Hundreds of IT users have either flamed or praised John H. Terpstra's October 18 column, Stopping Linux desktop adoption sabotage. In that article, IT consultant, author and Samba Team co-founder John H. Terpstra cited U.S. electronics retailers' and peripherals manufacturers' negative impact on Linux desktop adoption, suggested that Microsoft has both manfuracturer and retailers in a headlock and predicted a Linux-related Chinese revolution in IT.
Terpstra responds to readers' reactions in this three-part interview. In part one, he elaborates on the Microsoft "conspiracy", denies claims that he's flinging FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and describes how consumer Linux adoption affects IT managers and corporate desktop environments. In part two, he discusses manufacturers' and retailers' role in inhibiting Linux desktop adoption and his own difficulties in finding products for Linux. In part three, he explains his beliefs about the impact of the U.S. anti-Linux, anti-open source movement on the country's future in the IT marketplace.
|John H. Terpstra|
Do you truly believe there is a real conspiracy against Linux, one led by Microsoft?
John H. Terpstra: Conspiracies require well-thought-out design and coordinated execution, and I am not convinced that Microsoft has demonstrated much of that.
I respect what, as a company, Microsoft has achieved. They are major contributors to the development and growth of the consumer IT industry, and it would not be what it is today without the tremendous infusion of technology, products and services that started with the first MS-DOS PCs.
Unfortunately, successful companies become fat and lazy. Laziness leads to larceny. Larceny is the substance of mind and action that takes hold of protectionist measures such as software patents, restrictive licensing, and other mechanisms to minimize and eliminate competition.
Could you describe the actions that make up what you call larceny?
Terpstra: Microsoft has used its market dominance to coerce OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and resellers not to sell competing products and services.
Microsoft is afraid of competition, and the behavior of their senior executives demonstrates that fear. It is public evidence that despite their amassed fortunes they still have limited ability to successfully innovate a constant stream of effective business solutions. Microsoft's track record demonstrates that they are somewhat out of touch with their own customers; that might explain the slow and poor adoption rate of new products by their customers over the past decade.
It is simply not appropriate to denounce their corporate behavior as conspiratorial, but that does not take away the fact that they are concerted in the process of undermining competition. They have been sued by a number of companies for illegal practices. The DOJ (Department of Justice) has made some interesting rulings; but, in retrospect, we have seen surprisingly little in the way of sanctions. If there are any conspiratorial activities, it is best to leave that to the law of the land to deal with. It does not pay to conspire, those that do it will get caught.
On the other hand, when consumers really do get fed up and stop buying products from unethical companies, the fruits of bad behavior come home to roost. Ultimately, every business harvests what it sows. Bitter fruit turns the consumer away.
FUD, FUD, FUD! That's the label some throw on your opinion piece. What do you think about those claims?
Terpstra: I denounce the assertion of FUD. Joe and Dennis are real people. (The problems both had in buying Linux-based PCs were detailed in the column.) Dennis is very annoyed at the response from the outspoken faceless people who have responded on Slashdot. The article I wrote set out to raise a flag of concern on behalf of the Joes and the Dennis's of this world.
Whether or not the radical Linux community element wants to face up to the facts, most consumers purchase their IT needs from electronics stores such as CompUSA, Best Buy, etc. As I said in the article, it is very difficult to purchase hardware that works well with Linux from these stores. It is hit and miss at best. It is also a problem for the people who work in such stores and who are pro-Linux minded.
What have you heard from the front lines at these major electronics retail stores since the story was published?
Terpstra: I received an e-mail from one of the sales people from a CompUSA store. He mentioned how much time it takes to research what hardware actually works with Linux. He regularly gets customers who ask for Linux-supporting solutions. He seldom gets thanks for helping them to find what they need, but he gets a lot of abuse from pro-Linux customers who can not get what they demand. He rightly took some offense at my assertion that the consumer should tell the store that they will not purchase from them if the store will not support Linux. He mentioned that the cost of supporting a Linux customer is many times higher than that of supporting a Windows customer.
One point he made had me cringing; he pointed out that a significant number of Linux users come into the store to price shop, ask lots of questions, push him to do a lot of research trying to help the customer, but then buy over the Web to get a lower price. He says that makes him look really bad to his management, with the result that he is discouraged from wasting his time.
We need to realize that the people who try to serve us in these stores are accountable for the time they invest in us. It is callous and arrogant to ask people who are kindhearted towards us in these stores to serve us well, and then not to reward them for the effort. All he asks for is that if he has helped to locate an affordable solution that he is not sent home hungry.
FUD? No, reality-check time.
Why should IT managers care about what's going on with Linux on the consumer PC side?
Terpstra: The consumer marketplace is essential to the reduction of IT hardware costs. Many business consumers have disdain for the retail channel, but without it their costs would be many times higher.
In business schools, we hear about the "learning-curve effect". In other words, as manufacturing volume and sales increase, the per-unit cost of manufacturing reduces. This allows a manufacturer to lower the price and thus to attract more customers into the market.
Not everyone needs a games PC. Not everyone needs a multimedia PC with massive resources. But a PC that is ideal for the office user is often not up to the needs of the home PC user. Even so, over-all sales volume is important to keep costs down for everyone.
In your column, you said that most major electronics retailers don't carry PCs with pre-loaded Linux. However, Linspire sells in more venues than Wal-Mart. Don't Fry's and CompUSA carry Linux products, too?
Terpstra: An author can not satisfy every reader, particularly if his story stirs up a storm. Linspire responded to say that Michael Robertson is no longer CEO, and Kevin Carmony is CEO of Linspire now. I offer my apologies for missing the change of command. None-the-less, I still respect Michael Robertson for what he did.
Linspire mentioned that Fry's Electronics sell Linspire pre-loaded PCs. I knew that they had, but it surprised me to hear they still do. A Fry's customer told me he could not find any Linux pre-loaded systems at Fry's. Dennis, who was mentioned in the article, was told that Fry's could not provide any laptop computer that had Linux pre-loaded.
Most electronics stores sell consumer retail Linux operating systems; but that is not the same as supporting Linux. It is there for those who specifically set out to purchase a Linux operating system to install on a system that was supplied with Microsoft Windows.
Continue to part two to hear more about people's problems in buying Linux-based PCs.