Linux in Government: Linux Desktop Reviews, Part 5 - Linspire
Buckminister Fuller, who's credited with the theory of Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science, often quoted Victor Hugo, the 19th century author. Bucky would say, "Nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come." Those familiar with the adoption of shifting technological paradigms probably have encountered this quote and these individuals in their studies.
Many analysts say Linux and open-source software follow accepted patterns of adoption that are familiar to students of marketing. Some consider the adoption curve as law. In Figure 1, you can view Everett Rogers' adoption curve or diffusion model. The model divides the population into five segments, with each segment offering opinion leadership for the following one. For example, early adopters influence people in the early majority and so on. Companies bet the bank on Roger's model. In Figure 1, you can see the percentages of the population that fit into each segment of the model. We discuss this model in more depth toward the end of this article.
Integrating technology and introducing technological innovation presents a complex set of challenges. Getting a new idea adopted, even when it has obvious advantages, is difficult. Society's acceptance and implementation of any technology seems to involve religious wars where the aspirations of innovators become characterized as evil. Resistors often question profit motives, technical competence and the low costs associated with new technologies. One can see a certain irony as the mantle of power changes hands.
Not very long ago, the same kind of noise occurred when personal computers began to proliferate at the expense of mainframes and mini computers. People characterized Microsoft and Apple Computers as the low-cost innovators who would destroy infrastructures and jobs. Personal computers could never replace mainframes and the billions of lines of code written in COBOL. Personal computers held a promise that could never reach fulfillment and endangered enterprise.
People said similar things about the compass, railroads, steam-powered ships, canals, the printing press and so forth. Even Ross Perot met stiff resistance when he began computerizing Wall Street. People said, "How can we maintain quality if we can't see every transaction and examine it thoroughly?"
Even within the Linux and Open Source community, a significant number of people believed Michael Robertson began Linspire to cash in on the desktop Linux boom that some thought would occur at any time. Linspire took existing open-source applications and renamed them. Linspire created a Click-N-Run warehouse and shopping mall, which many people viewed as a renaming of an apt-get repository. The look and feel didn't conform to accepted Linux distributions.
Looking back, consider the entry of Linspire into the market as part of the complex set of challenges Linux faced as a new technology in an adoption or diffusion curve. I welcomed the entry and watched carefully until a time came when I clearly could differentiate the product. Linspire does not fit the enterprise classification of a Linux desktop. Regardless, Linspire pushes Linux adoption toward critical mass as it reaches users who ordinarily would not use the traditional Linux-UNIX model.
In addition, Linspire has reached the majority of the PC manufacturing market. While the major analysts sit at the round table of information technology and argue about Dell or HP picking up one or two percentage points in the PC market, Linspire has gone after the big market.
For those who do not know, white box PC manufacturers such as Microtel, PowerSpec, TigerDirect, Wintergreen, GQ and hundreds of smaller localized firms make up 50% of the PC market. The white box market is the big market, and Linspire has made significant headway into that market.
The only problem associated with Linux growing in the white-box market deals with the operating system reaching a point of critical mass. To reach critical mass, the buying public must see Linux, OpenOffice.org, Firefox and other applications associated with mainstream retail establishments. That gives any product market acceptance.
So last week, Linspire announced its availability at more than 1,000 major national retail stores, including Best Buy, CompUSA, Fry's Electronics, Micro Center and J & R Computer World. For more and more people starting to worry about the safety of their computers running Microsoft Windows, Linspire's newest product provides a secure, reliable and user-friendly desktop Linux experience at a low cost.
As of this writing, Linspire does not have a government licensing program, but the company says it soon will announce the details of its upcoming government program. Linspire has not yet approached the market for professional services or enterprise management. So, if a government unit wants to use Linspire, that unit will need a Linux administrator.
Enterprises often use desktop distributions such as Linspire as their standard user solution. Many readers might find the continued widespread use of Windows 98 in industry as surprising. Stretching legacy operating systems further, the Allied Irish Bank's (AIB) migration from Windows to Linux involved the use of Windows 3.11.
Behind a firewall, many organizations find machine-level security sufficient. Linspire should interest government units due to the distribution's lost cost and low-resource requirements. For example, MicroCenter offers Linspire CNR - OEM Edition on systems costing as little as $229. Wal-Mart sells systems with Linspire for approximately $325, as does Staples. This allows government procurement to obtain their volume discounts and look to major vendors for purchases.
Linspire also fits nicely into a Microsoft infrastructure. The desktop runs a full version of Linux and provides file sharing capabilities. Figure 2 shows Linspire's network browsing capabilities:
Similar to other Linux desktops, Linspire uses Samba 3 to add the SMB/CIFS protocol. Linux system administrators or contractors can configure Linspire to work in a peer-to-peer, Primary Domain or Active Directory environment.
