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.comment: Savor the Unmarketed Moment - page 2

Here They Come, And They're Not the Monkees

  • September 20, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Marketers are drawn to money as surely as maggots were drawn to aforementioned raccoon. And right now and for the foreseeable future Linux is dripping with money. Linux companies have gone public, already public companies are investing hundreds of millions (not a typo) of dollars in Linux, and there are a lot of other nonpublic companies that have Linux at their core.

Expect to hear phrases like "brand recognition." Expect to see press releases with phrases like "Red Hat brand Linux." (I'm not picking on Red Hat here; any of the distributions could do it, and many probably will.) There is a lot of playing for position going on here, and the marketer's job is to make it all look good -- even the bad stuff. In some cases, "brand visibility" will be important because stockholders ("partners" in both the old and new senses, so far) will need something to hang onto in lieu of dividends.

While the hostilities among the two leading Linux desktops have subsided, there remains, as there should, some competition. But this competition has taken on its marketing aspects, too: Why else would there be some quiet discussion in both camps as to the timing of the next release (both are due for new versions next month) to gain maximum "mindshare" over the other?

Don't get me wrong: I'm highly in favor of making money. I do it for a living, as I suspect you do, did, or shall. The heartbreak is in anticipation of the lavender fog of nonsense and pseudo-technobabble that has permeated almost every aspect of life now coming to envelop Linux. The Bazaar is about to be blanketed with smog emitted by the Cathedral's smokestacks. Nobody will be prevented from doing whatever he or she was doing before, but the oxygen level will be dropping and visibility will be impaired.

What's more, some shameless marketer -- it's bound to happen -- will do a little research in the community, and it's only a matter of time before we see some big computer maker taking out ads with the headline: "[Distribution] brand Linux preloads? Kewl!" And copy that begins "Whether you're a k-rad haX0r d00d or a newbie RPM luser, [IBM, Compaq, whoever] has the [Distribution] brand Linux preload for you . . ." And you won't know whether to laugh or throw up. (Make up your mind in a hurry -- doing both at once can be fatal.) You will not be sad when their website gets cracked.

Expect a new round of acronyms, too. Linux already has enough, but there's a difference: the ones we already have actually mean something. The marketing crowd will produce new ones, but these will mean nothing, because they will derive from their bumper-sticker slogans, which also mean nothing. We'll now hear about "TESI -- Total Ease and Simplicity of Installation" or "RIP: Root Integrity Protection," meaning that you'll be prompted to pick something else instead of "root" as the root password. And they'll be right: it will be a rip. (Distributions typically prompt people not to use "root" as the root password, but nobody has made it into a marketing strength yet.)

And hohoho, people will fall for it. And soon thereafter there will be scores of posts to mailing lists, oh, say, kernel-devel, with messages like "My TESI disk isn't working. What are you going to do about it? Linux sucks!" Not so hohoho anymore after that.

Why now? The world has noticed Linux, really noticed it. It is now a great desktop operating system, and will become far more so with the new KDE and new Gnome and with the new kernel. The distributions have made it so that a total dimwit can (mostly) set up a standalone Linux box, and anyone with an average brain instead of a meaningless certificate from Microsoft can learn enough in short order to be a more than competent network administrator. The reasons to embrace Linux now exceed the reasons not to. The three sentences above are all that's needed by the sane, but in the strange and unreal world of marketing they are nowhere near enough.

Nowhere? Speaking of that location, it's where you'll find the word "free" in all of this, as in "you can download and use it for free, and copy it and give it to your friends for free, and pass along your knowledge about it for free." While I have some bigtime philosophical differences with the Free Software Foundation and its leading guru, and while I very much like and respect the leader of Open Source, the marketers are going to really sully the notion of the latter and cause many of us, at least in some respects, to take refuge in the former. The marketing is not going to mention "free" at all, but you can bet that "Open Source" is already a hotkey macro in the Winword machines of a world of marketing copywriters.

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