Linux: so what's in it for me?

Marketing Linux to the masses

One of the first lessons sales people are taught is that the potential customer ("prospect") has only one question on her mind when approached with a new product? That question is simply, "What's in it for me"? Unless the salesman can successfully answer that prime question satisfactorily, even the price of the product will not convince the prospect to buy.

Thid question is not being answered by those marketing Linux to the masses, according to industry experts we interviewed at the Linux User & Development Expo in Birmingham this week.

All the prospect gets is a lot of technobabble, says Dr John Pugh, MP (Lib Dem Southport) This adds to the perception that Linux is a geek's tool. He says consumers will buy Linux PCs if they understand that they won't have to buy a new computer every couple of years, and that if they run a home business, that business won't be brought to a screeching halt every time a virus hits. Linux has to be marketed on its financial and other home-user benefits if it is to make its way into the home user environment, Pugh says.

Eddie Bleasdale of NetProject summarises those Linux benefits that will cause prospects to take notice: security, reliability, virus resistance, and an end to the need to upgrade your hardware every couple of years to accommodate changes to the Operating System (OS).

It's said that competition/choice will produce better product and the financial benefit of lower prices. Jim McQuillan, founder and project leader of the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP), says the Linux community has to fight the lack of choice in the IT world more vigorously. The home-user especially is denied the right of choice in technology until the Linux community fights back, he argued.

It is a matter of informing the public that Linux is no longer just for geeks and the IT departments of multi-national corporations, he said.

Although they wouldn't speak on the record, several industry figures at Linux User, noted the geekie image continues to be pervasive in the Linux world - even at a time when a majority of visitors to Linux events are suits. They told me it's not necessary for all exhibitors to be wearing suits and ties, but to be dressed in more than "just jeans and silly t-shirts" as was the case at one of the largest exhibit stands at the expo.

They said, that's not likely to happen, until and unless the techies recognise the fact that the vision of Linux as their exclusive property and domain is neither true, nor a "good thing" any longer, one told me. "They need to remind themselves of what happened with the Net," another said. "It went from the exclusive domain of the techies, academics and military to a universal world and we all benefited from that. We can likewise, all benefit from Linux becoming a universal phenomenon," he said. ®

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