Linux...Why is it So Hard to Give It Away?

While it might generate good press to dabble with Linux (as OEMs such as Dell have done), unleashing Linux on the masses isn’t something that OEMs are ready to take a gamble on.
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Can you give Linux away? By that, I mean will we see a point where a significant number of PCs are sold not with a costly version of Windows or Mac OS installed on them, but with Linux instead?

Increasingly, people are moving away from desktop applications and turning to Internet-based services for email and communication. This means that the operating system has handed the center stage over to the Web browser as people no longer have to rely on installing applications on their PCs in order to carry out simple day-to-day tasks.

So, given this shift, why are people still paying $50 to $100 for Windows (or far more than that for an Apple system) when Linux could be everything these users want from an OS?

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Here’s a picture that I’m seeing happen with increasing frequency. Someone is in the market for a new PC , maybe because the old one is chocked full of adware and spyware or maybe just because they feel like a change. Their old system was used mostly for blogging, Facebooking, a bit of IMing, storing digital photos and video, and maybe a little bit of work (mostly word processing, and occasionally a spreadsheet or two).

Do these people need Windows? Unless they’re gamers, chances are they don’t. Do they need Mac OS? Again, no. For this segment of user, a basic PC (single core processor, 512MB of RAM, 80GB or so of hard disk space) with a Linux distro such as Ubuntu running on it is all they need. Ubuntu comes with Firefox pre-installed and this offers the user a platform from which they can access Web sites, send and receive email, and keep in touch with others. Ubuntu also comes with OpenOffice, an Office-compatible suite that offers enough in the way of features and functionality for 90 percent of users out there.

All for the low, low price of $0.

So, if open source software could offer consumers such a good deal, why are we not seeing shelves in both bricks-and-mortar and Web outlets stacked with Linux-based PCs systems?

These vendors could cut Microsoft out of the loop, drop the price of their systems by a few tens of dollars, and be making a killing. Better still, take an existing Windows PC, dump the Windows part, install Linux and drop the price by only 70 percent of the cost of a Windows OEM license (and therefore pocketing the remaining 30%). Consumers win because the system’s cheaper than a Windows-based equivalent, and the vendor wins because they get more cash.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Firefox, services, Microsoft

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