An amazing blog on why Linux does not spread

March 10, 2008 at 8:56 am (Uncategorized)

Taken from

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Why Linux Doesn’t Spread – the Curse of Being Free

Linux isn’t very popular on the desktop. It’s a far third behind OS X, which is a very far second behind Windows. Most people cite pre-installed operating systems as the reason. But as a student of psychology, I see something most people don’t. There’s one big factor in why Linux isn’t popular on the desktop. Linux is free. I know this sounds like complete dog’s bollocks, but hear me out before judging my sanity.

We can all remember the story of Tom Sawyer. At one point, Tom had to whitewash a fence. When one of his friends happened along, Tom tried to persuade and bribe the friend to help him. Needless to say, it didn’t work.

A few moments later, as Tom was unhappily whitewashing the fence, another friend stumbled along to jeer at Tom’s misfortune. This time Tom decided on a cunning plan. He ignored the friend, and seemed very absorbed in the whitewashing. Soon the friend became intrigued, because what could be more interesting than talking to a friend? Shortly thereafter, he started begging Tom to let him whitewash a bit of the fence. Tom wouldn’t give in.

The friend offered Tom some of his most valuable possessions if Tom would just let him whitewash a little bit. Tom reluctantly agreed, secretly jumping with joy on the inside. More friends happened along, coming to laugh at Tom for having to whitewash a fence. Tom simply did his act, and they all stayed to help whitewash, and paid for the privilege!

The above story illustrates a basic human nature. We don’t value things we can get easily. Yet we’d climb mountains, cross rivers and travel across deserts just to reach something we can’t easily get our hands on.

The computer world

The same thing applies in the world of computers. Humans are naturally suspicious of that which comes too easily. Imagine you were promoting an expensive brand of champagne. If you were running around forcing free samples into people’s hands, they would be very wary. But if you set up a stand where you would offer small samples for $10 each (“Special promotional price! Normally costs three times as much!”), people would see your champagne as posh and valuable.

It’s still the same champagne. Yet your presentation radically changes people’s perception of it.

Which brings me to Linux. There’s one problem with Linux getting to new users. It’s free.

That’s right. Linux being free is a problem in reaching new customers.

Why Windows pwnz Linux – an imaginary case study

Let me show you an example where Windows is better than Linux (I don’t mean better as in actually better :p).

Ignore for a moment all the crap about Windows being pre-installed and such. Let’s say you have a computer-newbie friend, called Compy McNewb, who’s just bought a new computer and is getting ready to install an OS.

He’s got two computer-savvy friends. You, who urges him to use Linux. And another friend, who urges him to use Windows.

Which one will Compy pick? Let’s go through the reasoning.

  • Linux is being offered for free. Good.
  • He can get a pirated copy of Windows from his friend. Also for free. Good.
  • But Windows is sold for over three hundred dollars, while Linux is offered for free.

Here’s what Compy McNewb sees. He can get both OS’s for free. But one of them is worth over three hundred dollars, while the other one is worth nothing.

“That’s not true!” I hear you scream. “Linux is worth a lot! It’s just being offered for free!” I know it’s not true that Linux is worth less than Windows. It’s far more valuable to the end user in terms of getting things done.

But that’s not what Average Joe Computer Newbie sees. He sees a free product versus a three-hundred-dollar product he can get free. It’s all about the perception!

In the 1970’s, a record label in Britain was selling albums containing cover versions of contemporary songs. Although the records sold for less than a pound a copy, hardly anyone bought them and the record company was suffering.

A whizz-kid joined the board and announced he wanted to more than double the price of the records. The other executives were shocked, but eventually agreed to his plan. Within a few weeks, the records were flying off the shelves.

When the records didn’t cost much, people didn’t value them. The record company was saved by redefining people’s perception of their product.

Taking Action

So here I am, wondering how to turn the tables around.

And I’ve got an idea. In the past, I tried to convert people to Linux (specifically Ubuntu). None of them really stuck. Back then I focused on all those great aspects of Linux. Being purely factual and objective.

But I have since learned people don’t act rationally. They act based on irrational emotions – like in the above examples. So here’s the question. Could I turn the perception around? What if I presented Linux in a way that makes people drool? Make it look more expensive than Windows, more cool than a Mac, more posh than a ten-million-dollar villa in the Caribbean?

Here’s my plan:

I’m going to present Ubuntu as a very expensive posh OS. I’ll mention it sells for upward of five hundred dollars in the States. I’ll say I managed to get an illegal copy off a Polish guy I know over the internet.

Only THEN will I mention all the positives. Multiple desktops, bullet-proof security, stunning visual effects. Somehow all of it makes sense in the context of a super-expensive elitist OS. I’ll see how many people I can convert when advertising Linux this way.

I’ll post exactly a week from now, reporting back on how my Linux Preaching v2.0 went. Hi yo, Silver, AWAAAAY!



  1. Rahul said,

    Though it seems sensible……….but still presenting Linux as a priced product may backfire…….certain issues with Linux like installation glitches, dependencies, need of a fat internet connection and some minor ones will instigate the customer against it as they would prefer to promote and use an OS which has lesser of these problems like Windows. A harried customer might prefer a higher price when it comes to his daily business.
    Open Source is a great concept where different ideas collectively make small contributions which add up to weigh against any other idea in terms of productivity.I think Wiki is the only other which comes to my mind. I feel Linux needs better packaging than what is available today.Still……….kudos to the Open source developers(including this Dabba) for providing a viable option for future.

  2. debayan said,

    Thank you very much for your comment.

  3. said,

    well…………….i think im not the right person to tell that why linux is not spreading.but surely i want to say something.i m new in linux.installed suse10.3 with the help of my lovely frnd roshan(lug ember).and sach me i fall in love with suse.i really liked it.but there was a problem.whenever i m free i used to learn linux,but u will be amazed that people laugh over me just bcz i m a mechanical guy.wo sab kahte the ki tum mech k ho linux sikh kar kya karoge .but one thing i can promise that i will learn linux and i will definatly contribute in spreading linux.:).i feel that everyone who is intrested in linux can learn it no matter what branch he or she has.
    now i would like to come on the real topic that why linux is not spreadig.
    i personally felt thet linux is not for everyone.let us take a example of our college.just tell me how many stdnt used there pc or laptop to learn something.if i m right i guess abt 5 to 10%.:).that is the real come at the other point.i use suse10.3 and i had installed vlc media player
    in abt 1 hour from the net.(at our college net speed).one of my frnd watch it and sat”oh,kya linux use karte ho……….window me 1 mint k chij ko linux me 1 ghante me karte ho”.i personally felt the instead of one click installation there must be setup of every software for linux.thanks to lug server to overcome this prob littlebit.:).and i really feel that linux must be more flexible than what is it today.if a person have to installed an oprating system he or she will definetly switch to window bcz of more flexiblity.he can installe lot of media player,thosand of game it is our responsblity to make linux more flexible so everyone who buy a pc or laptop just for enjoyment can also use linux.we have to make linux more simple,more familiar,more frndly,more stable.
    by the way i m really happy
    with suse and waiting to join lug@nitdgp.:)

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