In Part 1, I wrote about ways we can get the word out about the software we use every day for our work and hobbies. Today, I’d like to discuss how we can let people know that there is an alternative when buying a new computer. Bug 1’s “symptoms” include only seeing Windows computers in most (non-Apple) computer stores. How do we treat that symptom?
Over two years ago, Dell launched Ideastorm to see what customers wanted. Overwhelmingly, Linux-based systems were requested. Next they asked which Linux distro to use, and voters chose Ubuntu. After selling computers with Ubuntu on them for two full years, Dell has finally gotten around to offering “Ubuntu Linux” as a filter criteria on their main home laptop page. Originally, one had to know to go to dell.com/ubuntu or dell.com/open because there was no way to reach them from the main store. Of course, they still “recommend Windows Vista® Home Premium,” and I still haven’t seen them advertising their Free Software-based offerings anywhere. Likewise, I don’t see any mention of ZaReason or System76 in any big computer magazines, though System76 does seem to have a lot of Google Ads going on for anyone searching for Ubuntu.
We need to let people know about the hardware vendors who sell Linux-preinstalled systems. My personal blog includes a “hardware links” section linking to Dell, ZaReason, and System76 and a badge I made that says “I use ZaReason Ubuntu hardware” is in the sidebar. I remember seeing lots of Emperor Linux ads in magazines, but given their prices and that what they sell are machines that are only sold by the manufacturers with Windows, I get the impression these are simply Windows systems which have been replaced with Linux and are being resold. Since the first sale is the one that counts for “number of machines sold with $OS in 2009,” this seems counterproductive (and expensive) because the companies from which they purchase them count them as Windows sales. That’s also why I advocate against buying a Windows machine and then reinstalling with Linux. Now, I only know of the ones selling Ubuntu because that’s the community I’m immersed in. Who sells machines with Fedora, SUSE, and Mandriva? Lenovo used to sell Thinkpads with SUSE on them (for $89 less than the Windows machines), but they stopped. Sub500 sells Linspire systems. I did find a list of vendors who do not remove Windows and reinstall.
We also need to pressure the others to start selling Linux machines. Dell asked us what we wanted. The others aren’t asking, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be telling. Asus recently dropped their Linux-based EeePC offerings, saying they were unpopular, though James Sparenberg claims local retailers have told him the Linux models outsold the Windows ones. HP and Acer both offer Linux-based netbooks, but if you want a regular 13″, 15″, or 17″ notebook, it’s back to Windows. A If you want a desktop, Windows. If you’re in the market for a new Linux laptop or desktop (or have a friend or family member in need of one), why not give them a call or send a letter asking if you can buy a desktop with Linux on it. Show them there’s demand. Oh, and try finding the Acer Aspire One with Linux on their website. I haven’t come across it yet, though I’ve seen the machine in Microcenter.
OK, how about brick & mortar stores? Unfortunately, when I was in Best Buy the other day, the only HP Minis they had were the Windows ones. I asked the clerk if they had any non-Windows netbooks. He asked if I meant OSX. When I told him “No, Linux,” he said Linux isn’t used in corporate environments. I pointed out that neither are netbooks. We stalemated. He saw me running Kubuntu Netbook Edition (alpha 3) from a flash drive on one of the EeePCs yesterday (hardware testing) and made a comment about the nice thing about Linux being that you can run it off of anything. By the way, you may have heard about 6 months ago that Best Buy was selling boxed copies of Ubuntu that include some weeks of tech support. That is no longer the case. I wonder how much control store managers have over what systems they offer. If any readers ever worked at a big chain like this, please leave a comment. Can we pressure store managers to offer Linux systems, or do we need to go to the corporate headquarters?
I would, additionally, be interested in how guerilla marketing can be brought to stores. Setting up a Fedora Ambassador table just outside the doors might not go so well. They probably own the sidewalk and parking lot. Where your local computer stores are located has a lot to do with the possibilities. In the suburbs, where everyone drives to the computer store and there’s a nice long parking lot between the turn off from the road (public property, where it may be legal in your area to hand things out), it’d be harder. People aren’t likely to get out of the car to take what you’re handing out. I live in a city where most people walk, and Best Buy is located inside a building that also houses Target and Bed Bath & Beyond. I think it more likely that handing things out at the entrance to that building or possibly even inside it would be OK. I see people just outside on the sidewalk raising money for Greenpeace all the time.
If you can’t hand out information about Free Software and Linux-based hardware vendors outside a computer store, find an area with heavy foot-traffic. Maybe the library will let you set something up. Librarians tend to be fans of sharing information. Amber has had luck with getting book stores to let her set out Ubuntu CDs near the Linux books. Maybe you can hand out leaflets or palmcards (¼ sheet of Letter or A4) to folks going into the local high school’s football games, basketball games, cheerleading competitions, etc. The Ubuntu Local Community Team here in Washington, DC celebrates Software Freedom Day at the Takoma Park Folk Festival each September. Find somewhere that lots of people—non-technical ones too—congregate or pass through. Just like in part 1, we want to look at non-technical people. The techies have already heard of Linux. They know it exists. They may have tried it. Now we need to tell the people who haven’t heard of it.
My mom’s pretty good about this, actually. A month after I switched her desktop to Ubuntu, I overheard her telling her friend (whose computer is really old and slow; I think WinME?) about “this Linux thing” I put on her computer that makes it faster, easier, and *gasp* you don’t even need to worry about viruses! I think getting the non-technical folks you know who use Linux to tell their friends is a good thing. It avoids the “yeah, right, you can use it, but that’s only because you’re a geek” reaction nicely.
What else can we do to:
- Convince OEMs to preinstall Linux on netbooks, laptops, and desktops
- Convince stores to sell those Linux-based machines
- Tell people where to find those systems
Leave suggestions in the comments!