This site represents a kind of blue sky thinking about an idea to promote Linux and open source software. It is an experiment that grew of of an idea I proposed in various talks I have given. I envision the Linux and Open Source Marketing Board as an industry umbrella organization whose purpose it is to send a consistent, positive message about FOSS (of which Linux is the poster child) to both the public and other members of industry. Although I am calling it an experiment at this time, I see no reason why we can’t breath life into the LSOMB and really make Linux and FOSS part of the public consciousness.

I originally suggested this idea during my keynote at the fifth annual Free Software and Open Source Symposium at Seneca College, York University. You can watch a clip from the talk below or, if you prefer, you may choose to download a copy here. — Marcel Gagné

Classic Linux and Open Source Marketing Campaigns

Getting the message that Linux and open source applications are out there, mature, useful, and yes, exciting, is extremely important to the future. The average person on the street must be made aware of open source software, what it is, and what it can do for them. Part of this organization’s mandate is educating the public, one of the core purposes of marketing. To most people, that usually means advertising.

There have been some notable advertising campaigns and videos created to educate the public about open source software and Linux in general. Perhaps the most fascinating and far reaching of these is IBM’s Prodigy ads, but there have been others. Click the links below for a sample of these ads.

Our Community

Those of us who are involved in Linux and Open Source tend to think of ourselves as part of a community. Even in cases where FOSS projects are in competition with each other (e.g. Linux distributors and vendors) the community is still a fact of life for us. That’s because the principles of free and open source software development makes those businesses possible in the first place.

This organization is a meeting place for the community, a place to meet each other, to learn, to share, and to focus on the benefits of the work we do and the products we create.

We are here to educate the public;

  • to help them understand what we do
  • to help them understand the benefits of our products
  • to help them understand why FOSS is important

Our message is that Open Source Software is a legitimate alternative to other proprietary, commercial offerings. Not only an alternative, but in many cases, a better choice economically, functionally, and technologically.

The message . . . “Linux is the Best”. OpenOffice.org is the best. Firefox is the best. Not good, but best.

Transitional Applications

Firefox, Thunderbird, and OpenOffice.org represent that I call “transitional applications“, Linux programs that run on other operating systems (eg: Windows) thereby offering an equivalent for users who haven’t yet switched to Linux. Let’s face it, change is difficult for people. As with any dangerous addiction, quitting cold turkey isn’t easy which is why there are products like nicotine gum and the patch — these are a smoker’s transitional applications. So it is with moving from Windows desktops to Linux desktops. The people on this board know that a move to Linux isn’t nearly as difficult as some would have you believe and most people will find themselves at home very quickly. Sometimes, however, it helps to pave the way by introducing some Linux familiarity to the Windows desktop . . . and saving yourself a small fortune in the process.

If you (the global you) can’t see yourself switching immediately (or you have some reluctant friends, family members, or business associates), transitional applications can be a wonderful way to ease the transition when the time comes to move entirely to Linux. Furthermore, applications like Firefox and Thunderbird can do wonders to help those users cut down on the security issues they have to deal with every time they turn their machines on. It’s not as good or complete a solution as running Linux, but it is most definitely a good start.

The very first application to consider is Mozilla Firefox, the inspiration for this little chat. Firefox is free for the download and since it is available for Windows, it is the perfect transitional application. Another alternative worth considering is Firefox’s big brother, the original Mozilla browser — Mozilla comes with an email package, IRC client, and an HTML editor. With tabbed browsing and a pop-up ad blocker, Mozilla, or the leaner, faster, Firefox, should already be part of every desktop, Linux or otherwise. While we are at it, do your e-mail inbox a favor and download Mozilla Thunderbird. With advanced security features and built in spam filtering, there’s no reason not to. You can easily import your old mail messages and be back to work in no time at all.

The next transitional application you should consider loading up is the OpenOffice.org office suite, an excellent and powerful replacement for Microsoft Office. It provides a word processor that can read and write Word documents, an Excel compatible spreadsheet package, and a PowerPoint compatible presentation graphics package. OpenOffice.org is free for the price of a download. Simply using OpenOffice.org can save a medium-sized office thousands of dollars.

Here’s a a last one to think about. An increasingly common tool in the modern office is the instant messaging (IM) client. IM is no longer strictly the playground of teenagers or friends and family looking to keep in touch across the networked world. It is rapidly becoming a serious tool for business as well. Nothing beats being in constant touch with employees and team members, even if those people are scattered in offices around the globe. Pidgin (formerly GAIM) is a powerful, multi-protocol, IM client that makes it unnecessary to run a package for every service you use. It supports Yahoo!, MSN, Jabber, ICQ, AOL, and others. Pidgin, a free, open-source application is also available for Windows.

By using these transitional applications or suggesting them to your friends who are still running Windows, they can begin to get at least some of the benefits that people running Linux take for granted. Firefox and Thunderbird will decrease the number of viruses and spyware programs their systems are exposed to. OpenOffice.org will save them money. Pidgin will save them from running six programs to do one job.

