Reflections on Open Source Commerce, Part 1 - page 3
Yin and Yang Redux
Sales of factory pre-installed Linux-based computer systems continue to be successful in the server market. The same cannot be said of desktop and laptop markets; these continue to be elusive, even in the explosive China market: "Although China's Linux market as a whole doubled from 2003 to 2006 to $20 million per year, sales of Linux desktop software grew more slowly. In fact, the market share of Linux desktop software in China dropped from 16% to 12% in the same period" If China is the world's fastest ICT growth market, how does this bode for the global market?
The lack of penetration of Linux-based laptops and desktop systems is also clearly demonstrated by the fact that the only systems offered require special order and production-line processing by all vendors. There are two notable exceptions—the OLPC platform and the ASUS Eee PC. Microsoft is now offering drastically reduced cost and limited functionality Windows platform solutions. This is a defensive strategy to block the adoption of Linux in this market. They seem to understand the significance of the thin-edge of the wedge. If Linux can gain significant market entry it may become a fatal Achilles heel for Redmond.
Published statistics for Linux-based market penetration by companies such as IDC are reported based on original equipment sales of pre-installed operating systems. Reliable statistics for the number of after-market installed Linux systems do not exist.
After-market installation of Linux results in a bias against original equipment manufacturer (OEM) involvement. All systems that are sold with an operating system other than Linux are already accounted for. Thus, after-market changes do not make a strong business case for the emerging Linux market segment. The result of after-market Linux installation is a negative inertia against OEMs taking a leading role in Linux adoption—something that shows no prospects for change in the immediate future. This counter-inertia is driven by the belief that when customers modify OEM equipment, it results in an increase in post-sale support costs that detracts from the real value of the original sale.
Some one I know purchased a laptop in late 2006. It came with MS Windows MCE pre-installed and had one of the famous Microsoft Vista Capable stickers on it. The owner upgraded his system to MS Windows Vista Premium and soon ran into hardware difficulties, so he contacted the vendor's support facility only to be told that before returning the system for warranty support, he must restore the system to as sold condition because the vendor could not support systems that have been modified by the owner. This demonstrates how OEMs struggle to keep after-sales support costs under control and also demonstrates the problem of after-market installation and support for Linux.
One must therefore consider how OEMs view the actions of original device manufacturers who provide Linux drivers for components used in systems that are shipped from the factory exclusively with MS Windows installed. Should this be seen as a hostile activity that undermines the profitability of the sale of OEM systems? What about Linux distributions? Do they cause the loss of profitability in OEM systems? Will we soon see the day that all desktops and laptops are sold with technology that will prevent after-market installation of Linux?
My HP dv9010us laptop has Broadcom WiFi miniCard that does not work under OpenSUSE 10.3 Linux. In order to get WiFi support under Linux, I purchased a Gigabyte Atheros chipset-based WiFi miniCard, but the BIOS on my laptop refuses to boot while that card is installed. Apparently HP deliberately crippled the BIOS to impede the ability to install an after-market WiFi card. The laptop refuses to boot with an Error 104 so long as the new miniCard is installed. Whatever the reason, this behavior by the OEM interferes with my rights as the owner of this device and forces me to go to extra trouble if I decide that it is in my best interests to replace this component. This demonstrates the challenge faced by consumers who want to run after-market Linux on a laptop.
Note: I just blew away the OpenSUSE installation and found that Ubuntu 8.04 finds the Broadcom WiFi card and with one click enabled the card. I now have WiFi support with the original WiFi card without the need to alter the system BIOS. Thank you Ubuntu and Canonical!
After-market Linux on systems present a problem for those who want to see public recognition of the more rapid adoption of Linux grow. After-market installation understates real adoption rates of Linux and open source software and over-states the installed base for competing systems.
The lack of concrete market share statistics for Linux and open source adoption at the desktop is depressing to some, yet considered to be irrelevant to others. Optimism and an expectation that desktop Linux and open source software will triumph despite apparent odds against it continues to abound from many quarters.