inux 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.
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
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
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).
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.
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
“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
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.
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
When the records didn’t cost much, people didn’t value
them. The record company was saved by redefining people’s perception of
So here I am, wondering how to turn the tables around.
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.
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.
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!
An Amazing Mind: Why Linux Doesn’t Spread – the Curse of Being Free