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Wide Open News TurboLinux CEO Follows Amazon's Lead

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TurboLinux CEO Cliff Miller, a renegade even inside the renegade open source industry, is never afraid to speak his mind. And the fact that TurboLinux remains a private company with no announced plans for an IPO gives him greater freedom to lose money in the pursuit of market expansion. Time will determine whether he's smart and gutsy or whether he's just nuts. The TurboLinux strategy, he said Wednesday, "is the Amazon business strategy: Spread far and wide -- and figure out how to make money later." And, he added, speaking to the Chinese American Professionals Association in Palo Alto, "All Linux companies are doing this to some extent." Maybe yes, maybe no. But even if profit-making isn't yet central to Miller's business strategy, he's taking the "spread far and wide" approach seriously. If his views on profits come from Amazon, he's taking distribution cues from America Online, handing out, he claims, hundreds of thousands of TurboLinux CDs in places like China and then watching bootlegged versions turn up on the streets. "We want people to copy Linux," he said, to gain critical mass and then sell into government and OEM accounts. "They make take awhile, but they'll eventually pay you." While market share statistics are widely debated, there's no question that Turbo is a Linux powerhouse in Asia. And to Miller, China specifically lends itself to Linux proliferation. Since China's installed base of legacy systems is small, users can "leapfrog over this inferior technology," in a thinly veiled reference to Microsoft. But even in Japan, where Microsoft and Apple are both very strong, Miller expects Linux to eventually explode. The Japanese computer market is not loaded with early adopters, but once something catches on, it spreads fast, according to Miller, and he expects Linux to boom in Japan in the next couple years. He's waiting for what he calls Linux's "Janet Jackson moment." Apple's popularity surged, he said, after the singer promoted the Mac on a Japanese tour. Meantime, Miller is pursuing a strategy anathema to many Linux distributors: not just a tolerance of proprietary software, but a full embrace. TurboLinux unabashedly sells Linux versions that include proprietary components, such as clustering software or an Oracle database. TurboLinux deemphasizes the service and support business that is considered a central strategy by many major Linux distributors, including Wide Open News owner Red Hat. "Service is intangible. And it's not really catching on in Asia," claimed Miller, who is facing increasing competition in Asia from other Linux companies. "We're a software company that sells software." ® Wide Open News is a partner of The Register.

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