Linux, Marketing and Desktop-readiness: A concrete rant

I am sick of people talking about whether or not Linux is ready for The Desktop, if it will ever be, or how many grandma’s are using it.

Kim Brebach recently published an article called 13 reasons why Linux won’t make it to a desktop near you. I read some parts of it and I quickly realized that this guy doesn’t know anything about how FOSS works.

Then Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols made a reply article stating that Kim was right.

I won’t go into the boring details I’ll just pick the first “reason” (both agree on this one):

1. The people who make the product have no money for marketing.

Is this serious? Kim is basically assuming that in order to make a product successful you need the kind of marketing that requires money. You don’t need to be in marketing to know that of the four P’s only one requires the kind of money he is talking about: Promotion. Marketing != promotion, Linux already has great Pricing, Internet is a great Placement, and the Product is decent enough. Thanks Wikipedia.

Now, let’s assume he meant money for promotion. Seth Godin explains much better than me in this video for some Google guys. Basically he says that the TV-industrial complex (but TV ads, bug people, people buy, you make more ads with the money) is over. Word-of-mouth is great marketing, you just need to target the early adopters and do something remarkable so they’ll talk about it.

I would love to see how mr. Kim explains the success of Google or Wikipedia. The Internet is changing the rules of software development, marketing, and many other things.

So considering these two succinct examples (Google and Wikipedia):

1. The people who make the product have no money for marketing
2. The reason they have no money is that they give the product away Giving away something for free isn’t good marketing?
3. Since they give the product away, people never see it in shops People don’t see Google in shops either. It’s on the Internet.
4. Because people never see the product in shops or adverstised, they don’t know it exists It doesn’t need to be on the shops.
5. The makers of the product rely on word of mouth to attract more customers, but their customers only talk to each other Google was once only-for-geeks too.

My rant

The rest of the points are debatable but I will summarize them into: there’s no coherence. This is due to the very nature of FOSS; there’s just so many people involved with so many personal agendas that things are going into all the directions all the time.

Now let’s analyze the situation with The Desktop, or Desktop Environment. It’s about user interaction, it’s the thing that puts all the pieces together so you can actually use your computer. So the most important thing in a DE is… the user!

The reason why FOSS takes so long to develop nice DE’s is because developers don’t like users. Users are stupid, users don’t know what they want, users complain about everything.

The only kind of users that developers like, are the ones that are FOSS advocates, have years of experience, follow the policies, know where and how to state issues, agree on how the software should work, and are the kind of people they would like to drink a beer with.

I would like to point out the issue Linus Torvalds had with GNOME as a user. There was a heated discussion about the whole GNOME approach but there was no conclusion. Linux even provided patches just to prove they wouldn’t get merged. The patches cleaned up the code, fixed bugs and implemented what he needed… a couple got merged, but the rest are still gathering dust after seven months: 408907, 408898, 408906.

So what do people do when the developers won’t listen? They create new projects, or sometimes fork. So the simplicity-to-the-point-of-uselessness aspect of GNOME’s window manager creates a yet another window manager like OpenBox.

But of course if you ask a GNOME developer they’ll say that Metacity (their window manager) has all the features a sensible user might need–by “sensible user” of course they mean one like themselves.

There’s no reason to use OpenBox just because you want to map “ALT+i” to open Inkscape. You can do that in Metacity! just go to live.gnome.org, search for “custom keybindings” and you’ll see how running a few simple gconftool-2 commands you can do whatever mappings you want.

So you need:

  • To know that live.gnome.org has that information and not any other one of the dozens of *.gnome.org sites out there
  • To know that people in GNOME call “keybindings” to what you want

GNOME and most of the so called DE’s are _not_ centered on the users. KDE is working on the semantic desktop, GNOME is pushing for the online desktop… when was the last time you filled an online survey about what do you want in your favorite DE? Probably never because they just couldn’t care less. FOSS developers scratch their own itch, they work on the features they like, they fix the bugs that makes them look good; they are doing it for free after all (most of them).

Eventually some features the users really want get developed… by luck, or by some individual developer with some vision and kindness, but definitively it’s not the strategy of the team.

Is it really so crazy to make a poll of which are the most wanted features and put them on the roadmap?

If you go to GNOME’s roadmap you’ll find this:

The GNOME Community Roadmap is a big-picture view of functionality we expect GNOME to include in short-term and long-term future. The roadmap is based on feedback from current GNOME developers and other community members.

Aren’t you missing something there? The users perhaps. Well, at least they have a roadmap, KDE doesn’t even have that.

At best I would call both KDE and GNOME pseudo-DE’s.

Right marketing

So here comes the marketing P that we are actually missing, and it has nothing to do with money–which mr. Kim finds so indispensable: Product.

The product aspects of marketing deal with the specifications of the actual goods or services, and how it relates to the end-user’s needs and wants. The scope of a product generally includes supporting elements such as warranties, guarantees, and support.

Focus groups, task analysis, online surveys… that’s the kind of marketing we need to create a true Desktop Environment. The kind of marketing that makes our “product” meet the needs of our “customers”, and hence; make it more appealing.

We already have something remarkable (Compiz), and the new FOSS ATI drivers will only make things easier. We “just” need our DE’s to be joe-user-friendly.

So is “Linux” ready for the desktop? Perhaps Xandros, or SLED, but not Ubuntu or any distribution that ships with plain GNOME. I wouldn’t know because they aren’t free so I haven’t used them… it’s a little hard to spread the word that way.

Will it ever be? GNOME/KDE/* guys, that one is for you.

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