Crossing the Desktop Linux Chasm in San Diego

by Doc Searls

Look up "Desktop Linux Summit" on Google and the first thing that comes up is desktoplinux.com/summit. Click there and you get redirected to a notice written by Rick Lehrbaum of DesktopLinux.com, dated January 16, explaining why DesktopLinux.com won't be participating in the Summit.

...last week, Lindows.com suddenly and unilaterally directed DesktopLinux.com to substitute a new agenda for the old one--one that had not been discussed or reviewed with the Advisory Board. The agenda was a completely new one, with major changes such as substitution of Lindows.com CEO Michael Robertson for Open Source advocate Bruce Perens in the conference welcome keynote slot.

Based on this blatant disregard for the Advisory Board, which we felt was crucial to the vendor-neutrality of the conference, and the unilateral substitution of a completely new agenda, which is, of course, the heart of the conference, DesktopLinux.com no longer can lend its good name and dynamic community to supporting the event.

According to a January 17 story in CNET, Hewlett-Packard and other sponsors also have dropped out of the conference. So has Bruce Perens. In a note to the advisory board, Bruce wrote:

I'm told that I'm no longer the opening keynote speaker for the Desktop Linux Summit, and that the entire Summit program has suddenly been changed, unilaterally, by the major sponsor.

I'm also told that someone said that these changes have been discussed with me, and that I was in agreement with them. No, all of this was news to me today.

Obviously, I have a call into Michael Robertson, and [I] will attempt to get his side of the story and to get the summit back on the right track.

[Disclaimer: Linux Journal is a sponsor of the show and is on the advisory board. I have not spoken to Linux Journal's board member, but I do have access to the advisory board discussion forum, where the above was posted.]

On January 30, Linux Today ran a story containing a press release by Lycoris, explaining the company's withdrawal from the show, plus an open letter from Jeff Gerhardt of The Linux Show asking Lindows CEO Michael Robertson to "make a gesture at making peace with the rest of the Linux community". Jeff went on to suggest changing the name of the conference to make its Lindows nature clearer.

This past Thursday night I contacted Bruce and Lindows president Kevin Carmony to talk about the fracas. First, Bruce:

The problem wasn't the changes they had made. The problem was that they acted unilaterally.

We--a number of companies that were originally going to be on the Summit (the advisory board members, essentially)--want Lindows on the team. We want Lindows to be a partner. And we are working on a forum for the desktop manufacturers [that allows] more collaboration for the desktop manufacturers. Obviously we want Lindows to participate with that. And my expectation is that the next event will not be Lindows-centric, and I'll have something to do with planning it.

But, y'know, Lindows paid for this whole thing, apparently. So they have a reason to want the event the way they want it. I just wish they didn't call it the Linux Desktop Summit, because it's not really one any more. Actually, they never wanted it to be what we consider a summit in the Linux world. When we say "summit" we bring developers together, we bring influential people, and we talk about the course of something--like with the Kernel Summit or the Printing Summit, which I keynoted last year.

This is really more of a publicity event and more intended at the users' level, I think, than otherwise...

So, as Jeff said in his open letter, maybe it would be better to have Lindows in the title, even though there are still some other vendors coming.

But I really don't want to dwell on the past. And I'm considering this as having passed already. I would rather make sure that the next event is there for everyone and that Lindows should not have to pay for the whole thing.

He went on to say, "We're not being adversarial here", and he agreed that the whole thing should serve as a "learning experience".

Kevin Carmony began by addressing the GPL issue. Last year, Bruce and others accused Lindows of not complying with the GPL, which Kevin said was "blatantly false". He added, "We always have and continue to provide all source code. We gave back every piece of our $500,000 investment in WINE code."

Then he addressed the keynote and vendor-neutrality issues:

My opinion was simply that Michael would be a better speaker to open this show. All the Linux companies combined had contributed only $2,000 in sponsorship fees; we will spend around $100,000. Only four of the Linux companies agreed to any sponsorships, and they all picked the lowest one, $500. They then lose their minds because I wanted Michael to open, just like he did every MP3 Summit, which was paid for by MP3.com.... See why we just stay out of this silliness? See why we never start these utter waste of time debates?"

I brought up the issue of mutual respect. He replied:

We have plenty of respectful communication on our web site

...but many in "the community" simply refuse to a) take the time to hear what we have to say or b) refuse to believe us no matter what we say. That's fine, but we will continue to spend our time being productive. Debating with those who disagree with us produces zero new products and zero good for Linux.

During the time this silly debate was being waged, with zero participation from us, Lindows.com has:

Again...all this in the time "the community" was debating over who should open up the conference!

We stay the course. There are plenty of developers who understand, appreciate and are working with us. We tell our story (on our web site) openly and honestly for all who choose to listen. We don't expect all to agree, but we'll not sling mud back at those who don't. ...when Bruce or someone else publicly slings mud at us, and we choose not to engage anyone at that level, [it] does not mean we are not communicating. We are, just some choose not to listen or believe.

The bottom line is the summit sold out...

The summit has shaped up to be a phenomenal show. Here are all the different areas for which there are booths showing off just how much Linux has to offer desktop users:

  • Fonts

  • Books

  • Laptops

  • Web Filtering

  • Virus Protection

  • Internet Service Providers

  • Printing

  • Games

  • Graphics Editing

  • Training

  • Software Applications

  • Media PCs

  • Operating Systems

  • Magazines

  • Desktop PCs

  • Music

  • Migration

  • QA

  • Tablet PCs

  • Office Suites

  • Education

  • Installing Applications

  • USB Devices

  • Networking

  • Hot Swapable Drives

  • Cool Linux Devices

It's gonna be great!

Here's my own take on it.

Linux is a huge success in the server and embedded markets. But on the desktop it's still stuck at the early adopter stage of the familiar adoption curve, on the near side of the chasm between early adopter and early majority.

Big as they are, HP and IBM are still on the early adopter side; so is Dell and even Red Hat. None of those companies has tried seriously to make desktop Linux a mainstream reality. In fact, they've been extremely cautious about it, even while they've worked hard to make it happen at the technical level.

And for good reasons. First, they're busy enough with their existing Linux businesses, which are growing rapidly. Second, the mainstream is going to want the kind of stuff that's on the list above.

Make a chart with each of those categories down the left side and the desktop OSes--Linux, OS X and Windows--across the top. Then rate what's available in each category on each OS. Linux still comes up short. Yes, prime time is coming--but it's not here yet.

Like it or not, Lindows is the one company with any kind of heft that's pushing to fill those gaps for millions of end users, nearly all of which currently use Windows. The way Lindows appeals to those millions will have little to do with the way they relate to the Linux community of early adopters.

Unless, of course, that early majority looks up Lindows on Google and finds a pile of damning links provided by the early adopter community.

Failing to communicate with and not just to--a critical difference--a founding constituency, especially one as quick to find fault as this one, is a sure way to generate bad PR. And that's what happened in this case. Markets are conversations, somebody said. Lindows needs to be talking across both sides of the chasm. And yes, arguing too. Turning away from the fray doesn't help. Getting involved early does help. Picking up the phone helps. Think of the phone as a ground strap for bad energy.

That's why Lindows needs to be on the team Bruce is talking about. It's not a formal thing, just a conversational thing. We may have different interests and businesses, but we're on the same side of this thing.

Maybe now it'll start to happen. If it does, I have a feeling the chasm will get a lot smaller, a lot faster.

The show is in San Diego on February 21-22. I'll be there. We'll see how it goes.

Doc Searls is senior editor of Linux Journal.

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