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Are retailers hijacking Linux for their own financial gain?

By   |  March 4, 2009

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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21 Responses to “Are retailers hijacking Linux for their own financial gain?”

  1. Jonathan
    March 4th, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    Not only that, but they also ship obsoleted versions of Fedora (Fedora 8) on those machines. I’ve had a user phone me yesterday to tell me he couldn’t open up docx files because they still use 2 on the system.

  2. Jaco
    March 5th, 2009 @ 12:41 am


    Of course, you could view this as an opportunity & not a threat.

    In my experience, the experienced *nix folks are very far divorced from the laymen users to whom these devices are targeted, and my feeling is that we cannot rely on retailers to invest time & money in learning & training up on new skills.

    The time has come for us to be a bit more accommodating & get our hands dirty & interact directly with our market, as opposed to being critical from a distance.
    This has probably been the biggest shortcoming I’ve come across in our community; we’re willing & able to help via forums & IRC, and quick to say stuff like “RTFM”, but not a lot is done to engage with the market: sitting down & coaxing them through a pretty scary experience. (for most users it’s been a HUGE expense of effort, time & money to learn windoze; they don’t want to go though it again for “this thing called Lunux/Ubuntu/FOSS”)

    This is what “Ubuntu’s” about (and why the distro has grown so much in such a short time)

  3. Gary
    March 5th, 2009 @ 7:43 am

    This is very true … the local players in the notebook and PC space also use Linux as an entry OS only to bring the cost down. Most of the time, the PC or notebook hardly works with Linux, they use outdated versions, and there is no support provided.

    They will however sell you a copy of Windows (and God forbid it be Starter Edition) …

  4. cabreh
    March 5th, 2009 @ 9:21 am

    So, let me see. Those who would normally buy a computer under the same conditions and end up running Windows which then become bots because they don’t know any better, will now end up running Linux. They don’t have to worry about viruses and are unlikely to spam the unwashed millions and somehow you turn this into a bad thing.

    Go figure some people’s logic.

  5. Tom
    March 5th, 2009 @ 9:23 am

    I see this as positive development. Linux preinstalled means that everything should work out of the box such as Internet connection. More advanced users can try to upgrade their oem Linux to latest distro of their choice. More users will be aware of Linux and values that it represent. Linux is about sharing code and exchanging ideas…ultimately it’s about freedom

  6. Guy
    March 5th, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

    Are retailers hijacking Linux for their own financial gain?

    If so then so is everybody who installs Linux to avoid paying for an operating system.

    Hijacking implies property rights that are not there – reality check please.

  7. Alastairo
    March 5th, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

    Thanks for the article Nic.
    I feel that it could be a great opportunity as mentioned by Tom.
    If the distributors could add a leaflet about the benefits as well as how to get help – or even to have another distro disk such as ubuntu included with a leaflet and disk informing of the good choice and how to access help, it would go a long way to helping the cause.
    I think a lot a people would like to linux, but are too scared to dip the big toe into the water. If they see how easy it is, maybe they will become smitten.

    May the source be with you !

  8. John Bailey
    March 5th, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

    Linux pre installed.. Great. I’m all for it.

    Linux bought by accident.. Not so good. But not always a disaster.

    There seems to be a disconnect by so many people in the tech journalism industry as a whole about people with basic computer needs.

    People are not stupid. They will put the time in to learn how to use a bit torrent file or a P2P app, so they can put the time in to learn how to use a trivially different user interface provided it is set up properly.

    As Alastairo said, there needs to be a “getting started” leaflet or video included with each computer. From memory, even Windows has a feature tour of sorts, or did have.. I haven’t used Vista, so my experience only goes up to XP. What would be really good is for the vario9us distros to have a short video or presentation type file included in every install disk showing how to do the basic stuff like connect to the net, configure a printer, install software from the repos etc..

    It is difficult to go from zero to Guru, and can be frustrating along the way, but the same applies to Windows. I’ve had my share of impassable problems on both platforms. Computers are complex devices. And to be honest, nobody really expects otherwise. This is why techie friends can get a free dinner every now and then, and why computer repair services can charge huge amounts of money for simple things.

    March 5th, 2009 @ 9:36 pm

    Why shouldnt there be hardware support anymore? More and more manufacturers develop netbooks with linux on it. So if they sell it with linux they have to support it.

    By the way there are lots of community’s who give free support, for example ubuntu forums.

