Commercial Apps For Consumer Linux: D.O.A.? - InformationWeek

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8/15/2008
10:38 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Commercial Apps For Consumer Linux: D.O.A.?

One thing I didn't talk much about in my recent feature article about the future of Linux was whether consumers will be paying for Linux apps in four years. Truth is, I don't think most of them will -- if even any at all.

One thing I didn't talk much about in my recent feature article about the future of Linux was whether consumers will be paying for Linux apps in four years. Truth is, I don't think most of them will -- if even any at all.

Here's how I see it. The whole Linux way of doing things -- core software for free, and provided through your distribution's repositories -- is radically unlike what people are used to with Windows in more than just the obvious ways. Rather than present people with a platform, where you install applications you get from here, there, and everywhere, consumer Linux looks like it's going to be an ecosystem, where the apps are part of the experience. If you pay for a copy of Linux at all, it's likely to be for a) support or b) for the sake of obtaining stuff that's patent-encumbered.

Because of this, I don't see third-party applications getting much of a toehold with consumer Linux. It's difficult to sell people a given functionality when they have a tolerably good version of the same thing for free. Case in point: I quit using the Nero suite of disc-burning products in favor of InfraRecorder -- not because the Nero suite was bad per se, but because it was money I simply didn't need to spend anymore. There was nothing in the Nero suite -- save maybe for DVD playback, which I can get elsewhere anyway -- that wasn't also available in InfraRecorder. At least, nothing I wasn't going to continue using.

I've talked to the folks at Nero about their commercial Linux offerings, and they made it clear that Linux needs to be more broadly accepted as a consumer platform before third-party app sales for Linux will take off. Fine, but if you ask me, they're missing something else: the fact that as Linux becomes more broadly accepted, so does the Linux way of doing things. Once you surround people with the idea that they don't have to pay for every last little thing, it's hard to convince them otherwise -- especially if their needs are modest enough that commercial software is overkill.

I do still think there are plenty of scenarios where people are going to pay, and pay well, for high-quality programs they need. But I also think that's going to become the exception, not the rule -- and in many circles, it already has.

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