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Linux Business

The Agony and Ecstasy Of Becoming a Linux OEM 164

Posted by Zonk
from the penguins-in-houses-always-staring dept.
jammag writes "An article at the site Datamation, entitled Becoming a Linux OEM: A Roadmap, talks about the challenges (and rewards) of selling hardware with Linux pre-installed — most likely a growth market in the years ahead. The interesting part is the description of how some smaller Linux OEMs have made it. The bottom line: surviving as a Linux OEM requires far more than making it as a Windows OEM. In particular, you have to make the systems idiot-proof for users who don't care a whit about what OS they're using."
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The Agony and Ecstasy Of Becoming a Linux OEM

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  • It's still a niche (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ircmaxell (1117387) on Monday August 27, 2007 @03:25PM (#20375105) Homepage
    It's still very much a niche market. Most users that know of Linux (and would buy a PC with it) prob either have enough experience with it to install, or want to try installing. The rest of users PROB don't care and are just buying one because it's (cheaper|a friend said to). But now as more and more companies (ok, from one or two to a half a dozen or so) are switching to completely Linux (Peugeot did), the market moves from being a niche to mainstream, but it's not quite there yet... Give it time, and these companies that are struggling will be on for a ride...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Red_Foreman (877991) *
      The other aspect is technical support costs: Companies spend a lot of money making "Factory Re-install" discs for users who get a virus, get hacked, or install a trojan.

      Since viruses are not as big of a concern on Linux (about the worst one could do is screw up a user account) companies will spend less money on technical support if they are a Linux OEM.

      Lowering the cost of doing business goes directly to a company's bottom line and increases profits. Imagine that - making money on Free Software!
      • by liquidpele (663430) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:22PM (#20376491) Journal
        Lower costs for Linux support?? You must be joking.
        Your calls with consist of the following:
        15% Actual Support issues
        60% Stupid Questions like "How do I install winzip" that just take up time and call volume.
        25% Non-Supported questions from geeks like "I compiled the newest dev kernel and now it crashes when I press the Q key, what's up with that?"

        And you better believe you need GOOD answers for all three types of questions if you want to keep customers happy (especially if they're new to linux and don't understand WHY their retarded when it comes to computers).
        • by mhall119 (1035984)
          Why would anybody ask how to install winzip on a Linux box? Nobody I know of installed winzip on an XP box. Why? Because when they clicked on a .zip file, it opened, so they never got to the point where they thought "Oh, I should install winzip". The same goes for Linux, if the need never appears, the desire won't either.
        • Where there's money to be spent there's idiots to spend it...
        • by hswerdfe (569925)
          Explain to them about synaptic and how to look for new programs, or better yet explain to them how they can "RIGHT click" on any zip file and then LEFT click on "extract".
          also how you can't run windows programs on linux.
          People except that you can't run windows programs on a MAC why insist on a higher standard for linux.

          as for the geek, unsupported!
    • by iwein (561027)
      Uninstalling your OS is the biggest barrier imho. If something is already working the average joe (including me) will think twice about screwing with it.

      I wouldn't say I'm a noob, but I'm not a Linux god either.

      Your perception of linux usability is outdated by Ubuntu. It is much easier to install and use than for example WXP. In the end by far the most users want something that just works. Between working and working they will go for the cheap. Linux is for free. I rest my case.

      Of course this ode ignores us
      • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:08PM (#20375605)

        Of course this ode ignores users who have time for playing games or people who still print stuff (yes I've tried to install a linux unfriendly printer and I'm burning down Lexmarks office next tuesday).

        And from TFA:

        Both of the above mentioned Linux companies have really poor hardware compatibility lists (HCLs).

        I remember submitting reviews of NIC's years and years and years ago to one of the public hardware sites. That was then bought out and killed by a media company.

        Ubuntu is collecting the information, but it hasn't put it out in a friendly format yet.

        I'd like to see a bootable CD from a Linux distributor that will identify everything it can on a box and output that to something that I can upload to a website.

        Then that website would identify the components that auto-magically work with their distribution (version A or B or C ...)

        And try a "best guess" at the components that it did not recognize AND the components that it did recognize that do NOT work auto-magically.

        And allow the user to enter descriptions of the components that were not recognized.

        The final goal being that I can take a CD into Fry's and ask to boot it to see if I want that system or not. Down to the component level. Yes, I like that system, but I want it with a soundcard that is supported.

        Do that and you'll see more HARDWARE sales tied to Linux. And happier Linux users.

        And I want a pony and a plastic rocketship.
        • by Burz (138833) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:33PM (#20376619) Journal
          I agree that the community needs a good HCL. [slashdot.org]

          But there's much more to it than that (see link above): You need a number of disciplines and structures in order to behave like a stable platform on PCs. If users don't see that consistency, and app developers aren't given a nurturing starting point (like Apple's XCode and ADC), and there is no clearcut way to distribute apps independently, then there will be a lack of top-notch applications to draw users to the OS.

