments as far as I’m concerned are pie in the sky dreaming.
If Linux is going to succeed and get the percentage of machines with it installed to the point where it becomes more than a buzzword seen in CNN technology section articles, or something a IT Manager will take a 24 hour crash course in, somebody needs to sell it. It is important to clarify here that I am not proposing that we go and throw a pricetag on a shrinkwrapped install disc - when I say sell, I mean that people need to get in the trenches and go out getting businesses and everyday people to get this software on their computers. We need to see sites popping up that are the equivilent of linuxpersonas.com, but are designed to help consultants convince their customers to run Linux in their company. We also need real, legitimate advertising by the dominant players of our platform. When Ubuntu 7.04 ships next month, billionaire Mark Shuttleworth should sink some serious money into conventional advertising to get his product noticed by people who have never even heard the term Linux before. We should see MySQL running some ads in Computer Publications comparing their product to MSSQL or Oracle offerings.
Novell has started to do this in some respects by making some parodies of the infamous Apple Computer Mac Guy / PC Guy ads, and introducing a girl character named Linux, but at this point these ads aren’t very effective at doing much more than getting a quick laugh out of nerds who already know about Linux and love it. I would like to see a Novell ad where the three characters are talking about going out for an OS upgrade (which could be new clothes or something) and they all open their wallets and show how much the overhaul will cost them. The PC guy takes out a stack of $100 bills and talks about how he’ll need Vista Ultimate and a copy of Office 2007, the Apple guy takes out a $100 bill for a Leopard upgrade, but also has a lot of smaller bills he plans on spending on the Mac shareware community. At this point the camera pans over to the Linux character who is having all of her stuff bought for her by a crowd of people, including some people with briefcases full of money, who are wearing shirts with IBM, Red Hat and other corporate logos.
Until we see a serious marketing effort on the behalf of Linux technology, I have a hardtime concieving any major marketshare growth of open-source technology. In the meantime, redmondpersonas.com is registered and under development. Check back soon!