Where You Shop

by Heather Mead

While in the early planning stages of the 2001 Buyer's Guide, we brainstormed about what new features should be added. Being a guide to products, services and vendors, including information about where, exactly, people get their Linux materials seemed obvious. So we set out to obtain a sampling from Linux Journal readers, who are, we believe, a good representation of typical Linux users. With the promise of free t-shirts for a randomly selected 20 respondents, the e-mails flooded in.

The majority of respondents (over 75%) do most, if not all, of their Linux shopping on-line. Beyond visits to FTP sites and obtaining free code and software, people seem to be keeping e-commerce sites, such as ThinkGeek, Linux System Labs (LSL) and Amazon.com, busy. A few e-mails also noted, somewhat to our surprise, that eBay can be a good source for hardware. One Norwegian respondent stated, ``I shop always on eBay. eBay is the way'', and another reader got a second-hand Sparc from the auction site. Some readers wrote that they make purchases at retail stores because of the better customer service, but it's hard to beat this example of service from LSL in Australia: ``They even once drove all the way across Melbourne to hand-deliver stuff I needed urgently.''

According to our Linux-shopping informants, here are the most popular on-line stores, in no particular order: CheapBytes.com, LinuxMall.com, LinuxCentral.com, eLinux.com, EverythingLinux.com.au and LinuxEmporium.co.uk. Readers are quite satisfied with the combination of wide selection, fair prices, technical expertise and customer support these on-line retailers provide.

As the LinuxEmporium.co.uk and EverythingLinux.com.au sites were spoken of so highly and so often in the e-mail responses, let's take a look at who they are and what they offer. According to their Web site, Linux Emporium began in October 1997 as a small nonprofit group, the Linux Buyer's Consortium, looking to import larger quantities of cheap American CD-ROMs in order to cut shipping and customs costs. Due to popular demand and, of course, the tax man, the nonprofit group became a small business called LinuxEmporium. Their web site is easy to maneuver through, updated often and well stocked. Also, being a small business, there is a definite personability that larger e-commerce sites sometimes lack. For instance, a live person answers the phone, but if you get the machine, they ask, ``Please do leave a message...someone's popped out to the post....We will return your call very shortly.'' How utterly civilized.

Based in Sydney, EverythingLinux.com.au is Australia's most popular source for Linux and other free and open-source products. Besides a wide selection of distributions and applications, they also have a consulting and support division called LinuxHelp, and a retail store in Five Dock. The web site also provides links to newsstories and events in the area. Using order numbers, customers can track their shipments. Shipping options are also listed for Asia and most of the Pacific Islands.

Even though it means venturing out of the comfort of home or office, many people still prefer to go to an actual store--bricks, mortar, pushy salespeople and all. Among these folks, the web may be useful for research and comparison shopping, but nothing beats seeing and touching the software package, monitor, soundcard, etc., before money changes hands. For them, this usually means a trip to the local BestBuy, CompUSA, Electronics Boutique, Borders, Barnes & Noble or the local independent book or electronics store. BestBuy and CompUSA seem to be the favorites, but everything from Tower Records to 7-11 popped up; nice to see that the distribution channels, especially for Linux books and magazines, have opened up to the general market.

Additionally, retail stores offer live people to talk to prior to making a decision. Depending on your (and their) knowledge, you might just find out that what you thought you wanted isn't what you needed after all. There's also the matter of instant gratification offered by retail stores. Extra charges for overnight shipping or five to seven day free delivery, just can't compete with the rush that comes when you leave the store with your new component or toy in hand--assuming it's in stock, of course.

Depending on your geographical location, here are some on-line and retail stores you might want to check out: OfficeMax, Staples, Coles Bookstores (Canada), SURCOUF (France), Het Computerwinkeltje (Belgium), Mandadori (Genoa, Italy), Softpro Books (locations in Colorado and Massachusetts) and Frys Electronics. Also, linux.org, compman.co.uk, zillenium.co.uk, camelot.ca, linuxbutikken.no, outpost.com, tietovayla.fi and accubyte.com.

Our thanks to everyone who took the time to let us know where they shop for Linux products. To those 20 people selected, the t-shirts are on their way.

Heather Mead is associate editor of Linux Journal.

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