          Because we are not having this and many other discussions around LSB, because LSB isn't targeted by app devs, the software genre we fuzzily call 'Linux' just isn't a real computing platform. At least not one that is meaningful non-systems geeks, which is why the Linux genre tends to be only popular with sysadmins and system hackers. Users and the app devs that cater to them are still repelled.
    • It's still a nitch, but a growing one. The other group of people are, like me, people that already have Linux installed on a computer, and now need a new computer but don't have the time to build one from scratch.

      I am certainly planning on buying my next computer with Linux pre-installed. Not because I am not going to wipe the drive as soon as I get it (because I will), but because I don't have to worry about the hardware not working with Linux.
      • by Dan Ost (415913)
        I certainly fall into this category. I ordered the dell 1420n last week not because I like Ubuntu (which I don't, really), but because I'm confident that I can get everything working on it with a minimum of fuss when I wipe it and install Gentoo.

        I'm optimistic that if Dell has success selling the Ubuntu pre-installed machines, that hardware makers will feel more pressure to make certain that their hardware is linux friendly.
    • by FST777 (913657)
      A talk from the front line here:
      My boss is moderately interested in Linux, mostly because it can save him money by going the OSS road. Basically, we've laid out plans to replace all our software with OSS ones and build those we can't replace ourselves.

      He recently installed openSUSE on his brand new laptop, dual booting with Vista. He found it moderately easy and entertaining, but I'm pretty sure he would've bought an OEM Linux laptop when he had a decent chance.

      As long as managers take decisions like
    • It's still very much a niche market. Most users that know of Linux (and would buy a PC with it) prob either have enough experience with it to install, or want to try installing.

      Then there are people like me, who are perfectly capable of doing a self-install, but want the convenience of being able to spec out a machine, order it, have it delivered, open the box, hook it up, and just have it WORK. My time is valuable, and I don't want to waste it worrying about possible hardware incompatibilities. Let someon

  • by jshriverWVU (810740) on Monday August 27, 2007 @03:25PM (#20375107)
    There are really two worlds. You have Dell which is selling Desktops, and I respect their guts for doing it. Then you have the embedded market. I think it would be orders of magnitude easier to be a linux OEM in the embedded world. Do you think people care if your Tivo runs linux or windows? Not if it works. Do people care if they can't get online and check their email? Yup. Two completely different domains. More power to Dell hope their Ubuntu system and investment works out for them.

    As for the embedded world, they've had it made since the early days of SBC's running Linux in rom, Linksys WRT54G, and now Tivo's.

    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Monday August 27, 2007 @03:46PM (#20375365)
      Both embedded systems and servers have been very successful for Linux mainly because there are no user-OS interations. Users can only interact through very controlled and locked-down mechanisms.

      Getting Linux onto the desktop requires a great deal more user interaction. I think though that Linux is getting there. Windows is not much easier to use than Linux, but it does need a lot more support from hardware vendors to get to the "just works" level.

      • by ebbomega (410207) on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:04PM (#20375551) Journal
        Most hardware vendors are now making linux-compatible drivers. All the graphics heavyweights are (granted, ATI's aren't exactly that fantastic, but at least they're providing them). NDISwrapper works now with just about all major wireless cards. Bluetooth, sound drivers, USB block devices - check check and check. Apple's iPods don't have anything built by the vendors yet but the open-source alternatives seem to have ironed out most of the kinks.

        Vista on the other hand is still playing catchup. And by the time Gutsy Gibson comes out, you think they'll have those problems licked? Christ, they're talking Service Pack now... remember what happened last time Microsoft tried to do one of those? Anybody with SP2 was being advised by just about every support department (I know because I was working with MSN support at the time) to downgrade back to SP1. For over a year after SP2 was released. A YEAR! I'll put money that Gutsy will have more hardware natively supported quicker than Vista. And its final release is still two months away!

        I dunno. I think now that Dell and other major OEMs are starting to jump on the linux bandwagon, the commercial driver support is sure to follow, if it hasn't already (Big Blue, Novell, SGI, just to name a few).

        And user interaction increasing between Linux and Windows? I dunno about you, but I've found the Ubuntu install process [dantup.me.uk] to be more intuitive and easier to deal with than Vista's billion-screen install [windowsreinstall.com]. Not to mention you can browse the internet, chat on messenger, listen to music, etc. WHILE THE OS IS INSTALLING. The default settings are made so the transition from Windows is fairly easy.

        Yeah, there's still a few kinks. But whereas Linux was for tinkerers and hobbyists in the late 90s, and around when RH8 came out it became simple for the experienced computer user, now I'd be willing to throw linux in for any intermediate computer user. That is to say, not ready for Grandma yet but a hell of a lot closer than it ever has been.

