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Open Source: Get up and dance!

I live near the border between the US and Canada, so I get Canadian TV stations.  A few times a year on their news broadcasts, they do a segment that usually has a title like "Why Canada does matter".  They do it in response to sentiment that Canada has had no effect on the world, and nothing would be different if it didn't exist.  I myself don't think that's true, but that's not my point.  The fact that they do a story defending against it actually lends credibility to the argument for it.  A better approach would be to create documentaries about Canadian influence on the world, and skip rebutting the argument.

Yesterday I read an article on the latest "Halloween" letter from the open source community.  It consists of an email involving SCO executives, and a commentator trying to infer that Microsoft is pulling the strings behind SCO's litigation against Linux.  It may be so, but it's preposterous to try to use that email to prove it.  They're reading waaaay too much into it.  But that's not the point I'm trying to make.

Open source needs to stop riding on others' (predominantly Microsoft) toes.  There is no need, and it will hold OS back.

A great deal of pushing OS forward has been done at the expense of saying how much better and cost-efficient the model is than Microsoft (I'll use MS for ease of use instead of all closed source programs).  They talk about how insecure MS is, how expensive Office is, how many more sites there are on Apache than IIS, etc.  The ultimate epitome of this is LindowsOS.  They think they're the best Linux distribution; I think otherwise.  But they're not just riding the toes of their competitor; they're practically humping the leg.  They have conceded the fact that they cannot sell their product without the Windows marketing tailcoats.  It's like Pepsi introducing Poca Cola, and then railing about how much Coke sucks.

Having mentioned Pepsi, I'd like to use them as a first example.  Since I was a child, I have seen Pepsi try new flavors, ad campaigns, and spokespeople every year with the same message:  "We're better than Coke."  Yet they never achieve dominance in the industry.  I think it is in part because they continue to attack Coke, which lends credibility to the argument that Coke is better.  People are cautious of advertising and marketing where the competition is portrayed as inferior.  The logical thought is "Why are they trying to convince me otherwise?  Are they desperate?"  If you'll notice, Coke doesn't do negative advertising against Pepsi.  They know they are on top.  They don't have to prove it.  Their ads talk about the smooth rich taste of Coke.  And it seems apparent that for many years to come, Pepsi will always play second fiddle.

The next example I would like to point out are Democrats and Republicans in the US.  They are the reason that voter turnouts in the US are poor.  They are the reason that nothing good happens quickly in government.  Here are two groups, constantly attacking each other, riding on each other's toes.  Al Gore probably would not have done things differently than Bush.  They just say so because they want to polarize voters.  Do you notice that both parties say "Schools good, taxes bad, welfare good, war bad," and then talk about how the other party thinks the opposite?  They are two sides of the same coin, fighting one another to get the same thing done.  What is the result?  People have become disgusted with them both, vote randomly or don't vote at all.  I say randomly because they are now voting on secondary criteria (good looks, nice demeanor, I think I'm Republican).  My evidence of that is to look at the percentages of the last election, and the current polls for this year's.  They are 50/50, which is no better than random.

Where does this leave OS and MS?  I believe that we are heading past Coke/Pepsi, and are well on the way to Democrat/Republican.  After so many attacks against MS, they are now retaliating.  MS still isn't using their full weight in the battle like OS is, but it is coming soon.  When that happens, I believe that consumers will pay the price.  They will be disenchanted on both sides.

So what is my recommendation to open source?  Get off Microsoft's toes and dance!  Talk about security in terms of what a user can get, and not in terms of how many viruses affect Windows.  Talk about the productivity of OpenOffice.  Do studies to prove them without involving the competition.  Invite people to help with usability without comparing to Microsoft.  Take down the Borg Gates pictures off of Slashdot.  Remove the so-called Halloween letters.

There's no need to wage that type of campaign.  It only lends credibility to Microsoft's argument against it.

Conspiracy Anti-Theorist
Friday, March 05, 2004

Summary of your post: a negative message is a lousy motivational or marketing tool. A positive message is a much more effective motivational or marketing tool.

I agree.

Bored Bystander
Friday, March 05, 2004

I do have a Linux box, but I make my living off Windows.  That being said. it is unlikely that what you suggest can happen.

First, and most importantly negative ads work.  We may not like it, we may wish it were not so, but it does not change it. 

Hot, negative ads work better.  Willie Horton, George Bush AWOL and the Halloween letters.  From your posting I went to find the latest, and based on even the news line, it appears, that the interpretation is accurate.  SCO appears to think it is not a big deal that they have MS funding.

However, the issue with MS and OS is bigger.  MS has always played down the OS community.  They have a billion dollar PR machine and many more billions for R&D.  OS does not.  In a way OS is like Apple, or HP.  It started small and then appeared to take on a life of its own.  In reality, it took thousands of hours of hard work and no one likes their work vilified.

You are looking for the ideal competitive environment, where everyone agrees on what "good" is and knows not to spin.  That's just not reality and in the case of competitors.

MSHack
Friday, March 05, 2004

I agree that negative/avoidance messages are somewhat effective. But people still need a positive reason to gravitate toward an alternative.

The problem with OS and Linux is that they are not terribly attractive to anyone except for cost and "total control" reasons. The strong negative message sent by open source is "you have to be a geek and RTFM to use our stuff".