Linspire also provides OpenOffice.org, which utilizes Microsoft Office file formats for word processing, spreadsheets and slide presentations. OpenOffice.org also can export PDF file formats and create and edit HTML files. Figure 3 provides a screenshot of Linspire's OpenOffice.org Writer program.
Linspire also adds capabilities to create and mail PDF files and fax directly from its print management tools. Figure 4 provides a screenshot of Linspire's advanced faxing tools within the Configure Printers window.
Linspire's Click-N-Run (CNR) might concern enterprises. In that case, your Linux system administrator should disable it for users. Most organizations prefer to control the applications that workers access. For example, you may not want users utilizing bandwidth to listen to or share MP3 files. In that case, disabling one of Linspire's consumer features makes sense. The administrator can keep the capability by allowing only root access to CNR. Figure 5 provides a look at the CNR Window. In this example, I downloaded gftp from the repository in order to use secure shell transfers between computers on a network.
Many analysts believe strongly that Linux and open-source adoption will saturate the technology landscape. This observer feels that Linux has started inching toward critical mass. So, let's review the population segments and see where we stand in the model.
First adopters of any new technology are Innovators. Rogers refers to these as the people pulling toward change. Linus Torvalds obviously represents the prime innovator in the Linux movement. Many people feel that Richard Stallman, the originator of the Free Software Foundation and the GPL license, enabled Linus to create Linux. In fact, many people refer to the operating system as GNU/Linux. Obviously, the first programmers and users of Linux innovated the technology.
Innovators share their accomplishments and draw Early Adopters into a technology. Early adopters provide a strong element in the diffusion process. This segment usually includes accomplished people willing to try new ideas, and they bring a certain perception of integrity to the process.
Marc Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a noted billionaire fits this segment. One might note that he made his billions by starting Broadcast.com, which he and his partner sold to Yahoo. Marc utilized Linux to create Broadcast.com. Mr. Cuban's company operated in Dallas, and during its operations a shortage of Linux developers and system administrators was noted in the area.
Most observers would say that Michael Robertson fits the mold of both innovator and early adopter. His early critics who thought Michael wanted to "cash in on the Linux desktop boom" were short sighted. Mr. Robertson had already cashed in on MP3.com. His contribution to Linux follows more of his characteristic of an innovator and early adopter.
As many people consider Marc Cuban a maverick in his own right, they consider his purchase of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team a natural expression. So too, Linspire represents a natural expression of its owner.
Linspire captures the excitement of Linux. Robertson brings a strong element of innovation to open-source technology, and because of his success, he gives credibility to people in the Early Majority of the population.
The Early Majority are careful folks who are willing to accept change more quickly than the average person. They look around places like Best Buy, CompUSA, Fry's Electronics, Micro Center and J & R Computer World and if a product exists at one of those places, they become buyers. It usually takes a person like Michael Robertson to work tirelessly and persistently to get those mainstream businesses to carry the brand.
So, if you were wondering, Linspire definitely has aided overall Linux adoption. That means more OEMs are going to be willing to provide hardware, software and technologies for Linux users.
Although this series of articles evaluates the relative merits of enterprise desktops, I wanted to establish a context in this particular piece by drawing the reader's attention to the adoption process. Why? This week, we learned that Microsoft plans to kill another company that once considered Redmond a friend. See Paula Rooney's article "BlackBerry Killer?" for details. When one of my companies developed a replacement (see "Winnebago Running Linux Mail on Mainframe", for Microsoft Exchange that ran on the IBM S/390 and Linux, Blackberry would not consider adding its enterprise server to the bundle. Now, Blackberry and its owner, Research In Motion, might consider opening a corporate mausoleum for itself, WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Netscape, Real Networks, Digital Research, Novell, Lantastic and others who helped Windows achieve a monopoly status.
Linux provides an ethical element to information technology that often gets blurred by the messages of Microsoft and its hoard. Linux provides a relative advantage and potential adopters need to see that advantage. Linux is a compatible innovation that fits in with an adopter's current practices and values.
Linspire helps further the relative advantage of Linux. Linspire provides an ease of use that people see as so necessary for adoption. Linspire is willing to license technologies to make it easy for people to use Linux. That might not fit the totally free mentality of open source, but it furthers its adoption.
Linux provides for optimized techniques of computing instead of simply comparative techniques. That allows innovators and early adopters to flourish. Ask yourself if you can afford to reject an Open Future by rejecting Linux and open-source software. Maybe you can. If so, you might just have to throw your Blackberry in the trash along the way.
Tom Adelstein works as an Analyst with Hiser+Adelstein, headquartered in New York City. He's the co-author of the book Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop and author of an upcoming book on Linux system administration, to be published by O'Reilly and Associates. Tom has been consulting and writing articles and books about Linux since early 1999.