        I've been Ubuntu-cheerleading a lot here, but it's nice to see that over the last 5 years of linux (the time I've been a user of it) it's improved tremendously in the user-interface department. And it's only going up from here. And a lot of that has to do with some of the more recent distros, namely Knoppix and Ubuntu.
        • Anybody with SP2 was being advised by just about every support department (I know because I was working with MSN support at the time) to downgrade back to SP1.
          Please let us know the name of this support department so that we can avoid it.
          • by tadd (51292)
            No really, s/he's right. SP2 was a nightmare when it first came out, hosed a lot of systems.
          • by ebbomega (410207)
            I'm aware of the following:

            - Microsoft Product & Support Services (they actually had a SP2 removal hotline going on)
            - Dell
            - HP/Compaq
            - MSN
            - IBM
            - Just about every other major home OEM

            And they were pretty damn justified in doing it. Mainly because for the first year SP2 consistently broke stuff. Only real solution was to go back to SP1 until they had ironed out all the kinks.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by turing_m (1030530)
          "Yeah, there's still a few kinks. But whereas Linux was for tinkerers and hobbyists in the late 90s, and around when RH8 came out it became simple for the experienced computer user, now I'd be willing to throw linux in for any intermediate computer user. That is to say, not ready for Grandma yet but a hell of a lot closer than it ever has been."

          I certainly agree with your sentiment that Linux has become WAY simpler over the last few years. I'm not sure whether I'd go so far as to say Linux became simple for
          • by guruevi (827432)
            Well, I have been using Linux since the mid-90's, even used Caldera (SCO) Linux back in the day when they were not evil and even bought Red Hat 5 when it came out.

            That being said, I have used Linux since Windows 2000 (actually never installed Windows XP on my personal systems) and never had to look back. Sure I'm a power user, but I never thought it was very difficult to install or use with proper hardware (no winmodems). Windows 95 was about the same difficulty of installing since you also had to mess a lo
        • Good luck getting anyone unfamiliar with Linux to install Gutsy Gibbon after you call it that. I'm being serious. This is still a blind spot for Linux distros that aspire to being on the desktop, Ubuntu in particular. If support people (i.e. people like us) are going to call it by the codename instead of "Ubuntu 7.10", then the codename shouldn't sound like a bad joke.

        • They need to be part of the installation too.

          For instance, I recently installed Fedora on a system. This went pretty seamlessly, except that I wanted to use a dual monitor. The installtion video driver was not enough and I needed to find and install the NVidia rpms. Bummer was that the NVIDIA rpms were not built for xen, so I had to switch to a non-xen kernel (fiddle with GRUB etc). Not too hard, but a lot more hassle then Joe Average would be able to handle. XP worked straight out the box. Perhaps Ubuntu i

          • by yuna49 (905461)
            I had just the opposite experience recently.

            I installed two cards to a plain-vanilla box; one is a SoundBlaster Audigy, the other a four-port IDE card so I could use my old drives on a new SATA machine. In Fedora, both cards were detected at boot time and installed without a hitch. For XP, it couldn't identify the soundcard (not a particularly obscure one I might point out) nor could it find the drivers on the Internet. I still haven't found the magic combination to make sound work. As for the IDE card,
          • Why I moved from Fedora to Ubuntu about 8 months ago. Installing my ATI (ATI!!!!) proprietary driver went through without a hitch (using the ubuntu guide). Fedora was a few pains to get working, I agree.
      • The irony is, this is exactly the experience Windows is trying to provide: No/limited user interactions with the PC at anything but a high-level. But an increasing number of tasks are being taken over by embedded devices. Windows' "Swiss-army-knife" approach has produced an unmanageable mass of code that is ever less competitive against cheap devices running linux.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Having done embedded Linux nearly exclusively these past 7 years, I would concur. I love it when my competition is using Windows, as I know from experience that they will run into a LOT of problems that are going to delay them. It's usually the subtle stuff which nickels-and-dimes a Windows project to death. With Linux, whenever I hit a subtle problem I can usually find a solution or workaround via the Web.

      That's because everyone's got Linux. The same isn't true for Windows.

      The worst case scenario means I h
    • Well, I totally agree with you on this one. And I hope that, while they are at it, all these companies embracing GNU/Linux as their OS of choice declare it openly and distribute their GPL source code to the customers. Because there are sooooo bloody many GPL violations these days, specially in the embedded market...

      If any of you know of any violation, PLEASE do report it at GPL Violations [gpl-violations.org].

      Keep up the community work!

  • The average user just wants something that is familiar and just works.
    • by Selfbain (624722) on Monday August 27, 2007 @03:29PM (#20375163)
      And yet they get windows... funny how that works.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by everphilski (877346)
        "familiar" ... check

        "just works" ... believe it or not, for most people windows does just work. A lot of power users complain about the inflexibility of windows. Fair enough. Others complain about viruses, trojans, etc. because they are the idiots who open up junkmail offering them free shit. Fair enough. In between, though, there are millions of people who work fine in Windows. Like it or not. There is room for both Linux and Windows.
        • by dstiggy (1145347) <derrick@steigerwalt.gmail@com> on Monday August 27, 2007 @03:43PM (#20375311)
          The main reason that Windows "just works" for the average user is because all of the hardware manufacturers design their hardware and drivers specifically to work for Windows. This article is basically saying that OEM's who install Linux on their systems have to work around the frustrations of getting their distribution to work with their hardware and to prepare it for other hardware which the user might install/use with their system. IMO this is an added frustration that Windows OEMs don't have to deal with because of Windows widespread adoption. However, as Linux continues to gain users and hardware manufacturers begin to recognize Linux as a dominant OS alternative the frustrations the Linux OEMs now have will disappear as compatibility for Linux is integrated into hardware and drivers.
          • by jimicus (737525)
            Windows, however, does not "just work".

