Linux users take note: Google knows marketing

While critics and advocates of so-called “desktop Linux” waste their time imagining a world in which some consumer-targeted Linux distro manages to fix all its bugs and then self-proclaimed computer illiterates everywhere download and burn .iso files and then set their BIOSes to boot from CD and install and configure Linux themselves, Google moves forward with Linux doing what Apple has always done: market! Strengths? Highlight those. Perceived weaknesses? Market those as strengths. Actual weaknesses? What actual weaknesses?

Seriously, instead of saying “Anything Windows can do, Linux can do” (some BS statement I’ve seen repeated on numerous Linux forums over the years) or “Linux will be a Windows replacement when it can do X” (another popular BS statement), just be honest about what Linux can do well and then play that up. For years, Linux distros had “app stores” called package managers. Because they didn’t have savvy marketing departments, somehow those package managers became a deficiency (“if only I could double-click a setup.exe as I did in Windows”) instead of a strength (get all your software in one place automatically updated and easily searchable). Apple knew how to take that concept and make it sexy. Voila! The App Store. Google followed up with the Android Market.

Likewise, for years, Linux distros have offered relatively safe computing for web, email, word processing, light photo editing, and music organization. Did that get played up as a strength? No. Linux advocates and critics instead decided to focus on what Linux didn’t offer (mainly Windows-only applications and drivers for some third-party hardware peripherals). What does Google do? Remind people (YouTube watchers, anyway) that they use “the internet” (web browser, really) for 90% of their computing anyway. Why not focus on the web browser instead of niche applications (the features in Photoshop that only professionals use, since the rest are in GIMP; high-end commercial video games, since people who use their computers 90% of the time on the web will either not play video games or play them on a console; iTunes, because you’re going to buy an Android phone and not an iPhone anyway, target audience of this YouTube video)? Why not play up the strengths of Linux?

Linux fanatics and haters, I give you… proper marketing:

It should also be mentioned that Google isn’t stupid. It knows that people generally buy devices, not operating systems. Who wants to install an OS herself and have to go through figuring out drivers and other such nonsense? That’s the OEM’s job. If you’re like the vast majority of consumers, you don’t buy an iPhone and install Linux on it. You buy an Android phone. You don’t buy a Windows netbook (or, worse yet, buy a badly configured obscure Linux distro preinstalled—Xandros and Linpus, I mean you!) and install Linux on it. You buy a Chrome OS netbook.

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8 Comments

  1. I love this post :D

    I’ve said in the past that Linux needs good marketing and a brand name behind it, and now it has both. If they can get the price right, I think these netbooks could rocket. Teenagers, for instance, live on the web and don’t really need a computer to do much more. And then as XP is finally allowed to die and users feel the limitations of “Windows 7 Starter Edition”, people will start to wonder why they should give so much of their money to MS when a cheap, fast Google netbook does all they need.

  2. And?

    Most of the people who work on Linux are contributing without monetary gain. They probably have a job elsewhere and have no interest or skill in creating a commercial or YouTube ad or even a specialized netbook for Linux.

    Canonical is focused on funding the Ubuntu distro development and support, not advertising. Linux in general has a non-centralized development base compared to Google.

    I don’t think most buyers of a Android phone even think about Linux. Not even sure if they would know what that is.

    In other words, be glad that Linux distros have spread to even 1% of the OS market share.

  3. I don’t know. Marketing or not, I don’t think I’ll be buying a netbook with a browser on it. Sure, the idea is bold, and Google makes it look simple, but really now, no offline music or video, no local applications like skype, easytag, recordmydesktop, openshot, media player, and no printing. And what if I am in the area with slow broadband?

  4. A very interesting theory is being put forward by Glyn Moody of Linux Journal. He thinks that Google is planning to give away not only the Chrome OS, which is free software, but also the hardware that it runs on – free notebook computers for all who want them.

    Why? He thinks that it will be done to further Google’s advertising-based philosophy, but when you think about it, it would also wipe the competition out of the laptop market. Who would buy a Windows laptop when you could get a Chrome one for free?

    Very interesting theory: http://www.linuxjournal.com/content/would-you-accept-googles-free-netbook

  5. “Canonical is focused on funding the Ubuntu distro development and support, not advertising. Linux in general has a non-centralized development base compared to Google.”

    Canonical is a services focused company that makes its money through selling support to users of its Linux distro that it supports, Ubuntu. Canonical has great incentive to market and push Ubuntu to a larger audience, as doing so it can get users that it can then turn into customers by selling support to.

    This is exactly what they’ve generally been trying to do with Ubuntu since it began. It’s even labeled “Linux for Human Beings”.

    Although I wouldn’t go about claiming some Youtube videos are genuinely something to shout about as “real marketing”. Although it would be nice if Canonical did even that.

  6. P.S. Don’t underestimate word of mouth however. There are plenty of examples where fairly low key or nearly non-existant marketing still ended up with successful products.

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