You mean products fail for other reasons?

If you read recent press coverage of Google’s Nexus One, it all seems to make sense. Phones weren’t going to sell well being sold only online without a chance for people to try them in person in a brick-and-mortar store. There wasn’t an advertising campaign for it. Very few articles or blogs about the end of Nexus One seem to think there was a problem at all with the phone itself. No one says the phone wasn’t ready for consumers or that it was too difficult to use.

Yet two years ago when Asus was just starting to be successful with the Eee PC netbook (which came preinstalled with a version of Linux, which Microsoft had to stop right away by resurrecting XP for the first of many times to come), that’s what a lot of the press coverage assumed. Geez. I mean, a lack of advertising campaign or in-person models to try out in the store couldn’t have anything to do with Linux netbooks not selling. It must be that Linux is too hard to use. It must be that Linux isn’t ready for consumers. It must really be that consumers just prefer Windows when given the choice.

Well, there is some truth to that in that the Linux distro Asus chose to put on the Eee PC was essentially crippled (not at all like Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, Fedora, Debian, OpenSuSE, or any of the other popular distros of the time). It wasn’t even vanilla Xandros. It was a custom Xandros that could be customized only through pasting cryptic commands in the terminal.

Nevertheless, if they’d marketed it correctly, Linux could have been a success. The problem with Linux on “the desktop” (or the laptop or netbook) is the myth of meritocracy. You don’t win by being the best. You win by marketing.

Think about it.

When the iPad was announced, critics focused on the features it didn’t have (no webcam, no Flash, no USB ports), but Apple with its clever marketing department convinced the hoards that the device was magic, so the hoards bought it. If a Linux tablet had been released without Flash, people would have just laughed and said “This is the reason Linux will never succeed—they need to realize the masses use Flash.” But Apple releases a tablet and all of a sudden people are actually saying Flash isn’t necessary. HTML5 is suddenly the wave of the future. Apps for websites are suddenly better than just going to the websites themselves.

I also see a lot of Linux poo-pooers claim Linux doesn’t have any apps, and that Windows users have certain killer apps they need, and that’s why Linux won’t succeed. Well, when Android first started, it had very few apps. In fact, for the end of 2008 and all through 2009, iPhone fanatics kept pointing out how many hundreds of thousands of apps the iTunes App Store had compared to the few thousand Android had. Well, Android now has almost 100,000 apps. If this pace continues, the iTunes App Store and Android Market will probably have the same number of apps by this time next year. The Linux desktop (as opposed to server or embedded) has been around since… the late 90s? Android has been around since 2008. The Linux desktop isn’t mainstream but Android is.

What should we learn from all this? Marketing matters. Being able to test a physical product out yourself matters. Dell selling badly marketed (or even anti-marketed) Ubuntu models on its website isn’t going to sell Ubuntu preinstalled in great numbers, nor are relatively obscure vendors like System76 or ZaReason without a proper store front or brand name recognition.

I would love it if all the bugs in Ubuntu (or some other popular Linux distro) could be fixed. I would love it if some more attention would be paid to ease of use or to making more applications available in the software repositories. I would love that. But that won’t fix Bug #1. If Linux wants to make a dent in the desktop/laptop/netbook world, it needs to give up the idea of being good enough and start embracing the idea of crafting, shipping, and marketing a product—yes, one people can try out in a brick-and-mortar store. In other words, what I said two years ago is still true.

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4 Comments

  1. You win by being the best AND marketing. I hate how people think there’s one magical solution – there isn’t, it’s a whole mix of reasons. part of that is marketing, part of that is personal preference, and another part is simply breaking through a monopoly that has a strong hold over OEM’s.

  2. I agree with all that you posted… Marketing, marketing, marketing. Wanna sell something? Promote it!

    And the part about Steve Jobs denying the existence of Flash on the iPhone and the iPad?

    I quietly believe that God spared him certain death by pancreatic cancer just so that he can continue in his Holy Mission to rid the temporal world of that scourge of mankind known as “FlashPlayer”…

    And he’s using Marketing to do it! Go, Steve, go!!! :^D

  3. Ubuntucat,

    I would like you to know that I am an avid reader of your blog. I find it precious (minus the Linux stuff–I’m a Windows person) in ways that I rarely find blogs.
    I found it by accident while I was googling the recent utilization of corporate proper nouns (such as Kleenex and Xerox) as replacements for their intended purpose (I think the post was titled “I will get PC about “PC”).

    I could also relate to your stance on many issues, as I am a Euro-Arab hybrid (currently in high school), especially those on feminism and good grammar.

    I read on here that you used to be a teacher, why aren’t you still one? From your writing I can tell your personality would certainly lighten up a class!

  4. I don’t care about the “masse”, I just care about getting a operating system that works. What’s up with all this “marketing ploy”, is that what Ubuntu is all about?

    I thought Ubuntu is about free software that works for most computer machines. And it better have the Wine kernel too.

    All those dang Linux newspeople already forgotten about the purpose of copyleft and open-source applications. They might as well join the Microsoft or Macintosh (haha) monpolies and FORGET about making good operating system softwares (just like Microsoft’s WINDOZE or Apple’s MAK-E-TOSH [find out what tosh means]). Can you imagine if Linux focus all its priorities on marketing and public relations? We can all say goodbye free products and services!

    People seem to forget that these Linux distributions are free, so they should be satisfied for not paying a single penny/pound/peso/cigarette. If the public wants to throw away their money for their ignorance, especially DURING the recessions, they can kiss their savings goodbye.

    I still think that Linux (Ubuntu) is good and shows promise for any (personal) computer user. Unfortunately, I have to find out the hard way that Dell PCs do not like the Linux OS softwares. Nevertheless, I am making this slow transition from (the activation of) commerical products to free products (that works). I haven’t experimented too much on the Ubuntu, but it seems to be as customizable as Windows.

    As for the user friendly interface, Windows users should have already learned to install a Linux distribution. The Windows installation and DOS shell is sufficient enough to resolve enough problems for at least a Ubuntu installation.

    I don’t want a free OS to become a full commericial commerce. Ubuntucat, can you email me how to get the Wine kernel to work on Ubuntu? If so, please email to my email address.

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