In John H. Terpstra's October 18 column, Stopping Linux desktop adoption sabotage, he described the difficulties encountered when two people tried to buy and use Linux desktops. His story struck a chord. In responses to that article, many readers shared their similar depressing experiences with Linux desktop adoption. On the other hand, readers also said there's no profit motivation for retailers to sell or peripheral manufacturers to support a niche market like Linux.
In this installment of Terpstra's response to readers' feedback on his article, Terpstra describes the roadblocks he's encountered when using Linux and digs deeper into the lack of products and services supporting Linux.
In part three, Terpstra -- an IT consultant, author and Samba Team co-founder -- explains why readers agreed with his assertion that China was stealing the IT market from the U.S. In part one, he discusses the anti-Linux "conspiracy".
|John H. Terpstra|
Why should the makers of drivers and peripherals spend money on building in Linux support when so few people buy Linux PCs?
Terpstra: Firstly, peripheral manufacturers buy chip sets from chip-set OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). The chip-set vendors are the ones who should work with the open source software community so that Linux users can benefit from the peripherals their chip sets go into. Peripheral manufacturers seldom write their own drivers from scratch, but rather tend to use toolkits made available by the chip set OEMs.
Right now, the chip-set OEMs are not aware of how much business hey are missing out on. That is perhaps the biggest problem in Linux support today. The only way they will listen is if the peripheral OEMs tell them about it. The only way the peripheral OEMS will hear about the loss of opportunity is if retailers tell them about it. And that gets us back to my article: Linux users need to tell retailers that they are missing an opportunity.
Could you describe a couple of the Linux PC experiences people have shared with you since your column aired?
Terpstra: I was surprised by the e-mail responses people sent me. Most wrote just to say that they appreciate confirmation that they are not alone in their experiences. The one problem that frustrated two people was lack of video chip-set support for Linux on laptop PCs.
Have you had similar experiences to the two users in your column, Joe and Dennis, who had trouble finding auxiliary products that work with Linux?
Terpstra:Yes, I have. I guess that's why I was sensitive to Joe's and Dennis' experiences.
In 2002, I purchased a new laptop to run Linux. One of my co-workers had bought one, and Caldera Open Linux worked perfectly on it. I ordered one from the same reseller. When it arrived, I could not get X-Windows working on it at all. Later I discovered that even though it was the same model and labeled identically, it had a different video chip-set. Nearly eight months later a new version of the X-Windows software came out with support for my video chip-set. By that time, my new laptop was obsolete!
Recently, I bought some wireless cards for a small company, of the same model as one I have that works nicely. The new cards had version 3 firmware, the old one has version 2.5. The new firmware would not work with Debian or SuSE Linux. When I took them back to the store, we found some old boxes at the back of the shelf that fortunately had the older firmware on the card.
I've had problems with sound cards, scanners and with USB flash drives not working on some systems, even though they work on others with the same Linux version. USB and PCMCIA controller chip-sets can make a big difference; unfortunately, hardware vendors often change them without changing the labeling on the hardware, with the effect that you never quite know what you are buying as a consumer. I have seen the same problem with Microsoft Windows users, but with one difference: there is active Windows driver support, so usually a driver is available.
When I buy a peripheral, I want to be able to use it now, not wait six-to-12 months before I can get satisfaction out of my purchase. The absence of active Linux support causes consumers to play a game of jeopardy.
In response to your article, our readers said that retailers make more money selling Windows because the gaps and flaws in Windows lead to aftermarket service and software revenues. So, why should retailers sell Linux, which is so good that they don't make aftermarket money on it?
Terpstra: Wow, I can't believe you asked that question. We do not yet live in Camelot!
Until we get to live in Camelot, there is always opportunity for aftermarket product sales and for after-sales service. Service is what differentiates one store from another. Good service is worth every penny of the premium it costs to deliver it.
Do you know of any electronics chain stores that are taking advantage of the opportunity to support Linux desktops?
Terpstra:I spoke with the service manager at three local CompUSA stores, and he said that all are more than happy to service Linux PCs. One of these stores builds gamer PCs for Linux users. One of the guys on staff is a die-hard Linux devotee, and he really knows how to build a games PC that packs a lot of punch. He builds these systems from parts sold in the store.
The store charges a premium to build a Linux system; but once a customer has experienced the difference, they do keep coming back for upgrades. He claims the store does a lot of repeat business with customers who want the store to install the new hardware and are willing to pay the installation service fee.
Now, this service manager is not supposed to install Linux for a customer; but he does once in a while just to make the customer happy). He said the store supports Linux servers in small businesses too, and these customers will pay a premium for a technician to update a system on-site. He mentioned several customers who run Samba on Linux servers he supports for the store.
By the way, he said most Windows users just accept system instability as par for the course. But when he builds a Linux system, it has to be rock solid or else the customer will just keep coming back (to get it fixed).
Go back to part one.
Continue to part three.