            Every once in a while, you'll come up with some esoteric hardware combination where two drivers clash with each other. (People who regularly build PCs know what I mean). And if you're an OEM, you're encouraged to provide either no reinstallation mechanism (easy), an automated building CD (rather than a standard Windows install CD) or a second-partition based installer. Neither of these are a case of "click... click... job done" - particularly not if you're working w
          • by DogDude (805747)
            OEMs such as System76, Emperor Linux and Linux Certified are not interested in going this route, as they left the choice of using restricted codecs up to the end user.

            These guys sell machines that don't play MP3's out of the box? Maybe that's why I've never heard of them. Welcome to 1992!
          • by quanticle (843097)
            The main reason that Windows "just works" for the average user is because all of the hardware manufacturers design their hardware and drivers specifically to work for Windows.

            This is actually starting to affect Windows users as well. With Vista, Microsoft introduced a new driver model, but did not allow enough time for manufacturers to make stable drivers. Now, you're getting lots of incompatibilities with older hardware, especially laptops where power management drivers that were just becoming stable hav
        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by jimstapleton (999106)
          Funny how the truth can get a troll rating.

          I've seen this a lot, plenty of people for whom Windows "Just works", and for the reasons mentioned - mostly they don't go around downloading everything they see, and runing it, and trusting every email blindly. Add to that a good firewall router, and they are just as happy as clams.

          Evil is right, there is room for both Windows and Linux out there, as well as several other OSes.

          If Linux were more popular in the user community, how long do you think it would be befo
          • If Linux were more popular in the user community, how long do you think it would be before someone decided to email around a shell script that had some local privlege escalation code in it, and managed to work out a botnet from Linux boxes?

            What's your email address? I'll send you one today.

            The problem is NOT sending the email.

            The problem is getting enough new people to run the script so that the infection rate exceed the disinfection rate. Otherwise the "virus" will "die" when it is "in the wild".

            The more s

            • The problem is getting enough new people to run the script so that the infection rate exceed the disinfection rate. Otherwise the "virus" will "die" when it is "in the wild".

              Paid any attention to this greeting card thing that is running amok as we speak? there are plenty of noobs out there that will click something for no apparent good reason.

              Nope. Microsoft's security model is badly broken in MANY places. Think back to their last anti-trust trial where they claimed that "integrating" IE's code with th
              • by Allador (537449)
                Not really arguing with your overall point, just some fact-checking fixups.

                XP doesn't come with a web server installed, or sendmail, or ping/ssh/ftp/sftp/scp/etc. services.

                XP ships with IIS, its just not installed by default (which is the correct behavior). This includes an FTP server and an SMTP server if you choose to install them when you install the web server. It's all part of IIS.

                XP includes ping and ftp. They're called 'ping' and 'ftp' respectively.

                All windows boxes ARE sorely lacking in that there's no SSH/SCP/SFTP server built in by default.

            • open->run or open->save->run in a gui Linux mail client (what most end users would get), isn't significantly more difficult than open->run or open->save->run in windows

              Actually, I forgot to mention - unless the updates are done automatically, then most users won't bother with updating their machines in Linux any more than in Windows. So even if it is fixed, may computers will have a security hole that remains.

              The only "real" solution is to make a diversified network.

              For home PCs, I'd say
              30
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Frosty Piss (770223)

      The average user just wants something that is familiar and just works.

      Many of the problems that keep Linux from gaining a bigger slice of desktop market are known and could be solved. But the people who have the skills to solve these problems aren't interested in them. The standard response to "user" issues is: Well, why don't YOU write the patch / app / whatever.

      But you see, most "average" users are not programmers, and don't want to be programmers. As long as the people with the programming skills requir

      • by sgholt (973993)
        "The standard response to "user" issues is: Well, why don't YOU write the patch / app / whatever." That is not the standard response! The standard response is to join a support forum (there are forums for most linux distros) Other responses: *google it with linux google (google.com/linux) *look up the application webpage and read documentation *look at man pages *report the problem to bugzilla *join your distro's mailing list *buy a book Hey we are used to FUD...but if you don't know don't comment.
        • by jimicus (737525)
          That is not the standard response!

          Well, it's not as bad today as it was 5 years ago.

          But even now, there are a few mailing lists and groups which are notoriously hostile towards anyone who asks what they consider to be a newbie question. Fortunately, such lists are mostly those dedicated to fairly technical pieces of software which most desktop users won't ever go near (will they, OpenLDAP?) but if you think they've died out altogether, I regret you are much mistaken.
      • by bobintetley (643462) on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:16PM (#20375693)

        But you see, most "average" users are not programmers, and don't want to be programmers. As long as the people with the programming skills required to address Linux usability issues show no interest in usability for the "average" user, Linux will stay where it is and Microsoft will own the consumer market regardless of how crappy their OS is, because Microsoft *does* make an attempt to address usability for the "average" user.

