Subject: Why Open Source Sucks for the Consumer
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Mon, 28 Aug 2000 18:22:22 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Jean" == Jean Camp <Jean_Camp@harvard.edu> writes:

    Jean> Well I purchased a Dell box thinking that I could have the
    Jean> students do some analyses of costs so Imight advocate the
    Jean> adoption by the school You know, leadership and all
    Jean> that. That is right out.

Why Dell?  Dell is a latecomer to this market.  As far as I could tell
from their web site, Dell only offers Linux as an option, and doesn't
really offer the kind of support that you might get from, say, VA Linux.

It seems to me that Dell's Linux product is catering to people who
have an allergic reaction to Windows, and prefer to install Linux to
cheap bare metal.  (I know a guy who tried to order a Gateway 2000 box
without hard drive so that they _couldn't_ install Windows on it. :)

    Jean> I was totally psyched about the new Dell system and now I
    Jean> realize that there is NO WAY that I could recommend this to
    Jean> my coworkers. The support is too scattered. Nothing comes
    Jean> installed. there are not adequate packages for someone who
    Jean> wants the box to work out of the desktop.

Well, right.  That's exactly what I would expect.  Dell's business
model means avoiding real technical support for its product; rather,
they deliver something that has already had the common bugs worked
out.  They make sure the hardware is compatible with Windows, and
count on Microsoft to make sure Windows is compatible with itself.
Dell "support" means explaining how to navigate the thicket of
dialogs, and which questions can't be answered by anyone except your
local network admin or ISP.  With the added efficiency that most of
the time they can restrict their FAQ list to hardware they sell.

There is no reason to expect Dell to do Linux very well.  AFAIK, none
of the big Windows box vendors do NT Server support very well either
(not without an expensive separate support contract).  Everybody I
know (all in Japan) who has to deal with NT Server either uses a small
system integrator shop or buys hardware and contracts directly with
Microsoft for support.  They do not buy them from Gateway or Dell.

But Linux distros are more targeted to compete with single-host
installations of NT Server.  Not to blame you for having different
requirements from what the Linux distros and the Linux options of the
big hardware vendors target.  It does mean that a serious effort to
exercise leadership in this arena means more than "ordering a Linux
system from Dell."

I'd be willing to bet you would have had a much different experience
if you started with Linuxcare or VA Linux as the "prime contractor".
Expensive, yes, but much closer to a fair test given relative market
penetration of the OSes.  (And Harvard faculty can afford it, I would
guess.  A few might even buy into extra expense on the "code ==
governance" argument, I suppose.)

Or you could have asked here first.

Although "how do I install Linux?" is clearly off-topic for this list,
I would suspect "what is a good strategy for getting an OSS OS's foot
in the door in the non-technical departments of a leading research
university?" would draw interest here.  (Maybe even a vendor contact
off-list with more or less serious proposals.)  It's at least
plausibly on-topic as a "business model" for the next five years.

Anyway, this deserved more advance research than you gave it.  :-(

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