[sf-lug] The holy grail for FOSS publicity: NYT on-line covers Dell GNU Linux

Christian Einfeldt einfeldt at gmail.com
Fri Oct 5 13:56:07 PDT 2007


On 10/5/07, Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com> wrote:
> Quoting Christian Einfeldt (einfeldt at gmail.com):
> > This is great.  We have reached a minor digital tipping point today, as
> > Larry Magid covered the state of free open source software on Dell
> computers
> > in the New York Times today.
> I'm a little skeptical, having seen Dell do this hat trick before,
> 2000-ish.

Rick raises some really good points here, all of which add up to one
conclusion, IMHO:  despite the hype about Dell's IdeaStorm website; and
despite the hype on Digg and /. and elsewhere about Dells with Ubuntu, at
the end of the day, Dell will continue to do exactly what Harvard Business
Professor Clayton Christensen predicted they would do:  focus on its
sustaining business model (Microsoft Windows) while testing FOSS in niche
markets, as Tom Haddon just pointed out.

Christensen's work is absolutely fascinating because, IMHO, like Darwin for
biology, Christensen has described some basic market mechanism which,
followed to their conclusion, lead me (at least) to conclude that we are
going to see some major market upheaval as a result of GNU Linux entering
the market.

As an example, Christensen writes that in addition to killing RCA with its
handheld radios in the 1960s, Sony killed RCA's distribution network and
sent that traffic over to Macy's, which was the only major retailer that
carried Sony's handheld transistor radios.

I firmly believe that no only will FOSS disrupt Microsoft, it will also
shift billions of dollars away from Microsoft's distribution network to
other venues for selling software:  Amazon and Google!  I believe that
eventually Google's Docs & Spreadsheets (GDS) will create a symetry for FOSS
apps that run locally.  Lots of people will always like to have the option
of keeping their data stored locally, but in the meantime (not this year or
next, but maybe the year after that) GDS will suck enough traffic away from
Microsoft Office that OOo will become viable for many consumers.  It will
take longer to challenge Microsoft Office in the enterprise space, but
eventually SaaS (Software as a Service) will also erode Microsoft's
dominance there.

At some point, someone like Linspire or Amazon, or maybe a more clever
marketing group, is going to commercialize the Debian pool, and people will
flock there by the hundreds of  millions to get software. As bandwidth
becomes no problem, proprietary vendors will be elbowing each other for
front page space on a Linspire or Amazon page that offers a decent
commercialization of the Debian pool.  They will pay big money for prominent
placement, just as they now pay for placement in brick-and-mortar stores
like CompUSA.

In the meantime, CompUSA and Dell will continue to ignore FOSS as Rick has
pointed out, until it is too late.  In the meantime, some other smaller
vendor like Zareason or one of Linspire's partrners will have made
partnership agreements with Amazon or Linspire, and they will grow rapidly.

The funny thing about disruptive innovations like Sony, Google and Microsoft
Windows is that those innovations are ignored by the market leaders until it
is too late and a new "value chain" (sellers and buyers) has formed around
the disruptive innovation.  But since the market leader has no business
proposition for monetizing the disruptive innovation, the market leader is
forced to sit out the transition to the new innovation and is forced instead
to continue doing the same thing that made it big in the first place.

It is a well-known fact that Microsoft is as bound by its install base as
the install base is bound by Microsoft.  Neither side can move away from the
relationship. They are all locked by golden handcuffs.  Except that as the
new value chain grows, the gold patina starts to wear thin.

In his books, Christensen gives example after example of this process.  This
is one of the reasons that I am actually not all that bothered by the
Microsoft - Novell - Xandros - Linspire deals.  I wish that some of the
details had been different in many of those deals, but FOSS is eventually
going to eat Microsoft's lunch, and FOSS vendors need to be able to compete
with Microsoft, which means getting close to them.

So, as Tom Haddon points out, Dell will try to grow its Ubuntu offerings in
markets where there is currently no or little traffic.  In the meantime,
IMHO, this Ubuntu offering is a placeholder.  It's Dell's attempt to learn
how to bring FOSS to market.
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