        But those people with the skills that you're talking about don't give a flying fuck about Linux ruling the desktop market. They have what works for them, and do it for the love of doing it.

        Besides, in my opinion that kind of polish is the job of the distro makers to pull it all together. If some distro wants to take on Microsoft on the desktop, then they'll fund developers doing that work (as Canonical is doing with Ubuntu), so I don't really see a problem or a need to villify developers who've already given you a whole boatload of free software as lazy.

      • by Kjella (173770)
        With all due respect to what Ubuntu and likes of them are doing, what's keeping the user from an experience that "just works" is far more than a coat of paint. Hardware support is improved by many and long hours of reverse engineering. Things like X11 auto-config and such are due to deep changes. I honestly don't think there's a shortage of people willing to do that last polish job, after all that's where the money is.

        The path is IMO quite clear - Linux is in the server room. The closest to that is office w
    • by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:10PM (#20375617) Homepage Journal
      Most people buy Windows because that is really the only choice.
      Go to Best Buy and count how many programs you can buy for Windows. Now count how many for the Mac and then how many for Linux.
      Go and look for a printer that says that it will work with Linux, WiFi card, Webcam, ....
      This is from the end users stand point mind you.

      One of the big problems for Linux is the lack of a stable binary driver interface. Even if you are going to make your drivers FOSS you can not just stick a cd in the box or post the driver on your website. The faithful will say that there is no need for the hardware manufacture to make a driver since they can just give out the specs. Well yes but then you have to wait for your driver to be included in the the kernel and then for them to be included in the distros.....
      The hardware people all control of when the support will get to the end user that way. So even if a company creates a driver for a piece of hardware and makes it FOSS they may have to wait months before it becomes available as part of the kernel.

      This isn't an issue for the embedded space or servers but it really is a pain for the average end user.
      Yes there is a lot of really good free software that you can run on a Linux desktop but sometimes you just want to play Age of Empires, WOW, or buy that $10 set of card games at Best Buy.

      • by Kjella (173770)
        One of the big problems for Linux is the lack of a stable binary driver interface. Even if you are going to make your drivers FOSS you can not just stick a cd in the box or post the driver on your website. The faithful will say that there is no need for the hardware manufacture to make a driver since they can just give out the specs. Well yes but then you have to wait for your driver to be included in the the kernel and then for them to be included in the distros.....
        The hardware people all control of when
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by LWATCDR (28044)
          Actually I had a raid card from 3-Ware that didn't make into the Kernel from Suse so I had to compile it to get my server running after a kernel upgrade. It was a while ago but that is a good example of it happening. 3-Ware drivers not tend to be in the Kernel.
          So yes here is an example of it happening. I had to call the hardware company and get the tar ball compile it and build a new kernel to get my server up.
          It isn't just a problem with getting in to the kernel tree. The problem is that the hardware compa
      • by Nurgled (63197)

        One of the big problems for Linux is the lack of a stable binary driver interface. Even if you are going to make your drivers FOSS you can not just stick a cd in the box or post the driver on your website. The faithful will say that there is no need for the hardware manufacture to make a driver since they can just give out the specs. Well yes but then you have to wait for your driver to be included in the the kernel and then for them to be included in the distros.....

        The other option, of course, is to ma

        • by LWATCDR (28044)
          For many devices that is true. The problem is many devices are now using the CPU of the computer to do a lot of the work that used to be in the device. Modems and printers come to mind.
          But when you are talking about sound cards, raid controllers, video cards, and even multi-function printers I think will be living with drivers for a long time.
    • Thats why I use Win XP Pro (FCKGW-RHQQ2-etc).

      Familiar? - check. I've used it for 6 years now.

      "Just Works(tm)" - check. With _all_ my hardware, including wireless networks, every video card I've tried (both nVidia and ATI), winmodems (not my idea), and cheap-ass all-in-one printer/scanner/copiers. All my software too, most important being AutoCAD, and of course all my games from the original Civ and MOO to Oblivion.

      Best of all, it's free (as in beer).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2007 @03:28PM (#20375143)
    ...then you've already failed at life.
  • Is this FUD? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JeremyGNJ (1102465) on Monday August 27, 2007 @03:29PM (#20375165)
    I dont want to sound like a FUD parrot, however as a businessman I would think that legality is a significant concern.

    There are looming possibilities of "patent claims" and "copyright infringement" against linux and the components that various distributions include. As a Linux OEM, I would think that fact poses significant risk to your business. It only takes one weird case/judge/lobby such as the old JPG copyright scares, etc to potentially put you at legal risk.

    Again I'm not saying such a thing would be justified, but the possibility of it...when it's your money on the line is scary.
    • Well, TECHNICALLY, no, according to the GPL. Distributers cannot be held liable for any infringments of a GPLd work. Only developers and end users can. (From my interpratation from the GPL, and from what I have read elsewhere)...
      • For distributing the software itself? No you couldn't be held responsible.