    Linux is just the perfect OS for a netbook, secure for browsing, nice openoffice and lots more.
    If people can’t open a docx document its the fault of microsoft who is always trying to be incompatible with the rest.
    Also Linux is more easy to use than windows, configuring could be a bit harder but once configured its much more easy to use than windows.

    People who say linux is crap have never tried to use it.
    Its true linux isn’t as compatible with lots of windows software, but thats because of 90% of the desktops are windows.
    This doesnt says there isnt good software for linux, theres a lot of software and quality software.

  10. foo
    March 5th, 2009 @ 10:01 pm

    “The salesperson selling this product has no comprehension of the Linux operating system or any of the programs available…”

    That’s the reason why we need to have more Linuxes out there.

    After one or two years, we’ll have much more people understanding Linux.

  11. Jaco
    March 5th, 2009 @ 11:22 pm

    We must just be careful of statements like: “linux doesn’t get viruses”
    A poorly configured GNU/Linux is just as as susceptible to exploits as windoze, not to mention the platform-independent browser-space. Though it is admittedly more uncommon.

    Take a look at this: (How to write a Linux virus)

  12. troy
    March 6th, 2009 @ 2:39 am

    Where I live the two big retailaers (owned by th esame company) has many incentives to NOT push Linux since they sell ‘plans’ between 75 and 150$ to add anti-virus, firewall and malware software.

    Would you rather sell the Linux version or one where you can make up to half the amount in Windows performance package?

  13. Linux on Netbooks, Caveats and Cautionary Tales | google android os blog
    March 6th, 2009 @ 4:33 am

    […] Tectonic, Nic Ludick wonders if this isn’t actually a bad thing in the long run for boosting Linux adopt…. I can’t say as I agree with his implication that retailers using Linux netbooks for their […]

  14. Jaco
    March 6th, 2009 @ 6:30 am

    Truth be told: I find it more concerning that retailers are selling netbooks at the same price as (or even more than) regular notebooks.
    These are supposed to be low-spec, low-margin, budget-machines, ideally suited for the economic crunch (as reflected by the OS), ie cloud-clients, but they’re insisting on the prevailing business model

    This is completely ridiculous:

  15. Musa
    March 6th, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

    It looks like a lot of comments here are catering for people with internet access; I don’t have it at home so I agree with John B that Linux distros need to have video tutorials on how to do basic things on Linux.

    I have not used Linux in a long time because when I tried it (earlier versions of Ubuntu), it didn’t support playing MP3s on the fly and I didn’t want to convert my MP3s to another format.
    Right now I’m trying to get a cheap PC for use with Linux; Once comfortable, will erase windoez PC.

  16. ps
    March 9th, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

    In my experience sales staff at the local Incredulous Disconnection, where many of these machines are bought, have no comprehension of the Windows operating system either. Any reseller worth his salt would make sure their staff knew what they were selling. Of course IC is anything but worth its salt.

  17. Alastairo
    March 9th, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

    All of the distro’s will play mp3’s, but most have to be configured. There are certain ones like simply mepis that will come pre-configured, so if you don’t have internet, you can buy a disk( at low cost – for the disk and not the software) from the local linux resellers like fosscd’s and put it on. Mp3 and many other formats will be standard.

  18. Musa
    March 9th, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

    thanks for a reply;
    I had that problem ages ago but I know now that most of them should support or easy to configure; I prefer Ubuntu as my distro (reason: cos I’m a proud South African, and Nguni [Zulu/Swazi/Xhosa] as well).

    What’s holding me right now is lacking a PC; I don’t want to dual-boot.

    I don’t want to format the current windowz (I have work-related apps on it and some files which won’t be compatible to Linux)… my bad, on my previous post; I won’t erase my windowz;

    I tried to use virtual machines but they never installed properly…

  19. Alastairo
    March 9th, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

    It’s only legalities that prevent mp3 straight away. The virtual machine world is much better now and virtualbox (supported by Sun) will run on windoze. You can also get vmware player at no cost.
    Ubuntu is a good choice, as there is maximum support. You do need a certain amount of internet connection though.

  20. Musa
    March 9th, 2009 @ 6:34 pm

    @Alastairo: I haven’t tried VirtualBox… will try tonight if I get some time; thanks

  21. audunmb
    March 13th, 2009 @ 5:29 pm

    One way to overcome this, use Linux for your own financial gain:

    Create a specialist Linux netbook shop

    – sell cheap Netbooks with Linux

    – offer paid Linux support, so that people can bring their netbook (or any other Linux computer) and get help

    – make deals with other retailers, so that they will redirect anyone asking Linux questions to you

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