Monday, February 9, 2009

How do you beat free?

Ubuntu logoImage via Wikipedia
Before I start rolling, I'd like to make it clear that I understand the difference between freeware and Free software. I've used Linux for eleven or so years and have been MS-free for basically all of it. Now, on with the show.

A common talking in tech blogs is the MS Windows and Office pair against a Linux distro (generally Ubuntu or Fedora) and Linux activists state that the dropping cost of computers will force into a corner and it will be unable to compete with low-cost alternatives on either the or the MS Windows front. While this has been a talking point for years -- ever since laptops started dropping below US$1000 -- it hasn't happened much at all to this point. In fact, hardware with a Linux distro is often either more expensive or the same price as hardware with MS Windows. Why is that?

How do you compete with free? Free here means no-cost. The answer is simple: you make your product cheaper. Let me explain.

There has been freeware available for computers for many years. Somehow, it has never gotten a foothold on mainstream boxes. While the OEM could create a full-featured computer using freeware whenever possible and keep their costs down, too, they didn't. They didn't do that because they were paid to install trial software from non-freeware vendors. A trial version of Norton is cheaper than a free version of Clamwin. AOL goes on. AT&T goes on. In some cases, it's not a trial version of software, but some company which sought to increase market share. RealPlayer comes to mind. The total payment for that software can be tens of dollars, perhaps even a hundred.

That hundred dollars pays for the MS Windows license (maybe $30) and leaves you some profit -- profit which you aren't making on the hardware because the market's so tight. Give up MS Windows, and you've given up that source of income.

You can't beat free? Au contraire!


Alecs Jonson said...

mmhh... being free does not mean always being good... So people mostly think "Free? There must be a catch."

And evil thing is that microsoft support that with its FUD.


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