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What Tech Companies Should Know About Linux Users

Date/Time Permalink: 02/28/07 08:36:36 am
Category: General

It happened again this week. This time it was Dell, who asked the public what they'd like to see Dell offering. The overwhelming number-one response was "Linux machines".

Then the inevitable foot-dragging began. We don't know if we can support this. We're going to have to train people. Boy, this is going to be really, really difficult. We don't know anything about it. No, just forget it.

Of course, in the case of Dell, it is quite obvious that they got a phone call from Redmond between "You'll get Linux pre-installed" and "On second thought forget it." But just in case, I thought that commercial companies faced with the growing demand from the Linux market could use a few tips:

First off for hardware vendors: Support for Linux customers is guaranteed to be nothing like supporting Windows customers. You're dealing with people who routinely download and install their own operating systems. Most of us can even compile software from source. Quite a few of us even build our own hardware. Given the average Linux user and the average commercial help desk attendant, the Linux user just might be more knowledgeable.

From the Dell spokesman: "When you talk about an operating system, if Dell is going to install it and test it, it takes a lot of work" Yes, we know. We do it all the time at home, with nothing but Google to help us. Sometimes it takes a whole afternoon.

You aren't going to be dealing with the "How do I download the Internet?" questions. You can pretty much just drop a raw hardware spec in our laps and stand back; we'll handle the rest. Those of us who get it figured out first blog and post to help forums so the rest of us can figure it out. We're a self-sufficient little tribe, who have been solving our own problems for fifteen years with not only no help, but with active hindrance from commercial vendors. We'll be more than happy if we just don't have to pay a Microsoft tax to start with.

Second for software vendors: quit whining about the 300 different distributions and ten different desktop environments and how you have no idea where to port anything. Pick any random widget set, any random graphics library, and port the damn program already. We in Linux-land know how to compensate for a dependency. We still know how to apt-get a package.

There is more to Linux software than KDE and Gnome. In fact, it is a simple matter to make a KDE program run on a Gnome desktop and vice versa. If you must have a widget set, GTK is already necessary on most desktops to support tools like Gimp. And really, you can pick the SDL graphics library and just go from there; it can handle vector and raster graphics as well as Open GL. Or just help the project run from Wine, our home-grown Windows emulator.

The excuses for not porting your product to Linux get thinner every year. I have in front of me a Slackware desktop that's running Fluxbox as the window environment, and it is capable of running KDE and Gnome programs, ports of BSD software, Microsoft QBasic using DOSBOX, Blizzard's Starcraft using Wine, arcade games using XMAME, Super Nintendo games using ZSNES, Java, AJAX, and Flash apps in Firefox, and software from Google such as Picasa. All of it runs flawlessly, barring the tiny screen resolution for some legacy games and apps. We can compensate by restarting X at a smaller resolution if need be.

It is no longer defensible to claim that there's something special about your hardware or software that will make it impossible to run with Linux. Until you realize this fact, the giant sucking sound that you will be hearing in the coming years will be your potential market passing you by.

my next hardware

UPDATE 4:07 PM 2/1/07: This just in via Slashdot - apparently tech.blorge.com posted a similar complaint about Dell back-peddling on the demand for Linux. The link to the post was then posted to Dell's site, which comment was then deleted! Tech.Borge, however, has a screenshot.

See, if you keep squelching Linux users, then you can claim that Linux doesn't have enough of a market share to be worth supporting.

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