        But let's say that you sold a distribution that included software for playing DVD's. If the DVD powers-that-be come along and claim that wasn't allowed, you now have a responsibility to your customers to provide the functionality that the system was supposed to have....which could mean that you have to cough up the money for DVD decoder.
    • No, I don't think the article is FUD, nor do I think your post is FUD.

      There are serious legal concerns regarding patent claims and copyright infringement regarding components needed for desktop systems. Desktop customers don't want to see even a dialog box saying "The MP3 codec is not installed, download and install it?" they just want the box to play MP3s.

      Of course, whether or not you or your customers will get sued as the OEM is an open question. No one ever really got sued by Unisys over the LZW77 comp
    • by ianare (1132971)
      Either don't include codecs which require a license (eg, DVD playback, mp3 support) and have the end user get it themselves, or pay to have them properly licensed and passing the extra cost to the buyer. Simple enough.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        It is hardly that simple. Just look at the issues Microsoft had with mp3 licensing. Microsoft licensed the technology from Fraunhofer, whom most agreed held the licensing rights of mp3s; however, Alcatel-Lucent claimed they held relevant patents. The result was a $1.52 billion judgment against MS. Eventually, that was overturned, but if a company as large as Microsoft has problems with licensing, do you think a small oem startup is going to find it as simple as you say?
    • As opposed to what?

      Microsoft just released the latest "Be all, End all" OS called Vista, which if reviews are to be believed, has some SERIOUS issues which aren't going to go away anytime soon (e.g. Audio/Networking fiasco). The wholesale changes made to Windows, and none of the originally promised goodies and all the garbage that was left is scarier than any IP FUD being dug up by Microsoft and SCO.

      No longer are the problems "Potential", but have crossed over to "Reality".

      "You are coming to a sad realizati
    • "There are looming possibilities of "patent claims" and "copyright infringement" against linux and the components that various distributions include. As a Linux OEM, I would think that fact poses significant risk to your business."

      If you are that concerned about the patent issues, you can always sell one of the distributions that have signed a deal the Microsoft. I installed Suse 10.02 last night and I have to admit I would be comfortable installing it on my 78 year old mother's machine. It has come that

    • The problem is everything is windows, including the stuff the accountants and government do. It makes selling Linux a very very hard sell. Speaking from experience most businesses don't even think about OS/system, they just have a bookeeping package, they often don't even know what it's called.

      A small Linux OEM can really only handle small, medium businesses, but they're already locked into Microsoft before you get anywhere near them. Hell, even the enterprise councils people give away Windows based busines
    • *sigh*

      One would think folks would be more concerned with the legal challenges Microsoft is facing on multiple fronts (European Union and patent issues to name just two). But, no, that Linux thing, that's REALLY got some problems.
    • Re:Is this FUD? (Score:4, Informative)

      by James Wells (831750) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:14PM (#20376415)
      Greetings,

      There are looming possibilities of "patent claims" and "copyright infringement" against linux and the components that various distributions include. As a Linux OEM, I would think that fact poses significant risk to your business. It only takes one weird case/judge/lobby such as the old JPG copyright scares, etc to potentially put you at legal risk.

      First thing to understand is that so far, there has not been a single proven case of patent infringement against Linux. Many people have claimed patent infringement against various packages on Linux and of those, there has been only two; MP3/4, which was IMO an unethical and barely legal patent, and DeCSS, though DeCSS wasn't really a patent claim when you get down to it.

      Instead, what you have is someone like Micro$oft claiming that Linux violates their patents, but refuse to produce or defend the patents. You have people like $COX claiming that Linux violates their copyright, but refuse to demonstrate the violations, and when forced to by a judge, the judge effectively laughed them out of court. Please note that I am not saying that Linux doesn't violate any patents or copyrights, however, the simple fact is that, no one has been successful at proving that it does.

      It should also be pointed out that there are quite a few companies who have come out and offered Linux both patent protection and patent amnesty, should it be determined that Linux is somehow violating their patents. This is the critical piece as most, if not all of these companies, are now donating code directly to Linux and the Open Source movement. Such notables as Novell, IBM, and SUN.

      Finally, as a distributor, you have an ethical obligation to defend your clients from these patent / copyright claims, however, you also have the right to choose what packages you will distribute and support, but even more importantly you have the right to choose what not to distribute and support. One of the tricks with Ubuntu is that they tell you upfront that they do not distribute MP3/4 or DeCSS packages, nor will they defend their customers from claims in reference to these packages.
      • First thing to understand is that so far, there has not been a single proven case of patent infringement against Linux.

        That's the first thing from the stereotype /geek-living-in-his-parent's-basement POV. The point of view of a businessman living in the real world, with real money on the line necessarily is very different.
        • I should point out that the bulk of my investment income is made from Linux and other Open Source products, and I haven't lost yet (I've been investing in Linux as a whole for almost 15 years). I am looking at this from a business POV, and ROI POV. For comparison, let's look at Microsoft over the last 15 years.

