Linux on the Air – or Not?

It’s been a busy fall on the Linux blogs, and October has just barely begun.

Amid all the controversies and sometimes bitter debates still under way in the blogosphere, however — Tux’s girth and the sexism question, to name just two — news emerged recently that practically brought tears to Linux Girl’s eyes.

Tears of joy, that is, and a fervent desire to move to Austin.

Why? Because Austin is now home to what appears to be the first-ever radio ad for Linux.

‘Poetic Justice’

It’s absolutely true!

None other than Ken Starks of the HeliOS Project announced the good news a few weeks ago, explaining that the 60-second ad — recorded pro bono by professional voice talent — would be running several times a day for a full month on Austin’s KLBJ AM.

Even better: It runs during the Kim Komando technology show, which is “poetic justice,” Starks explained — “her show is full of ads for antivirus software, registry fixers and all the addons that slow a Windows computer to a crawl. She is unapologetic about her preferences for Microsoft products.”

‘I Applaud Ken Starks’

Not only that, but Starks has made forkable MP3 and ogg versions of the tracks available on the HeliOS site under the Creative Commons Attribute-ShareAlike 3.0 license, and no attribution is necessary.

How sweet is that?!

More than 20 comments greeted the news on the HeliOS blog before the topic was picked up on Slashdot, to the tune of another 350-plus comments.

‘We Need to Sell Linux as Linux’

“I applaud Ken Starks for putting this ad on the air,” wrote Slashdot blogger Eil, for example. “Most of [Komando’s] listeners would do well to give Linux a try. Although her audience would shrink a bit when their computers started working properly all of the sudden. ;)”

On the other hand: “As long as we are trying to sell Linux as Windows without the annoyances of Windows, we will fail, if for no other reason than the fact that Linux has its own, less broadly understood, annoyances,” countered Anonymous Coward. “We need to sell Linux as Linux.”

Is advertising for Linux a good idea? Linux Girl couldn’t resist asking around.

‘Really Silly’

“I think it’s really silly to buy advertising time to advertise ‘Linux’ when Linux itself isn’t a product,” Monochrome Mentality blogger Kevin Dean told LinuxInsider.

Nobody uses “Linux,” Dean explained — rather, “they use a specific distro of Linux.”

Some distros are “LESS functional than Windows — say, ttylinux,” Dean asserted, while others are “much more functional. To claim anything about a user’s experience with Linux can be misleading.”

Even worse, “I think some people may hear the ad, look into ‘Linux’ and find the distro overload, get their hands on poorly performing Linux distros and swear off Linux for good,” he said. “I know people who specifically have done just this due to overhyping ‘Linux.'”

‘A Great Ad’

On the other hand: “That’s a great ad,” blogger Robert Pogson opined. “I am sure it will change someone’s life for the better.”

OEMs and retailers “rarely advertise GNU/Linux,” Pogson told LinuxInsider — “they still can make more money selling that other OS because M$ gives them a big cut of the monopoly-supported price and there are other inducements like training, ads, and stuff like anti-malware that only sells well because of that other OS.”

What’s needed to get retail channels to advertise GNU/Linux is customer demand, he asserted. “Once enough customers are NOT buying what the retailer is selling, retailers will notice and respond.”

Netbooks, for instance, “are the likely trigger for wider ads because the prices are at a tipping point where volume will rise rapidly,” he predicted.

“This Christmas will be interesting,” Pogson added. “Almost everyone has seen a netbook running GNU/Linux; the world knows it works. Now is the time that ad campaigns should bear fruit.”

‘Tell People What Linux Does Better’

Yet ads for Linux shouldn’t push the fact that it’s free, Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider.

“This will make life harder for people who actually make money on Linux, and it makes us seem like the second-rate option,” he explained. “To truly push Linux you need to tell people what Linux does better than Windows.”

‘I Don’t Like Using the Word’

Well Linux may be on the air in Austin, but at least one Internet radio executive doesn’t want the “L” word mentioned in connection with his product.

Colin Crawford, director of marketing for the new Pure Sensia digital radio, declined to mention the Linux OS running in the device at its recent launch event, saying, “I don’t like using the word ‘Linux’ on a radio,” according to PC Pro.

Did bloggers jump all over that one? You bet your Tux suit they did — to the tune of some 450 comments on Slashdot alone.

The question at hand: Does Linux carry a commercial stigma?

‘A Stigma About Zealotry’

“Linux has no commercial stigma,” but “there is a commercial stigma about Linux-oriented zealotry,” Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told LinuxInsider. “That may be a part of the problem.”

Similarly: “I don’t think Linux carries a commercial stigma,” Mack agreed. “These days people come to me asking how to install Linux.

“For Linux devices the only people who care what it runs are the geeks,” Mack added. “The rest of the population will just forget they heard anything about that.”

‘It Doesn’t Add a Lot Right Now’

Linux doesn’t need to be part of an advertising campaign, “though it would be nice,” Slashdot blogger David Masover opined.

“I think that it doesn’t add a lot right now for someone to actually use it as a marketing term,” he told LinuxInsider. “Imagine if someone tried to sell you a TV, ‘Now, with Linux(R)(TM)!’

