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Reflections on Open Source Commerce, Part 2 - page 2

The Story Thus Far

  • May 16, 2008
  • By John Terpstra

Sharon Linsenbach believes that new technology companies are again seeking the help of the channel to leverage the resellers' relationship with the customer. She presents some interesting perspectives on the importance of the mechanism vendors might use to get goods and services into the hands of the consumer.

Linux distribution vendors have not made a particularly compelling inroad on the consumer desktop. Some would argue that Linux should never be a consumers' choice, instead they want to see the focus on the business desktop. The trouble is, no Linux distribution has so far been able to deliver the substance of what is required for large-scale corporate adoption. What distribution model will work to get Linux solutions into the hands of consumers, both the in the home market and also the corporate consumer?

The simple fact that few would deny is that every Linux distribution available today is more or less good enough for the majority of consumers. Why then is there no rush to get Linux-based laptops and desktop systems to market? What is the real obstacle that is responsible for holding back the flood-waters of a huge shift away from Microsoft Windows Vista? Is it because it is too difficult to re-educate the consumer? What is holding business back?

Let's speculate about one reason why OEMs are not rushing to ship Linux-based personal computing systems. Perhaps the sale of PC and laptop hardware is not profitable and that the only reason OEMs still sell them is because Microsoft pays market development funds that are the last remaining incentive to do business. I think you would agree that is definitely not the case, but if that were the case there clearly would be no attractiveness in a Linux-based solution.

Alternately, perhaps the commercial Linux distribution vendors just do not understand the market. An OEM would not want to change a comfortable relationship with Microsoft for a multitude of relationships with vendors who do not have a commercially viable business solution.

There are many channel dimensions. OEMs are just a small part of the bigger picture. Retailers sell products to consumers, but to the OEM they sell customer opportunity. This opportunity is expressed through a value that is placed on shelf space, key traffic areas within the retail store, staff competence, staff knowledge and support mechanisms. Getting an OEM to produce a Linux-based PC platform is merely the first step in working the channel to get products moving.

Consumers are not consummate open source technology buffs. Very few will find delight in performing an after-market installation of Linux on a PC or laptop system. The only way to convert them to use Linux is to provide it in a compellingly easy to use packaged form. If there is not way to do this, we shall have to find another market or else keep Linux in the closet. Maybe we should just take satisfaction that Linux is a great learning tool for want-to-be computer scientists. Be aware however, that if there is no market for computer scientists who are skilled in Linux, the future for these people must be somewhere else. Where would that be?

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