Before you walk away thinking I’ve lost my Linux-loving marbles, I’d like to reiterate that running these transitional applications on Windows still isn’t as good as running Linux. Nevertheless, it is a huge improvement over what has become the status quo on most desktops. It’s also a good start on the road to kicking a bad habit. Besides, I’m betting that once people get used to the idea that they can live without Microsoft for a handful of core applications, the Linux desktop is not far away.

You are your own Linux Marketing Board

If we combine our talents, we can produce Linux promotion material to distribute. And the best part is : we do not have to get permission from any head office to promote Linux.

If every LUG set aside two days a year in which the members went out into the community and promoted Linux, we could start making headway. It could be in the form of an install fest, or just a day where you go out and distribute literature and engage people in pleasant conversation.
It will take the collective efforts of all of us here at this site to promote Linux. From this site we can help each other market Linux and Free software.

Software Freedom Day will fall on September 12 this year. Let’s start our planning for it now http://softwarefreedomday.org

What’s The Focus?

One of the biggest questions we’ll encounter is how to present the benefits of free software to the general public. Should we be making a case for free? Or a case for freedom? Better support? Increased security?

People are perfectly happy to be shackled if they think they are getting what they want otherwise. A little of your personal freedom and privacy for personal safety and security? Sure! I suppose that old Benjamin Franklin would be appalled, but not surprised.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty we have facing us is the public’s perception that software is already free. Purchasers of a new PC feel like they are getting Windows, and all the other installed software, free of charge. It certainly seems that way. Furthermore, we live in an age where everything seems to be free, at least online. You get free Gmail accounts, free Flickr accounts, free calendars, storage space, Websites, games, discussion groups, social networking . . . the list goes on and on. “So what’s free that I’m not already getting?” users might ask. And they might have a point.

My reason for relaunching this old idea is because I believe, and I seriously do by the way, that desktop Linux is quite possibly at a crossroads in terms of broad acceptance. Wait too much longer and it’s never going to happen. And that would be a shame of criminal proportions.

So, free software . . . so what? Why is your free software so much better than the stuff I’m already getting for free?

That’s the sort of question we need to answer. Part of that answer, I believe, is marketing. Firefox didn’t get the market share it has purely by geeks preaching to other geeks. There was a concerted, focused, and at times expensive marketing effort. It didn’t hurt that the Department of Homeland Security labeled Microsoft’s Internet Explorer a “cyber-security threat”. But for the broad-based acceptance that you see with Firefox, far more energy went into getting the word out. In print. On television. On radio. Person to person. You name it.

The message was consistent (a better, more secure, and free browser) and it was relentless. Look at poor old OpenOffice.org. No equivalent campaign and no equivalent penetration.

Linux on the desktop, and other projects, need that kind of marketing now. We need focus? So what should we focus on? And how should we deliver the message?

Inside Out Marketing of Linux

A common perception is that Microsoft Vista is an utter failure. Yet the failure of Vista has not translated into the theory that Linux desktop installations would significantly increase. What appears to have happened is that home users who purchased new machines continue to use the pre-installed Vista. Business, that has mostly refused to upgrade to Vista, have remained on Windows XP. With home users accepting Vista, warts and all, and business remaining with XP while waiting for Microsoft to correct their ship, how can Linux installations increase?

An idea that I have been considering is not targeting home users or large organization deployments. Rather taking a historical look at Local Area Network (LAN) deployments, targeting inside out, instead of the two common targets, end-users and large organizations. LAN’s began by small groups within an organization getting away from the mainframe in the computer center, and installing and controlling their own small network. These small networks began by connecting what were previously independent Personal Computers into networks that could share resources. Small business could also take advantage of the lower cost of LAN’s, with the cheaper PC server and workstations. These early LAN’s ran on Artisoft’s Lantastic, Novell Netware and Microsoft Windows Workgroup Server and later Windows NT. Eventually PC’s became ubiquitous and started to appear in homes, running the workstation software, Windows. Windows just happened to be the same software home users ran at work.

Groups within an organization and small business gave rise to Novell and Microsoft. Eventually many mainframes began to disappear and these small LAN’s moved from the workgroup to larger deployments within a the company and interconnected offices. At the same time small business continued to use LAN’s and interconnected their offices if necessary. According to the Small Business Administration, small business represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms and hire 40 percent of high tech workers. Granted, not all small business employees are knowledge workers who utilize computers, but it is a significant amount of computer users.

Which leads to, what I call, inside out deployments of Linux. Instead of the historical breaking out of the data center and down to the group level, which eventually led to small business; start at the small business and work out from there. Microsoft Small Business Server, a packaged low cost edition of Windows Server, Exchange and other software, is a successful product for Microsoft. This ensures dominance of Windows server and desktop at multiple levels. It is possible to make inroads to small business who can be more receptive of the features and cost benefits of Linux.

A couple of scenarios are Linux server deployments and Windows workstations, Linux servers and Linux workstations, and Linux servers and appliances like firewalls, NAS, etc. More details on common configurations, distributions (both commercial and free), and appliances can be documented later. I believe a marketing push to this specific area can benefit not only Linux but the small business that is targeted.