[In the news] Fedora and GNOME branding drama: Missing the big picture

Sean DALY sdaly.be at gmail.com
Thu Apr 21 17:40:08 UTC 2011

"Linux" desktop/laptop marketshare is indeed miniscule (estimates vary
between 1% and 2%) and in this context rethinking of strategy is in
order. The fundamental problems are:

1) "Linux" is not preinstalled on nearly all new personal computers;
installation/configuration is perceived as risky for data and
complicated by ordinary users.
2) "Linux" has inexistent marketing support to entice and reassure
ordinary users.

The first problem is related to the second - OEMs obtain no marketing
advantage by preinstalling GNU/Linux; there are no effective selling
points for the software against Windows, the chief competitor.

What is "Linux" anyway? For most nontech users, it is the desktop or
"window manager". Millions of users purchased the first EeePC netbook;
these users could tell us that they tried "Linux", without being able
to name the Xandros desktop - indeed, they might only be able to
affirm that "it wasn't Windows". Supermarket chains offer specials on
"Linux" netbooks, but one would be hard-pressed to know if GNOME or
KDE (or Xfce, or LXDE, etc.) is offered - the main selling point is
low price. And for the uninitiated who hear about Ubuntu or Fedora or
openSUSE or Mandriva (or Debian or Gentoo or ...), the desktop is
totally out of the picture - not one of these distros even mentions
which desktop users will work with by default. More often than not,
desktops are referred to as mere "upstream" projects, reduced to
incorporated code, a "shell" or "GUI".

This tradition of minimizing the key role of the desktop hurts
GNU/Linux marketshare because for the ordinary user, the desktop *is*
the system. Casual users of free Linux OSes (e.g. people who purchase
entry-price netbooks with, say, Linpus) attribute "Linux" to the first
desktop they encounter. This confusion is understandable - in the
Windows and MacOS ecosystems, there has always been just one desktop
associated with the underlying system, with very few exceptions
(Apple's dual-desktop OS 9-OS X during the transition in 2001-2002,
Xerox TabWorks preinstalled on Compaqs way back in the Windows 3
days). This lack of identity keeps GNU/Linux systems in the margin to
stay. Distros and desktops have not worked together enough to promote
a "Linux" brand.

In this context of lack of support by distros, the best approach for
desktops is to minimize the underlying system(s) and market directly
to users. Browser projects such as Chrome and Firefox take this
approach (Mozilla marketing work is excellent). Google is doing this
with Android (with of course massive OEM deals, attacking problem #1
directly). Jolicloud is perhaps a better case study, focusing on what
ordinary users want to do with apps and data across multiple devices.
This is by and large my approach with Sugar (I say by and large
because Fedora figures more prominently in our marketing than other
distros for historical reasons).

So should distros give up on branding? Absolutely not. Distros could
very well take the approach of "ingredient" branding while supporting
a "Linux" brand. In the short term this would have no effect because
of the marginal marketshare and brand awareness of each distro.
However, that could change if OEMs come on board and for that to
happen, I believe it is essential that 1) a "Linux" brand be developed
and 2) desktops be marketed as differentiators to Windows.

So the best way forward is for distros and desktops to band together,
to create a brand to rival Windows (or even OS X) and to allow
desktops their place in the sun. However, for that to happen, there
must be a fundamental change in the way FOSS projects are managed -
marketers must have a seat at the table. This is blasphemous in the
FOSS context where there are so many engineers suspicious of
marketing, including many who started their careers with
marketing-driven proprietary software. Many FOSS projects consider
marketing's only role is contributor recruitment, leaving the
challenge of mass marketing - increasing marketshare - to someone
else. Year after year, there is no one else, and growth is incremental
with no possibility of a breakout. We have no marketing leverage to
offer OEMs.

What's the next step? A marketing summit, a working group? Through the
Linux Foundation? DesktopSummit? elsewhere? I am not sure. But joint
work in this direction could have very positive results.

Sugar Labs Marketing Coordinator

Some analysis from the past three years:

Five ways the Linux desktop shoots itself in the foot

Alexander Wolfe:
Linux AWOL From Desktop Upgrades
7 Reasons Why Linux Won't Succeed On The Desktop

Bruce Byfield:
Branding: Even For Linux and FOSS, It's Everything

Serdar Yegulalp:
More Reasons Why Linux Misses The Desktop

On Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 5:12 AM, Rahul Sundaram <metherid at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi
> http://dissociatedpress.net/2011/04/18/fedora-and-gnome-branding-drama-missing-the-big-picture/
> "I’m not saying this to belittle Fedora — but to put this whole thing
> into perspective. Arguing over branding here is /just plain silly/.
> Depending on which side you’re on, it may validate your “team” (GNOME
> vs. Fedora, I guess) but it’s /utterly irrelevant/ when it comes to
> having an impact on Fedora adoption. At best it’s a distraction from
> actually increasing the market share of Linux — and at worst it’s a
> validation of the argument that community driven projects fail due to
> infighting."
> Rahul
> --
> marketing mailing list
> marketing at lists.fedoraproject.org
> https://admin.fedoraproject.org/mailman/listinfo/marketing

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