Peering into your crystal ball, what do you see happening in corporate adoption of Linux desktops in the next year? Two years?
Robertson: Every new technology trend starts at a grassroots level. Early adopters come along, then consumers. The last group to adopt is the large enterprise. Think about Linux servers or Wi-Fi. Large corporations are the last to embrace the trend and it will be no different with desktop Linux. It's firmly taking root with the technical crowd and moving to consumers as Lraiser.com is showing. I'm confident you will see some corporate adoption with some larger companies making wholesale changes away from Microsoft Windows to products like Linspire over the next couple of years.
How is Linspire building out its application offerings, and is your goal to build a complete integrated package that integrates (as MS Office does) with other Linux-based application suites?
Robertson: We're huge supporters of open source initiatives -- it's how our business makes sense. I have 80 employees making a similar product to Microsoft's 20,000 in their Windows division. We need open source to thrive so we can keep that enormous cost advantage. So we're active supporters of a wide range of open source groups and applications. We have given millions of dollars to various initiatives and we've also championed many popular products that we thought were missing or lacking like NVU for easy HTML editing and publishing, Lsongs for integrated music experience and Lphoto for a great digital photography tool. All those products are open source and available for all OSes and platforms.
Besides cost savings, what are the main reasons you would recommend Linux desktops over Windows in the enterprise?
Robertson: Security is the other reason besides cost. Companies are fed up with viruses, spyware, worms and constant updates. This has a huge impact on their business. They have to pay extra dollars to security companies and also lose precious productivity to wobbly software.
Why are so many businesses still using Windows?
Robertson: They have a 20-year head start, so it's natural it will take some time to catch up. A year or two ago, there simply weren't the variety of applications necessary to make desktop Linux practical for an office environment. That's changed now. The final hurdle to cross is getting Linux distributed in the mainstream channels. It needs to be pre-installed on desktops and laptop computers and be in stores that consumers shop in. Building this channel takes a large investment in capital because you have to convince retailers and OEMs that they will make money selling desktop Linux machines. Then you need to provide them with ongoing support and training, and help them market the computers. This is the biggest challenge for desktop Linux.
Are there areas where Linux still needs to catch up?
Robertson: There will always be technical advancements on the horizon, but by and large the technology is sufficiently mature to satisfy most consumers. But those customers have to be educated about their choices. The biggest need for desktop Linux is education and distribution. How do you educate young people who have only seen Microsoft Windows that there is another option? How do you convince IT departments that have Microsoft certification and giant investments in Microsoft Windows to embrace an alternative? The challenge is that while the Linux community is great at writing code, those skills don't necessarily translate to marketing and distribution. I think it's imperative for a few companies to emerge who will make the investment to educate consumers and build the distribution channel by showing OEMs and retailers how they can profit from desktop Linux for Linux to reach its full potential. Hopefully, Linspire will be one of those companies.