“Even as a Linux fan, I can’t imagine how that would seriously influence my decision to purchase that TV,” Masover said. “If I hadn’t heard of Linux, it would just be another confusing marketing term.”

The only good reason for a company “to brag about how they use Linux is if they were actually planning to make their product hackable,” he suggested. “For example, Google Android and Nokia’s Maemo project both mention Linux, because they want to get developers excited.”

Attracting ‘a Very Narrow Spectrum’

“It will likely still take a number of years before the OSS Dogma is seen as anything other than a fringe religion when it comes to business decisions concerned with the image of a company,” Slashdot blogger Josh Ulmer told LinuxInsider.

“When valued [is] based purely on the merits of the system, I feel that companies have a compelling argument most of the time to consider a Linux-based solution for many different applications, but they tend not to brag about it — except to their shareholders when they cut costs,” he explained.

“When a company advertises that they are incorporating an open source solution, it is usually to attract a very narrow spectrum of clients who find it attractive,” Ulmer added.

‘It Is Just Buttons’

The fear of mentioning Linux “is very easy to explain,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told LinuxInsider. “You see, most folks don’t actually *know* there is an OS on things like cell phones, MP3 players, game consoles, etc. They don’t know what embedded is, or that the software menu they use on their cell is actually part of an OS — to them it is just buttons.”

Further, since “Joe Average equates operating systems with something complex and hard, you really don’t want them thinking of that when it comes to your device,” hairyfeet explained. “I mean, do you see the X360 or the PS3 bragging on which particular OS they run? How about your average Motorola phone or Coby Media Player? Nope, only a few like Apple with the iPhone even mention they HAVE an OS, much less what they are running.”

‘It Is a Lose/Lose’

If the device isn’t hackable or able to run unsigned code” he noted, it “doesn’t really matter what OS it runs, does it? There are very few devices where you can actually run your own code on an embedded device anyway.”

So, “it really isn’t a cut-down for Linux; it’s just a smart businessman knowing that customers don’t really know about operating systems and not wanting to give his device a bad impression,” hairyfeet concluded. “It really is a lose/lose to advertise an embedded device as having a particular OS. It is better to do as this guy did and just try not to mention it at all.”


  • People who sell cars do mention what is under the hood in their ads. It cannot be all that negative to mention that a device runs GNU/Linux. Some customers will be impressed enough to look further. Others will not care.

    You can buy some cars with optional eight, six or four cylinders and gasoline/diesel. One would be able to compare the price/performance of the product with various choices. I would be quite happy with retailers who advertised GNU/Linux against that other OS any day, but they do not usually because M$ cannot stand the comparison.

  • In reply to certain negative comments:

    Ken is selling a product that he supports. There is nothing nebulous or confusing. The listeners call the number, and Ken takes care of them as he has been doing with many others time and time again. He says the phones ring off the hook right after the commercials run.

    The commercial also plays to one of Linux’ strongest suit. It’s open, so many white hats fix problems they find, instead of with Windows where the black hats, who have many incentives to find the weaknesses (since it pays through illegal exploitations), are much more likely to be poking the produce for flaws.

    Ken’s success shows that brand is not everything. When you have a product that is different and superior in some way or other (eg, cost), it sells. Brand comes in when competition heats up over very similar products.

    Microsoft giving people a cut of the monopoly money is a short deal. It’s a threat. Since Windows will be the top seller for months to come, any company that doesn’t go along with Microsoft will suffer competitively. They can’t publicly support Linux until a significant part of their business is Linux. What Ken is doing is awesome, though if the big boys aren’t careful, the smaller shops will develop their own brands and gain mindshare.

    Linux is free. Value comes on top of the vast quantity of stuff you get for free. That is where the $$ goes.

    There is much that can be done with Linux to add value to it that cannot be done for Windows. Cut out the monopolist middle person if you aren’t locked in to them.

    Folks, the commercial is free to be used, edited, etc (share-alike license). I challenge anyone to make a better commercial than this one.

    And people do like to own things and have a stake in its future. There are many ways to leave your print on Linux. That’s something you cannot do ever at all on Windows. [Well, you can in a minor way, but even here Microsoft’s ownership/EULA gets in the way.]

  • The ads were actually designed to point people to a specific website, thus allowing them a fairly complete information base pertaining to Linux.

    We started HeliOS Solutions in order to fund our non profit The HeliOS Project. Since HeliOS Solutions and all manner of combinations were taken, we opted for the simple URL.

    We’ve had moderate success and a flood of calls. I am going to blog about the outcome of the ads this coming Monday.

    Thank you for the fair and complete article pertaining to this effort.

    Ken Starks

    The HeliOS Project

  • I listened to the advert. It’s good. It points out Window’s major flaws, which Linux doesn’t share. It doesn’t promise that Joe Sixpack can download and install it effortlessly – instead it invites Joe to call or visit the website for guidance and support. It promises a computer that does what you want, instead of what Microsoft wants. Now – the point that I don’t see addressed, is, IT’S IN AUSTIN! The I-35 corridor in Texas is a low-keyed Silicon Valley, after all. A lot of technology companies locate along the interstate, from the Alamo, northward to the state line. This is the perfect place to get people interested in Linux.

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