The Guardian’s technology editor, Jack Schofield, was obviously feeling jealous of the volume of flames generated by Charlie Brooker’s “I hate Apple” article last month. Last week, he wrote a column in which he argued that Dell would find it very difficult to sell PCs with Linux pre-installed (which has been the subject of a concerted campaign by many Linux users recently).
He made some good points in the article – for example, the difficulty of choosing which version of Linux to offer, and the fact that the additional support costs and low volume sales would outweigh any savings from not having to pay the “Windows Tax” – but then went on to characterise the typical Linux user as “the sort of buyer no-one really wants”:
What Dell really needs are more high-end gamers who buy top-spec PCs in fancy cases for £2,500 or more, not low-end Linux users looking to save £25 on Windows.
“Low-end Linux users”? Well, I wasn’t about to take that lying down, so I wrote the following email in response (on my – ahem – low-end Dell Dimension PC, but we’ll let that pass):
I suspect Jack Schofield is right that only a small proportion of those calling for Dell to sell PCs with Linux pre-loaded will actually end up buying them. Personally, if I wanted a fully “deFenestrated” PC I’d rather buy one with no OS installed (already available from Dell if you ask the right questions) and install my own preferred Linux version on it.
However, Schofield’s depiction of typical Linux users as tightfisted low-end purchasers is surely incorrect. The typical user of desktop Linux is more likely to be motivated by principle (software freedom) or geekery than by cost-avoidance. Many Linux users are precisely the sort of people who will be looking to spend four-figure sums on high-end, performance PCs – it’s just they don’t want to run Windows on them.
Individuals who use Linux purely for cost reasons quickly become disillusioned, because they often expect a system that is identical to Windows in every particular except cost. However, Linux is different from Windows at almost every point (normally to Linux’s advantage, but still different), and those who lack the other motivations to carry them up the learning curve will often give up in frustration – especially when they run up against some of the remaining difficulties with using desktop Linux in a proprietary software world.
I wasn’t expecting a personal response from Jack Schofield, but he replied with a very gracious email – any email that starts by describing my comments as “much more intelligent than the average response I’ve had” is going to get me on-side pretty quickly 🙂 – which pointed out that I had probably overstated the willingness of Linux users to spend large amounts on high-end PCs. Schofield may well be right, though (as I pointed out in return) my central point about the true motivations of desktop Linux users still stands.
So anyway, I was looking forward to seeing if my original email would get published in this week’s Technology Guardian. The good news is, it was. The bad news is – well, see for yourselves:
I suspect Jack Schofield is right that only a small proportion of those calling for Dell to sell PCs with Linux will buy them. If I wanted a “deFenestrated” PC I’d rather buy one with no OS installed and put my preferred Linux version on it. However, the depiction of typical Linux users as tightfisted low-end purchasers is surely incorrect. The typical Linux user is more likely to be motivated by geekery.
I’m not sorry the letter has been cut down in length – it’s always a pleasure to see what a good job the Guardian sub-editors can make of editing things down like that, as can be seen if you compare the two versions side by side – but it’s absolutely maddening to have the reference to software freedom removed. The end result reads like yet another snide reference to Linux geeks (in their mothers’ basements, no doubt).
I’m tempted to write and ask them to replace my name with “Alan Smithee”…