Linspire CEO: Linux to yank cloth from MS table, part 1

We've only gotten a small taste of the disruption Linux will cause, said Linspire CEO Michael Robertson. Look for Linux to dominate the server market and heavily infiltrate the device market and desktop market. In part one of this interview, Robertson describes how Linux will win the price war with Microsoft and foster user-centric purchasing models. Also, he discusses legal threats against open source software and a chart-topping antidote to Balmer's desktop baloney.

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We've only gotten a small taste of the disruption Linux will cause, said Linspire CEO Michael Robertson. Look for Linux to dominate the server market and heavily infiltrate the device market and desktop market. In part one of this interview, Robertson describes how Linux will win the price war with Microsoft and foster user-centric purchasing models. Also, he discusses legal threats against open source software and a chart-topping antidote to Balmer's desktop baloney.

You've said that your business career has revolved around disruptive technologies like MP3, Linux and Session Initiation Protocol. On the enterprise level, is Linux still the disruptive technology du jour or is it now so mainstream that it's no longer disruptive?

Michael Robertson: We've only scratched the surface on the disruption Linux will cause. In the server market, Linux is at 25% market share and widely accepted, but in most other markets such as desktop, embedded, PDAs and phones, the impact of Linux has yet to be felt. Red Hat has done well bringing Linux to the server market. I expect other companies to emerge focused on those other market opportunities.

Would you say that enterprise open source applications are the new disruptive technologies? If not, what are?

Robertson: Just over the last few months, both OpenOffice.org and Firefox have really begun gaining widespread attention, which will lead to mainstream adoption. This is great for desktop Linux since those products are cross platform. If someone is comfortable using OOo and Firefox on Microsoft Windows, then it's a just a baby step over to desktop Linux where those same products exist.

How widely do you think that open source applications will be used in the enterprise?

Robertson: I think of Linux as a value product. Where there is healthy competition, the companies in the value segment generally garner 20% to 40% market share. Think of just about any industry: watches, bottled water, clothing, etc. There are high-end providers and value companies. The higher end providers have to charge more, have higher profit margins and take a portion of those monies and use them to advertise to convince people their products are worth the higher price. Meanwhile, there are low-cost providers (think generic products) that focus on having the best price. They let their price be their marketing. In my mind, this is where business segment Linux fits well. It will push companies like Microsoft up-market and undercut their price. People who are price sensitive will gravitate to the lower cost solutions. I'd contend you're already seeing this in the server market, with Linux gaining 25% market share.

How will open source software disrupt and change the enterprise software delivery model?

Robertson: It hasn't yet, but I think there's a real possibility to advance the consumer experience. Why is the CD the way that most people install software? That makes no sense with the wide proliferation of broadband. Like any monopolist, Microsoft has grown complacent and it is not in their best interest to promote complete digital delivery. At Linspire, we think besides bringing greatly reduced software costs to consumers, Linux can also deliver a complete digital experience. That's why we built CNR [click-n-run]. Using CNR technology, Linspire users can install more then 1,500 programs with a single mouse click. They can set up a brand new computer with a custom set of applications with a single click. Or they can update their OS and all their applications with one click. This is how computers should work. We've now done more then 3 million installs and updates using CNR, so it's extremely popular.

You launched a Web site called Lraiser.com, publishing some intriguing maps, which show new Linux users sprouting up around the globe on a daily basis. Each dot represents a new desktop or laptop computer running Linspire. Why would it be difficult to publish a map showing all the enterprises (corporations, small businesses, organizations) running Linux? How is it possible to get reliable statistics about the usage of Linux in the enterprise?

Robertson: Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, is telling the world that nobody is using desktop Linux. This is not true. We thought it was imperative to provide real proof that desktop Linux is taking root around the globe, which is why we started publishing the maps. Each dot is a new computer running Linspire that is turned on for the first time. It is amazing to me to use the magnifying glass tool and zoom in to specific regions to see Linux happening. We also launched Lraiser to encourage more people to be evangelists for desktop Linux. More then 700 people have committed to showing desktop Linux to others or to help someone else get started with desktop Linux. Lraiser.com only shows Linspire users because it is based on CNR technology, which is pre-installed in every Linspire computer. Other Linux computers don't have CNR technology, so we don't know about them.

In your column, "Michael's Minute," you wrote: "Since the courts have ruled that file-sharing software is legal, media companies have been desperately looking for a different way to halt P2P (peer-to-peer). But since P2P is now in a wide range of products and using P2P requires hardware and software, it's impossible to outlaw P2P devices or software without also outlawing the wide range of products that have legitimate uses." Senate Bill S. 2560, known as the "Induce Act," died in committee. Do you think it will rise from the grave in another form? Why is there such a big effort to halt P2P?

Robertson: For sure we have not seen the last of media companies pleading with Congress to get laws passed that protect their business and lock down innovation and new technology. Remember, this is the same group that went to court to ban all MP3 players and VCRs. Fortunately, they lost both cases and their business is better because of it. It's easier for them to pay for lobbyists and buy politicians to get laws to stop competitive threats then it is to alter their business to take advantage of new technology.

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