Android on tablets and smartphones may have primed the public to be willing to try a flavor other than Windows on their PCs and laptops, but this means next to nothing in the current computing environment. Consumers are going to buy what’s on the shelves at Best Buy, or what jumps off the screen at them on Amazon.com or Dell’s site. None of these venues are going to feature Linux boxes, at least not where you can find them unless you’re specifically looking for them. Why? There’s nothing in it for the retailers or manufacturers; it’s a zero-sum gain situation.
If an OEM started actively marketing Linux, for the most part they’d just be pushing people who are already buyers from one OS to another, nothing more. Except for those of us who’re already part of the Linux installed base, and our numbers are relatively few, they wouldn’t be selling any more machines or making any more money. They would only be creating more logistical problems for themselves.
Though it’s not likely to happen, there is a possible way, however, to make Linux the next “big thing” in consumer computing. It would require a lot of money, thought and work – and the stars would have to be aligned just right – but if executed properly might just give Tux some lasting traction on the desktop.
What if a commercial Linux distro with deep pockets, say Ubuntu, decided to become an OEM and follow the Apple model? What if Shuttleworth decided the best way to sell Ubuntu was on his own machines? After all, right now he can’t really sell the desktop version of his operating system at all, he has to give it away. But if he packages the OS with an impressive Ubuntu branded computer, there might be some money to be made.
First he’d need to hire some good design people and come up with at least two desktop lines and a laptop line that would be clearly distinguishable from the commodity boxes being pushed by Dell and HP. These would need to be computers with a lot of “wow factor” built into the design, like the iMac’s were when first introduced in 1998. He’d need to select internal components that are durable and solid, and have his developers come up with a special edition of the Ubuntu operating system with a desktop interface that’s both easy-to-understand and unique to his brand. The OS should also be designed to function perfectly with his branded computers components.
As soon as he thinks he has all of his ducks in a row, he should take a deep breath and do some more work getting the the operating system and computer ready to market. He should resist any temptation to market these computers until they are perfect enough to compare favorably in the public’s mind with anything Apple has to offer.
Marketing will be tricky. To begin with, he’ll need to bring them in at a price considerably lower than Apple, without sacrificing quality. They can be sold through the normal channels, like the big box stores and online, but to really get traction he’ll also need to tear another page from Apple’s playbook and open some Ubuntu stores, complete with his own version of the “Genus Bar.” Impeccable customer support that covers both hardware and software will be a must, because he’ll need the public to understand that Ubuntu computers are not only a dream to use, but that the company stands behind their product one hundred and four percent.
If he’s successful and Ubuntu Computers become something akin to the Cadillac of PCs, watch how quickly Dell and others jump on the bandwagon and start pushing boxes with Mint or PCLOS installed. Shuttleworth’s job then would be to keep his brand separate from the fold, which shouldn’t be too hard. After all, Cadillacs and Chevys share most of their components.
None of this is going to happen, of course, but you can’t blame me for dreaming out loud. Or perhaps you can.