This, so far, overwhelms the positives of cost and control, leaving most users with businesses that they need to run to gravitate toward the bright, happy, shiny world of Windows and closed source.

Bored Bystander
Friday, March 05, 2004

The good news is that we (in the US) have two cola's to choose from, two politcal parties to vote for, and two ways to get our software.  I hope we always have a choice.

Bill Rushmore
Friday, March 05, 2004

linux neither needs a bigger marketshare nor, in most cases, particularly cares whether it obtains it.

specific companies make money from OSS, and thats fine and good...they can advertise if they want in anyway they want..I couldn't care less.

The strength of Linux/Open source though is that those who want to can use it.

That is _not_ true of any MS product....only those who can afford it can use it (legally at least) and..heres an interesting fact....95% of the world _cannot afford Microsoft products_

Linux doesn't need to 'gain marketshare', Linux will achieve marketshare without making any effort whatsoever.

Each doing their own thing has worked perfectly well for Linux specifically and opensource in general for years, and will conjtinue to work for hte forseeable future.

let stupid people worry about marketshare, the rest of us will just use that which makes life easiest.

In summary, let IBM and Redhat worry about usability and marketshare, thats what they exist for....the rest of the opensource community will just do our own thing as we see best, _thats_ guaranteed to result in a strong offering and a strong comunity.

open sourcerer
Friday, March 05, 2004

One often sees articles claiming that attacking the dominant competitor is effective, until you become dominant, in which case you probably shouldn't mention the other guys.  I wonder how accurate that is.

Eben Moglen in his Harvard lecture claimed gnu/Linux was successful enough to gain a backlash.  So is a backlash something so easily avoidable?
http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20040226003735733

Tayssir John Gabbour
Friday, March 05, 2004


"Each doing their own thing has worked perfectly well for Linux specifically and opensource in general for years, and will conjtinue to work for hte forseeable future."

As it relates to the desktop?  Hardly.  Go read ESR on CUPS.

Mike
Friday, March 05, 2004

Agreed.
Linux desktops are still pretty primitive. I just had KDE 3.x installed on my debian box for a few weeks, and sure, it starts to look really good, and mostly works as expected. But there is something very beta-ish over the whole thing. I dont know exaxtly what it is. Might be that apps take a long time to launch, or that it is sometimes quite sluggish. Lots of features and lots of apps, but something very fundamental seems to be missing.

On the other hand you have the light weight window managers, like windowmaker. Faster, and simpler and work very well, but they are litte mote than a graphical addition to the command line.

It seems the command line is so central to everything linux that it cant just be hidden the way it is on windows, despite the valiant efforts by KDE and Gnome.

Eric Debois
Saturday, March 06, 2004

Ah choice, that pretty myth of americans who believe when they vote that's a choice they took and not a decision someone else made; that when they buy a consumer item that has a thousand variations an individual pick is a choice and not a reaction to advertising.

The use of american in this context is not to exclusively isolate americans in this myth.

Simon Lucy
Saturday, March 06, 2004

> The use of american in this context is not
> to exclusively isolate americans in this
> myth.

Hear, hear :)

I live in Portugal, and we have our own version of the Reps vs. Dems., i.e., two parties pretending to be different, when in fact all they're doing is saying "no" to whatever the other proposes. Oh, and stuffing their pockets in the process, naturally :)

I can find plenty of political analogies between the US and Portugal.

As for the Linux Desktop, I've bought a new PC in January, and have XP and Mandrake 9 on it. I'm extremely pleased with Mandrake, but I must admit the only apps I've used so far  are Mozilla, KGet, and Solitaire, so my opinion shouldn't count that much :) Hey, it's my first Linux, so I'm still fooling around a bit.

Only problems I've had so far:
1. When I made my first visit to MandrakeUpdate, it "destroyed" my menus. Had to go to MenuDrake to "ressurect" them.
2. It crashes on shutdown. I haven't tried to find out what's going on yet, because it seems to crash very close to the end of the shutdown process, and it has no noticeable adverse effect - other than forcing me to turn off the PC by pressing the power button, whereas XP shutdown will turn off the PC automatically.

Paulo Caetano
Saturday, March 06, 2004

As someone mentioned earler, the Linux people are overcompensating.

On one hand, they are promoting it as the best thing for the masses, and on the other (unconsciously?) are raising barriers to entry in the form of RTFM/"recompile the kernel"/"reconfigure the modulators"/CUPS etc.

There is a human tendency to present simple things as complicated in order to look good. My university professors would go into incredibly nested parenthesized phrases to express simple things, in order to look IQ-ish.

And the deeper your insecurities, the more nested and parenthesized your statements.

COM is actually calling functions through pointers, but you have to read hundreds of pages to get to that.

Not really on topic I suppose.

Alex.ro
Sunday, March 07, 2004

"The linux people"... who are they exactly?  I'm just a user, I don't claim that it is fit for mass consumption.

anon
Sunday, March 07, 2004

The Open Source People seems to be someone everybody knows or has heard of but nobody really *is*. Which is good. Ideas tends to compete for mindshare and the fittest survive. If you find OS-bashing there it's because it sells. Few developers tend to share it.

Jonas B.
Monday, March 08, 2004

I need some people to dig a ditch. Could I hire some of the open source people?

x
Tuesday, March 09, 2004

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