          Micro$oft has twice been convicted of monopolistic tactics and is currently involved in three other cases of a similar nature, two of them are statewide class action suits as well. They have been fo
          • I should point out that the bulk of my investment income is made from Linux and other Open Source products, and I haven't lost yet (I've been investing in Linux as a whole for almost 15 years).

            Given the paucity of significant investment opportunities in those areas - so what? (Not to mention that 'not losing' is as much a matter of luck as anything else.)

            I am looking at this from a business POV, and ROI POV.

            The moment you so lightly dismissed the patent question, you stopped looking at it

            • by Nazlfrag (1035012)
              Well, you seem to be lightly dismissing the proven patent violations and other legal fiascoes of Microsoft in favour of dubious and unproven claims of possible patent violations. You're comparing fact to FUD. It's also perfectly valid to compare the products under scrutiny, ie. Windows and Linux in regards to their patent issues. The fact that there is a single company behind one and many behind the other does not equate to FUD. With all the quoting you did of the GP you missed one - the meat of the GP, wh
              • Microsoft is a fanboi red herring raised by the OP to divert attention from the fact that Linux *is* vulnerable. Thus, it is properly labled FUD.
    • Given it has not happened yet, and there is no sign that it will, the risk appear pretty minimal. Linux and other OSS OSes(like the BSDs) have been around a while now, they have a track record of not being successfully sued.

      There is a small risk, but any IT business faces patent risks. A Windows OEM of an Apple OEM is in a very similar position. They might get support from the MS or Apple, but there are people who will put money behind fighting off threats to Linux too.

      Are there any cases of an OEM for any
  • by FFFFHALTFFFF (996601) on Monday August 27, 2007 @03:45PM (#20375355)
    Here in Brazil some hardware sellers are betting in this wave. Corporation like Positivo PC and others are selling Desktops and Notebooks with Linux pre-installed. There are a lot of small Linux distribution in this game, growing and getting mature. But the poor side of this is story is clear like water. Some folks buy this machines and install pirate OS's like Windows. The idea is good and is a big bussiness. A lot of people like me buy this kind of machine and know how to use it, and don't want pirate software.
  • by wehe (135130) <<gro.libomxut> <ta> <ehew>> on Monday August 27, 2007 @03:46PM (#20375369) Homepage Journal
    The article titles one section "Linux OEM companies can survive, even flourish". In this section three US based companies are considered as Linux OEMs. At least for laptops and notebooks this statement seems wrong, because as far as I can see non of these companies manufacturers these devices themselves, though they pre-install Linux on them. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a really "free" laptop or notebook available yet. But at least you can get Linux pre-installed on laptops and notebooks from different vendors around the world [tuxmobil.org].
  • Hmm....really... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Brad_sk (919670) on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:20PM (#20375759)
    >...you have to make the systems idiot-proof for users who don't care a whit about what OS they're using...

    More so, they should avoid being Linux snobs and stop using phrases such as "idiot proof" if they are really interested in growing.
    • by jdunn14 (455930)
      You've clearly never done tech support. In windows you're lucky if the person can click on a button when you ask, and avoid it when you don't. Ask them to open up a command line? You're. Screwed.
  • by Gybrwe666 (1007849) on Monday August 27, 2007 @04:23PM (#20375803)
    You know, I read the thing twice. I didn't see any agony. I didn't see any ecstasy.

    What I saw were a few fairly vague suggestions and one piece of advice (know your market) repeated over and over. There wasn't any real research. There weren't any statistics. I'm sure my second reading was a waste of time and electrons, and the more I think about it, the first one was too.

    As someone else mentioned, there are still end-user problems regarding linux in the mass market. A user wants something that works. Especially John Q. Public, who doesn't give a darn what its running underneath. What he wants is the stuff he clicks on (in the OS or in the Web Browser or Application) to work. That means when you go to YouTube, the movie plays and the sound works. When he wastes time on a web games site, the games play. When he needs some software for some idiotic reason, its easily available, easy to install, and after he installs it he clicks on the icon and it works.

    I've run Linux as an only OS in the past. 10 years ago, when I started doing that, there were many challenges to running it day to day, from corporate compatibility to application bugs. The reality for me is that many of those issues simply haven't been resolved yet.

    When I think of the masses and Linux, I think about my family. I have a range of people there who span from retirees to teenagers. I don't think a single one is capable, or, perhaps more importantly, has any desire to switch. I don't think I could even convince my 20 something step daughter, who grew up with computers, to switch, even though she needs a cheap computer and Linux would let her get a fairly decent machine for very little.

    In some ways, Linux strikes me as being 95% of the way there. The problem is, that last 5% may well be the most difficult part. The remaining issues are ones that will prevent mass adoption. For instance, I see the issue of video. The end user couldn't care less about Codecs. What they care about is the fact that when someone sends them a video file (most likely created in Windows), can they click on it and it plays with sound? As long as there are Window's proprietary video adn audio formats, that may be enough to keep a good portion of the userbase on Windows.

