Is ‘Linux’ a Word Better Left Unspoken?

It’s no secret that brand image is a crucial consideration in most any consumer product’s success, and Linux is surely no exception.

That’s been a hot topic of conversation before, but recently it’s popped up again with a fresh new twist.

“The Linux Inside Stigma” was the title of the post on Linux Advocates that started the ball rolling this time, and rolled it has, to Slashdot and beyond.

‘It Will Scare Buyers Away’

Linux Girl

“It’s remarkable how Google doesn’t mention the word Linux anywhere in their marketing of the Google Chromebook,” began author Dietrich Schmitz in the post from earlier this month.

His answer? “Google didn’t mention Linux because they know it will scare buyers away,” Schmitz asserted. “That’s unfortunate, but true. And we need to come to terms with that fact and work towards improving the ‘Linux Inside’ brand image.”

That, of course, is easier said than done. In the meantime, the topic has ruffled the feathers of more than a few Linux fans.

‘Pure FUD’

“The Linux Inside Stigma is pure FUD,” began blogger Robert Pogson, for example.

“The thesis does not stand on its own feet,” Pogson explained. “If consumers by and large do not know much about GNU/Linux and fear the unknown, it is because there are very few salesmen pushing GNU/Linux. If consumers by and large do not know that the inner workings of Android/Linux are Linux, it’s simply because they are not technology geeks needing to lift the hood.

“Assuming consumers fear Linux for some reason is stupid,” he added. “Ask a consumer and they will tell you they don’t know much about it most likely because it is not constantly advertised and it’s not on retail shelves. These are not problems for FLOSS, GNU/Linux or Linux. The people who need to know the software that’s running do know, and they are shipping units plugged with */Linux every day.”

‘A Little Thought and Reading’

Samsung, for example, “reveals that Linux is inside with their technical specifications of smartphones including User-Agent strings,” Pogson pointed out. “They are not doing a very good job of hiding Linux.”

Samsung is also “not shy to advertise that their printers work with GNU/Linux,” he added. “They even supply the text of the GPL and explain things for their TVs that run GNU/Linux. Why would they have any different view with other smart thingies? Does anyone believe Samsung does not know their customers?”

In short, “a little thought and reading easily counters the FUD,” Pogson concluded.

‘No Big Deal’

Others weren’t so sure.

“Nothing new and no big deal,” countered consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack, for example. “Outside of the server space, the most popular Linux uses don’t have any real mention of the fact that they are running Linux.”

In fact, “not including my computers and cell phone, I have three devices here running Linux (Wifi router, two-drive NAS, media center), and none of them mention Linux outside of the fine print,” Mack added.

‘Without Freaking Them Out’

Indeed, “unfortunately, over time Linux has become ‘the hobbyist’s OS,'” suggested Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone.

“The myth is that you have to know code or want to tinker with command lines to make Linux work,” Stone explained. “It’s been that way since Linux was born, and no one will let the facts get in the way of a good tale.”

Of course, “there are always those that benefit from keeping that myth alive, and they’ll spread it like fact as long as people will let them,” he added. “Also unfortunately, those people have bigger advertising budgets than Linux does, and they spend millions upon millions of dollars telling everybody how cool their products are.”

Fortunately, however, “despite these attempts to keep Linux down, it’s being adopted anyway,” Stone concluded. “Linux is literally everywhere. Now, we just need to find a way to let people know without freaking them out.”

‘Indecent Pressure’

Part of the problem is “ignorance of the fact that GNU/Linux is not for ‘administrators and hackers only,’ as it was 20 years ago!” offered Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C.

“The bigger part of the fault is the propaganda and indecent pressure Microsoft applies over hardware vendors,” he charged.

ChromeOS’ popularity is “not because they don’t frighten the user by not mentioning ‘Linux,’ but because Google and Android are already well-known,” Gonzalo Velasco C. explained. “It’s like the ‘I don’t know what this watch has inside, but it gives me the hour and it’s a Rolex, so I am going to buy it’ issue.”

In the same way, “it’s a matter of the machine makers and vendors to be included in the equation for the ‘Linux’ brand [to] become a huge success both at home and in the corporate world,” he concluded. “And M$ knows that.”

‘That Would Be Confusing’

Google+ blogger Brett Legree had a similar take.

“Why do some companies or distros not mention the word Linux? Personally, I think it is branding,” Legree told Linux Girl — “for product differentiation, to encourage recognition by users and reduce confusion.”

Apple, for instance, “runs iOS and OS X on the XNU kernel, but nobody calls them ‘iOS/XNU’ or ‘OS X/XNU’ — that would be confusing,” he explained. “Similarly, Windows 8 and Windows RT and everything below that back to Windows 2000 run on the NT kernel, but Microsoft does not call them ‘Windows 8/NT’ and ‘Windows RT/NT.'”

