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The Future

The State Of The Personal Computer

Windows gives you the widest software and hardware support with a weakness in security. Mac OS X gives you a secure user experience with nearly all the features of a Windows PC and superior capabilities in the Apple sandbox with the weakness of cost. Linux becomes the jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none for the desktop giving you security and stability without the widespread compatibility of Windows or the user experience of a Mac. A decade ago, people would have said that Linux was ill-suited for “real” server work. Are naysayers of desktop Linux being as naïve? I don’t think so.

What About Netbooks?

The beauty of the netbook is that its purpose is not to serve as a true notebook or desktop replacement. HP has done the best job of positioning its Linux-based netbooks as offering a “Mobile Internet Experience.” Here’s an excerpt from its Webpage:

HP Netbooks
HP Mini 1000 HP Mini 1000 with MIE Typical Notebooks
Size 10” x 5” (fits in a purse) 10” x 5” (fits in a purse) 12” x 8” (fits in a backpack)
Ideal Uses Checking e-mail
Surfing the Web
Viewing photos
Watching videos
Listening to music
Playing casual games
Using Windows-compatible applications
Checking e-mail
Surfing the Web
Viewing photos
Watching videos
Listening to music
Playing casual games
Replacing your desktop PC
Running office productivity software
Editing photos and videos
Playing mainstream games

The key here is that HP isn’t positioning its netbook as a desktop alternative or even drawing attention to how the netbook is compatible with Linux applications. By promising only basic Internet features, anything else is just a bonus.

The Only Hope for Linux

The global economic crisis won’t drive users toward a “free” operating system. As I mentioned earlier, most people will choose to keep their existing computer. As money gets tighter, most people will look to eliminate uncertainty. With a PC, it’s a known entity. With a Mac, you have the Genius Bar for technical support. There is no local Linux guru. The only way Linux can reach the mainstream desktop is if that uncertainty is removed. For Linux to catch on as a desktop OS, it would take a store like Best Buy to make a commitment to push Linux at the mainstream.

It starts with the development of a new Linux distribution focused on the tools that HP has already identified as being important to most home users: office productivity and editing photos. Imagine a stripped-down distribution with Open Office, Evolution, Firefox, F-Spot, Gimp, Brasero, Banshee, xgl/Compiz, and essentially nothing else. Finally, lock everything down to ensure adequate security.

By pre-installing a very specific subset of Linux applications on a PC, users won’t be daunted by auto-updates reporting the installation of dozens of packages. More importantly, it allows Best Buy store associates to learn and demonstrate a very specific set of applications after a single day of training. Have a dedicated Geek Squad Linux person at every store. This person doesn’t need to be an expert–he or she just needs to be knowledgeable enough to help consumers with their Linux machine and how to configure VNC. Best Buy can then have a centralized team of expert technicians who can access/troubleshoot machines remotely.

Now offer this package as a “Blue Label” PC. They already have Blue Label notebooks. With all of the cost savings of going to Linux versus Windows, pocket the cash. Best Buy can sell these systems at the same prices as their Windows counterparts. That’s because these systems will include a free year of Geek Squad system support.

It’s a simple plan:

  • Focused Linux distribution with a minimal install to improve speed and minimize the support needed
  • In-store demonstration and support
  • Remote Desktop Tech Support
  • Bundled year of the service plan

The goal for Best Buy would be to break even in the first year, and then profit as home users renew their service plan.

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