    Not only that, but I can't imagine what support issues must be like. Even with good customer support, if you try to sell to anyone other than a geek or semi-geek, the phone support has to be pretty deep. Like my video playing example above, what happens when someone emails some inane audio clip and it won't play? What if Uncle Leonard needs to install drivers for a USB device?

    Even for me, the thought of it to the masses is overwhelming. That final 5% is just a bear of a mountain to climb, and there isn't any easy way to get over it.

    I also think the author of the article misses something in his targeting of customers. Remember, you've locked out so many segments of the customer base, who is left? Gamers are out, especially casual ones. Gramma and Grandpa are out, they won't switch to save their lives. Anyone who has some favorite Windows application is probably out, even if Wine supports it. Do you really think the average user is going to want to know how to get Wine running (even with top notch support?), let alone figure out how to upgrade it each time a new version comes out?

    I'm sorry, I just don't see how this article addressed anything that anyone who has even thought about setting up a business shouldn't have thought about 2 minutes after they get the idea.

    Bill
    • by howlingmadhowie (943150) on Monday August 27, 2007 @05:20PM (#20376465)
      the point being that gnu/linux isn't just taking on microsoft. the linux kernel and the gnu toolchain are technically years ahead of vista. if it were a simple question of gnu/linux vs. windows, the war would have ended sometime in 1997.

      it is however a case of gnu/linux vs. the entire world of proprietary software. a world with so much money that compatibility can only be bought on their terms. gnu/linux would have to become proprietary software to implement proprietary data formats or allow non-documented devices to work. instead of that, technically superior possibilities are being offered to us. ogg is technically superior to mp3, odf is technically superior to ooxml, lilypond is technically superior to finale files.

      but how much does that help free software advocates to free others? if others insist on slavery, what can we do? one this is sure, we shouldn't implement these last 5% in gnu/linux: that would mean the end of everything gnu/linux stands for. it would mean the end of stallman's dream which has already produced the most remarkable software free of charge and open for the entire world running on the most remarkable hardware. throwing that away for out-of-the-box support for wmv files would be an act of utter idiocy.
      • by westlake (615356)
        but how much does that help free software advocates to free others? if others insist on slavery, what can we do?

        Your slaves are the customers who make their decisions and influence felt in the marketplace. The users who drive devolopment because they have money to spend and not because they have a cause to promote.

    • I cannot believe this post has a mod score of 1. The moderator must be a die-hard linux fanboy that is un-aware of the world around them.

      " I don't think a single one is capable, or, perhaps more importantly, has any desire to switch."
      "In some ways, Linux strikes me as being 95% of the way there. The problem is, that last 5% may well be the most difficult part."
      "That means when you go to YouTube, the movie plays and the sound works."

      I think the points you make are right on. I have used linux off and on for t
      • proprietary software doesn't work by having a marketing department performing studies and then offering the customer what he wants, it works by being the only possibility. it's called vendor lock-in. as we have seen with vista, microsoft can force us to use a dog of a product.

        the same goes for hardware.
  • Every year... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by TofuMatt (1105351)

    ... is the year of the Linux desktop. The article says things like "Remember, it's the job of the Linux OEM to simply make everything work - out of the box, no excuses," but I don't know how true that is, unless we are talking about niche markets. Most average Jill users don't get an OEM computer that just works (unless they bought a Mac :D) -- they get what would be a decent PC were it not for it being bogged down by bloatware (and, very likely, a bunch of useless system restore crap that was put on the ha

  • of the phrase

    "idiot-proof for users who don't care a whit about what OS they're using."

    used in conjunction with "Linux user" or "OEM Linux customer".
  • It's nice to see the use of Linux move from the server and to the desktop. And, while I agree with many of the post here that say "Linux is not quite there", I think it depends on how seriously and aggressively the OEM goes after the consumer market.

    Someone who is just buying PC's, installing a stock Linux on them, and reselling them probably won't see a lot of success. For the home market, stock Linux installs tend to suck. But, companies like the ones discussed in both the article and the comments here wh
  • My girlfriend's flatmate says to me, looking at a Linux mag I am reading:

    "Ah, I don't use an operating system, I'm a Mac boy. But I heard Linux is good."
    I seriously fucking wish I was joking.
    • by Nazlfrag (1035012)
      Rephrasing your little encounter into 'Mac people don't have to be computer literate' shows that it is a good thing Mac users don't need to know what an operating system is or does. A good OS should be transparent and straightforward for the user.

      Just imagine that comment coming from a Linux user. That's when Linux will be ready for the desktop.

    • by Zarf (5735)

      My girlfriend's flatmate says to me, looking at a Linux mag I am reading:

      "Ah, I don't use an operating system, I'm a Mac boy. But I heard Linux is good."

      That is the funniest one-liner I've read in years!

      Now, if we could get enough functionality through a browser or thin client that the punchline read like:

      Ah, I don't use an operating system, I just use the internet.

      That's when things will start to change.

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