Next, “imagine for a moment what a new person might think with respect to Linux, when confronted with 200+ ‘Linux’ operating systems,” Legree suggested. “One might logically assume that a program downloaded or purchased for ‘Ubuntu Linux’ would work on ‘Chrome Linux’ or ‘Fedora Linux’ or whatever, when it might not.”

By leaving “Linux” out of the official name, on the other hand, “Canonical can write their own ‘Ubuntu apps’ and Google can write their own ‘Chrome OS apps’ and nobody — hopefully — will think that they are interchangeable.”

‘Devs Don’t Talk to Each Other’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet saw it differently.

“ChromeOS and Android are NOT LINUX,” hairyfeet told Linux Girl. “I mean, do you call a router Linux? The entire reason there IS a stigma is because Linux devs are notorious for being like a herd of cats and breaking stuff out of boredom.”

For example, “look at how they just threw out GNOME 2 and KDE 3, which had FINALLY become feature rich and stable,” hairyfeet offered. “We are just NOW recovering, although frankly still not as feature complete, so no wonder Google just took the ball and went home with it.

“It’s been said they spend a billion a year on it, why? Because if they didn’t do it themselves they’d find out like Canonical has that Linux devs don’t talk to each other, and ‘works for me!’ seems to be the ONLY thing they care about,” he said. “When you are talking about trying to make an OS for tens of millions of people ‘works for me!’ does NOT cut the mustard!”

‘Best Not Mentioning It’

Last but not least, Robin Lim, a lawyer and blogger on Mobile Raptor, said it’s time to move past this debate.

“When you mention Linux to someone, they think of something which is still operated from the command line,” Lim agreed. “Linux has unfortunately become synonymous with not being user friendly, or difficult to use.”

Lim doesn’t, however, agree with Schmitz that Linux’s brand image should be improved.

“Linux-based operating system developers are probably best not mentioning it,” Lim explained. “Many already do not.”

The Linux name has “some marketing value, mainly to attract existing users to try something else,” Lim conceded, but “it scares pretty much everybody else away.”

Now, “it is really time to move on from this,” he concluded. “As important as the Linux kernel is, each operating system should be allowed to get away from the ‘Linux Inside’ stigma. It is really their strongest advocates that keep dragging them back in.”

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • I believe that it falls upon all Linux users to spread the word. It is worthwhile listening to Professor Manuel Castels – search for him on the BBC website – regarding the link between the internet and protest movements; although we’re talking more about progress than protest.

    My company now uses Linux and interacts without problem with clients using Windows or Apple machines. I mention this when appropriate, but speak frequently with friends and relatives of the ease of use of Linux today, again without attempting to preach or convert.

    The majority of computer users do not know or possibly care whether their gadgets are powered by Windows, Apple or Linux. The battle is won by the OS that is the easiest to use. People are using Linux en masse via their Smartphone or tablet. I think that Microsoft is losing the battle here, but let’s not forget that the company has make a great deal of money over the years.

    Ultimately it’s all about the software, and ease of use. For me Linux wins that battle.

  • If anyone asked a Windows or Mac user have they ever used the command prompt, they would look at them in bewilderment, with a glaze over their eyes and say what’s that!, 99% of Mac users don’t know what Mac OS/x was developed from, It all boils down to what brain washing they have been subjected too, I have spent the last six years on a particular popular question and answers website trying to convert windows and mac users to use free open source operating systems and software, It’s like talking to a load of zombies

    I have installed Linux distributions on pensioners computers, set it up to point and click the way they used windows. I have never heard a peep out of them complaining that they don’t like Linux, they all love using Linux, It does what they want it to do without any problems, I say to the comments on this site, get out into the real world of the users and stop surmising what the problems with Linux on the desktops are because you are all wrong. The true facts are people can’t do things for themselves so they are afraid to move from what they know. another fact is that they don’t know how to restore or install their operating systems.

  • is this true? let’s see the real facts!

    1. linux is everywhere. on the internet, mobile devices (all android phones and tablets and soon ubuntu) are running linux!

    2. linux is the backbone of the internet (routers, apache, you name it)

    3. linux is the backbone of the clouds!

    4. linux is in most embedded devices!

    5. linux is used as alpha and omega by largest companies in the world, to name a few: google, amazon, ibm, hp, etc.

    6. linux has MORE engineering jobs than any other operating system! more than windows, more than mac, more than anything else. if you do not believe me, just go to and type "linux software engineer" (without quotes) then try replacing it with microsoft or apple and see what happens… (you will believe me!)

    7. while microsoft windows and apple os x and ios are clearly declining (not to say plain dyeing) linux is clearly growing!!!

    and this is just the beginning! so, I would say, linux should a word better not left unspoken. anyway, spoken or not, WE WIN!!! Linux Linux Linux!!!


