November 2, 2006

FSOSS Keynote: The selling of Linux and Open Source : Do we suck at this or what?

The selling of Linux and Open Source : Do we suck at this or what? by
Marcel Gagné, Author of "Moving to Linux: Kiss the Blue Screen of Death Goodbye!" and Linux Journal Columnist

If Linux desktops and Open Source solutions are the answers, then we might just be doing a terrible job at getting the message out. By anybody's count, the 'year of the Linux desktop' has come and gone a few times now. Arguably, the open source community has a better product, but it's impact in the marketplace is uninspiring. Marcel will explore the techniques we've used to sell Linux (including FOSS), analyzing what works and what doesn't. He'll present some outlandish ideas for improving our image and, hopefully, making a bigger splash.
Marcel Gagné's keynote was clearly the highlight of the conference for me. Almost a therapy session for the FOSS community, it was basically about how to spread the word about the good things that are going on out there. The talk certainly had a lot of resonance for me, as I think self-promotion is something libraries and librarians could do a much better job of on campus and in academia as a whole these days. Gagné used a lot of humour to make his points; he was by far the best speaker of the day. A lot more people like him would go a long way to making the problem he highlights go away.

Gagné started by mentioning that every year for the past 5 or 6 someone has declared it "The Year if the Linux Desktop" and that Linux would finally make the breakthrough into mainstream computing. Well, every year, it doesn't quite happen that way. And Gagné wants to know why. The first problem he sees is that FOSS proponents are always apologizing for the shortcomings of the products. On the other hand, Microsoft and those guys never apologise for the shortcomings of their products. perhaps FOSS advocates should also adopt the same damn-the-torpedoes attitude.

But how to do it? Adopt the same strategies as professional marketers (and sellers, too; he makes a distinction between marketing and selling). Use the tried and true marketing strategies to market what is definately a superior product. First of all, the Product: emphasize Linux, the poster child of free software. Next, Price: he makes sure to note that FOSS isn't really totally free and we need to reassure business and others that we understand the costs of support, training and the like. Place: how to we distribute FOSS? Online, stores, magazines, install fests. And finally, Promotion: two things need to be done here. First, FOSS advocates need to educate the public and second, they need to understand the market.

He points to one of the main things holding FOSS and that's fear. Fear of Microsoft taking over any market, fear of being sued, fear of dumb laws like DMCA, fear of the unkown and, mostly, FUD -- a general fear, uncertainty and doubt that prevents businesses and comsumers from taking the plunge.

What have some successes been so far? Gagné mentions the famous Firefox ad in the NYT, the Ubuntu billboard and the IBM prodigy commercials, the Red Hat truth happens ads; real attempts to mobilize & inform the public. Has it helped? Server side, there's 20% growth for FOSS; desktop has been very disappointing.

What is to be done? Gagné says we need to do market research, to find out what potential customers really want, like If you or I could put up a billboard in downtown Toronto, what would it say? We need a Linux & FSOSS marketing board like commodities do in Canada, such as wheat or dairy products. We need more crazy ideas. And most of all, we need to just stop talking to each other about how our marketing efforts suck and just get out and start talking to potential customers, developers and evangelists.

(Update: TOC of my FSOSS posts, FSOSS agenda, video recordings of sessions)

(Update: fixed some accent problems on the é)


Craig Parker said...

This may be mostly unrelated, but I am the librarian for my town's library. Not an acedemic library, just a half building in a small town. We have a Cent box running mysql, and I've written bash scripts to enter book into the database, lend them, and return them.

Thought you'd be interested.

John Dupuis said...

Thanks, Craig. Libraries & Open Source, what's better than that?