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?