  • I just installed openSUSE 12.3 and tried to install a software. I found that there was no repos entry. I added them by finding the links and adding them. Then I tried 1 click install for multimedia codecs which asked me after resolvi g some conflicts, that 1+ GB needed to be installed. As I knew the trick I reran with no k3bcodecs and no ffmpeg; which was conflicting with others and to resolve that, that 1+ gb was needed. Without those two it was 18+mb. Yes, mb, you read it right, and I got audio, video running in a way.

    In a way because sis driver has been broken for X. So I took help, filed a bug. Went to remove xf86-video-sis. Searched a bit and every time needs to add gfxpayload="1280×768" by pressing "e" at grub and then f10 to boot. Making an entry in/etc/default/grub and running the command to updaye grub (it’s not update-grub as in other distros but something else for some unknown reason) has no effects.Still get slide show like videos. As the bug has low expectancy to be fixed. It is likely to be like this until I get a new machine or keep with old distros with working sis driver.

    Still wonder why people fear Linux? Please pass my comments to all people who think now there is nothing to fear.

    I mean I could do all that with help, but ask a regular non-technical person to do that.

  • I have come to the same conclusion after much playing around with Linux. I’m not a developer nor a hacker so the inner workings of a software isn’t very useful to me, but I like to mess around and break stuff and fix it and tweak it and shout EUREKA. Linux gives me all of that, and without the need for a brand new machine just to play around (like when we get one of those expensive MS or OS? versions).

    I do however like to have a machine that works and Linux can be that too, the problem is when there is a update (especially for security reasons) and things break that I can’t fix with my messing about but, I need. The this leads distro hopping to get what I want, and this can be a real problem, very little standardization.

    Not every distro must be a clone but it would be nice if there was a distro out there that was fully supported by the community and before devs went to work on their own stuff. OK, maybe a pipe dream but we do have the Linux foundation who could spearhead a stable, secure and (fairly) up to date distro that just works and for which there is some kind of guarantee that things won’t just magically break with each update.

    Now for you who will say "freedom of choice is important and that’s what Linux is about". I say "fine", then don’t complain about Linux being a 4th class OS (MS, OSX and now Droid). Even the little upstart (Droid) knows that standardization helps and look at the options out there for it.

    For the campaigner who says "there is nothing wrong with Linux its all about MS and the OEMs". I say "right on brother, keep up the good fight", just realize that you’re losing though. The freedom that Linux provides allows us to collaborate in public and still develop what we like in private. Red Hat, Google and now Canonical has learned this.

    I say make Debian the default Linux OS and when people are comfortable they can start marching around for a new distro. Very few in the Linux world argue about the stability of Debian and their wisdom of having a long dev cycle. But like I said, I’m not a top techie anyway so I might be wrong.

  • "A rose is a rose by any other name". Marketing hype and ‘brand’ recognition, not to mention ‘image’ consultation, work together in a symbiotic relationship impervious to other market driven strategies.

    But here is the rub… gnu/Linux is not market driven; its user driven, and developer/user driven.

    Those who wish to leverage "Linux," or gnu/Linux, or some other flavor of the Linux kernel and something else, like google’s android, or Chrome OS, probably should leave the name Linux out of the equation… and instead push their value add.

    On the other hand, as the article points out, Linux is being adopted everywhere by everyone… even Microsoft is trying to capitalize on Linux somehow… it is happening despite the marketing chaos over the ‘brand’ at the moment.

    I however agree with Eben Moglen who has stated that the 21st century is NOT going to be about making money by moving bits around a network. Leveraging networking and computer science in general will be required as the means to an end, not as the end in itself. This will iron itself out over time.

    I use the term gnu/Linux, as a supporting card carrying member of the Free Software Foundation. This is not, however, a great marketing term… in fact… its lousy. But, it does convey for the moment the truth behind the story, and the story surrounding the enigma.

    Go Linux. um, I mean, gnu/Linux.

  • Is ok to not mention linux on the ChromeBook.

    Because people then expect to install Linux Apps / games on a chromebook and that’s impossible. It would only make things more confusing.

    Those who need to know that is linux in it’s core, already do. The normal joe consumer has no need really.

    On the other hand to developers, indies, kickstarter campaigns, companies, governemnt, etc. Linux users should always promote linux, open source and open standards and is working.

  • Robin Lim: "The Linux name has "some marketing value, mainly to attract existing users to try something else," Lim conceded, but "it scares pretty much everybody else away.""

    Nonsense. No one was scared away when "Android" popped up. Consumers are curious. They will try new technology. The difference betwee Android/Linux and GNU/Linux is that retailers did not hesitate to put the former on retail shelves. Now Android/Linux dominates retail shelves. GNU/Linux did sell when ASUS and Dell shipped it and retailers displayed it. Now all major OEMs ship it to large customers but the retail bottleneck still exists. Consumers are not the problem. Retailers are and M$ made them that way by careful attention by "account managers".

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