Monday, 5 March 2007

[Opinion] Switch to Linux? No. Get a Mac Clone.

I'm a marketing guy, and I look at everything in my world from a marketing perspective. From that perspective I think this whole "Switch to Linux" thing is unnecessarily hard work - so I take an easier approach to help people move in that direction.
I'm not ashamed to say that anyone looking at my Linux desktop right now would think I'm using a Mac. 

For me it's a no brainer. Apple spend millions of dollars designing how the standard elements of their UI are visually represented. Why should I think that I can create something better all by myself? For that matter, why should KDE or Gnome think they can either? No - I just enjoy the fact that there is a UI backed by mountains of usability testing and market research, and I can copy it to help my productivity.

I'm not much of a Mac fan, but I think they do some things well, and I'm seeing more and more people talking about the Mac as a possible move for them.

Anyway. That's not the point of this article. There is something far more important here. An opportunity for the Linux community if they can stomach the idea. A way to make it much easier to introduce and promote this great operating system we've grown to love.

Here's the thing. I've noticed a significant difference in the response from people between:

"Why don't you install Linux"
and
"Why don't you turn your PC into a Mac clone?"

Now before both the Mac and Linux readers explode in unison take a breath and keep reading. Calm down.. here's a quiz.

Q. If you install Linux on a PC do you get a Mac? 
A. No.

Q. If you install a hacked Mac OS on a PC is it a Mac? 
A. Hmmm. Yes and No.. Kinda!

Q. If you install Windows on an Intel Mac is it a Mac? 
A. I really don't know.

Q. If you install Linux on a Mac, is it still a Mac? 
A. Stop asking hard questions!

Q. If a wodgemord looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck is it a duck?
A. No, but a good way to create clarity about what it is would be to describe it as a duck clone.

See what I'm getting at? There are definitely some gray areas here.. and that's why I think it's perfectly OK to kick off a Linux discussion with some gray-talk of your own because it helps the overall understanding.

So - without some of the knee jerk reaction, let's look at why it might be a good idea to talk about Mac Clones. You see from a "sales" perspective, if you want to persuade people to install Linux purely from a Linux perspective, you have some educating, and re-educating to do. 

Depending on what they already know you may have various notions to overcome. The whole "it's for servers" thing. You have to explain that weird notion of free software that is Office compatible. Oh - and the tough one.. It's sexy out of the box, but install some extras and Linux has more eye candy than Mac and Windows combined!

But explain that Linux can be set up as a sort of "Mac clone?" Sure - that's just the beginning of the conversation but in terms of them wondering "in broad terms, what are we talking about here" they get it. You're done.

This isn't rocket science. Think about when the car was invented. How would you have tried to sell it? Would you get better results talking about a "car" or a "wagon that moves without being pulled by horses". See, when you want to explain something unknown, the best thing to do is map an association to something that is known. To most people what is "known" about specific operating systems is how they look.

Don't get me wrong. I'm well aware of the differences between Linux and a Mac. The tight integration between OS and hardware of a Mac, the Apple software suite and all that stuff.. but guess what. From the perspectives of operating system, UI and ability to achieve tasks with software, a desktop Linux distribution has more similarities to a Mac than anything else I can think of. It also has more similarities than dissimilaries!

Here's the crunch though. Even if from a logical viewpoint this whole thing holds water there is one massive hurdle. 

Ego.

I think that even if this idea proved to be the best possible way to increase Linux adoption, many in the Linux community would rather die than refer to their beloved OS as a "clone" of something when many believe Linux to actually be superior. The fact that it's just using language that resonates with the person who is listening is irrelevant.

Well that's just dandy - but sad, because when ego takes the wheel the real objective is usually thrown out the window (assuming that Linus adoption is an end goal of Linux developers - mostly true).

Because of ego, the knee jerk reaction to this article from both sides will be negative. It will become a discussion of specifics. For sure, we can expect the whole "well x is just a copy of y" from both sides especially in the whole eye candy department - and it's a dumb argument because it doesn't matter. 

Look and Feel?

I'll share my thoughts on this one as it's getting old reading the same old comments from both sides in blogs. Nobody can hold their head high here. Xerox came up with the real genius in the foundational research and development and not much has been added since. Apple copied it. Microsoft then copied Apple. Linux, moving into the desktop copied the best of everything. Who is now innovating? Windows, Mac and Linux are all developing different interpretations of how to combine the same old elements but nothing staggeringly new has come along! Everyone is just tweaking the same building blocks that Xerox invented in the 70s. 

Conclusion

So where does that leave us? Well - I personally know for a fact that the easiest way I can help Linux adoption is to kick off a discussion by saying "I use a sort of Mac clone. It's really linux, but I've made it look and act just like a new Mac. Oh, by the way.. everything is free and it runs well on old hardware!" Bang. Done.

That's somewhat wordy, and the job would be much easier if a project came together to bundle all the Mac like elements available to KDE and Gnome into a simple package for each major distro. Then I'd be able to say, "I made a Mac Clone by installing X then adding packing Mac-a-like - it's all free by the way".

Maybe even one day that could be boiled down to, "I made a Mac Clone by installing Mac-A-Like Linux" although not sure that such a distribution would survive the wrath of Apple.

I'm not saying this is the only way to push Linux, nor the best in all circumstances. What I am saying is that there is no shame in it. Linux is still great, even if it puts on a Mac mask, just like Dell, Gateway and Compaq were great, even when they were thought of as IBM Clones.

And to finish this article, Kudos to Linux. I get two reactions when people look at the desktop on my Laptop and Desktop. One is.. "Er.. is that a Mac?" and the other is "Why don't you just buy a Mac?". Well kudos is due, because I don't NEED to buy a Mac. I can get the Mac look and feel, which I like, and the massive productivity boost of the desktop cube ( and enjoyable extras ) even on my three year old HP laptop. 

If you are willing to think of a Mac as a Ferarri, then I'm driving something that looks like a Ferrari, and has many of the attributes of a Ferrari, and arguably in some ways is better than a Ferrari when all I've done is buy 3 year old Camry and add some free parts. 

There simply is not a real life parallel to what the Linux and the Open Source movement have delivered to the world.

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