By Mackenzie Morgan
Contributing Writer, [GAS]
Many Linux users are geeks, and vice versa, and geeks can build their own systems or at least install an OS, so why should we buy systems with Linux pre-installed? Why is it so important if the OS is free? Let’s talk about a little thing called “market share.”
You’ll see a lot of talk about market share on the Internet, but usually it confuses market share and installed base. See, geeks tend to care about installed base. We’ll argue with the people quoting 1% market share that it can’t be right because how can companies know whether we reinstalled the OS or not? And that’s just the point. Generally, they can’t. But what changes when we change our OS isn’t the market share; it’s the installed base. The market share is still based flatly on the number of units sold—the thing business people care about.
Why should we care about the difference? Well, it’s really hard to get a good handle on the installed base of just about anything. Mozilla can tell us how many installers for Firefox were downloaded, and I can tell you that the Firefox_Setup.exe on my flash drive was used to install on at least 5 random people’s computers, but then the people who downloaded and never got around to finishing the install or went back to Internet Exploder get in the way, and it’s a big mess. It’s not hard to count the number of units bought or downloaded (“shipped”), though. Number of units shipped is what business people use to determine whether they’re doing a good job or a lousy job, too. That’s where we come in.
Ever heard of “voting with your wallet”? The more of us buy our systems with Linux pre-installed, the more the market share percentages sway. What happens then? Then hardware manufacturers get more pressure put on them to play nice. Then ISPs get more pressure put on them to actually support Linux users. Then software developers (yes, game houses too) get more pressure put on them to port their programs. It might not be much pressure—yet—but the smart ones will see the writing on the wall. Already we’ve seen Dell pressured into selling machines with Ubuntu, and they, in turn, pressured Broadcom into releasing working drivers. It’s all fine and dandy for us to try to yell at various companies “please support us!!!”, but until there are signs in the market (you know, the one with money) that Windows’ share is shrinking, they can keep on ignoring us.
If you’re convinced that you need to do something about this market share issue with your next computer purchase, where do you actually find a hardware vendor offering Linux as an option? There is actually a handful of them. In the Ubuntu world, System76 is popular on the “support a small business” front. For those wanting a more mainstream brand, Dell, as mentioned above, is the way to go. Watch out though. Sometimes they put sales on some components on the Windows-equivalent systems and not on the Ubuntu ones. When this has been noticed before, they’ve promptly fixed it and applied the sales to the Ubuntu systems too, so just make sure you check so you can email them if they got it wrong again. I’m a repeat-customer of ZaReason, since they will ship Kubuntu, not just Ubuntu, and I like KDE. Really, they’ll ship just about any distro you request as long as the drivers are there. System76 and ZaReason tend to appeal more toward the quality-and-service-over-price buyer, so if budget is really your limiting factor, have a look at Sub300 (oddly with a URL of Sub500, go figure). It’s Linspire, but you were going to reinstall over Windows anyway, right? At least you can count into the market share game and try to influence the industry.
What do you think? If every system running a Linux distro had been purchased that way, and if no Linux users were using User Agent Switcher to masquerade as Windows and avoid silly webpage blocks, what sort of statistics would we see about operating systems? If I missed it, who is your favourite vendor for hardware running a Free Software OS?