Are retailers hijacking Linux for their own financial gain?
With many retail outlets in South Africa now selling notebook and netbook computers with Linux pre-installed, I can’t really say that I am at all excited by the notion and find myself feeling very apprehensive about the way Linux is being introduced to the local market.
My reason for feeling this way stems from the belief that most (if not all) people making the decision to buy these notebook or netbook computers do it based on the price tag, and not because the machine runs Fedora-based Linpus Linux. The salesperson selling this product has no comprehension of the Linux operating system or any of the programs available, and therefore is incapable of influencing the buyer to do it for any other reason.
When purchasing the product, buyers are also not made aware of the fact that most retailers cannot provide any software support and that other service providers’ support staff will not be able to give any telephone support.
Whether buyers intend to load a pirated version of Windows after buying this product is debatable, but what is certain is that if buyers find themselves unable to connect to the Internet/install a printer/configure an email account etcetera because of a lack of support, they will seriously consider paying extra for a Windows licence.
With the lack of support from retailers and service providers, what motivation would buyers have to endure the frustrations associated with GNU Linux as a newcomer? The little localised support made available online and the absence of Linux user groups for beginners will certainly add to these frustrations.
A need for cheap notebooks and netbooks exists and therefore the Linux pre-installed computer has arrived but, until such time as retailers and service providers have research statistics to indicate that a significant need exists, they will not make any effort to provide Linux desktop training to their sales and support staff.
While retailers continue to hijack Linux for their own financial gains and service providers offer no support, chances are that Linux might be reduced to something useless that nobody would want. The question that remains, however, is whether it would be easier to get retailers and their clients to understand the role Linux has to play – dispose of the notion of free ‘as in beer’ software – than to make a co-ordinated effort to create unified user groups, which can provide meaningful online and hands-on support for the new “force fed” Linux user.
Nic Ludick is the network administrator for a financial service provider located in Alberton, Gauteng.
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