Friday, April 5, 2013

The Linux Inside Stigma

by Dietrich Schmitz

It's remarkable how Google doesn't mention the word Linux anywhere in their marketing of the Google Chromebook.

I mean, it's running the Linux Kernel, so shouldn't it be Google Linux instead of ChromeOS?

Why did Google carefully avoid references to Linux?

It's all a very carefully crafted, well executed plan of elegant branding and image making.

They have shown themselves to be very adept and facile at understanding buyer mindsets and recognize there is a viable 'mass market' which has a huge potential to buy.

The profile of this user is that of someone who really doesn't care anything about the technical underpinnings of a device.  They are not sophisticated technophiles by any means.  They have a set number of things which they wish to do--recreational surfing, banking, email, an occasional letter, not complicated.  They have financial constraints and can't spend a lot on said device (more than $500 for the average Laptop).

Access to the Internet is becoming a right and the cost of computers has traditionally put them out of reach by many.

The timing of the Acer C7 Chromebook could not have been better.  Overall sales during the 2012 Holidays were robust and Amazon's best selling Laptop was the Samsung Chromebook.   With this device priced at $200, it puts the Internet and computing within reach of the masses.  It levels the playing field.

The Chromebook is attractive for many reasons.  It's inexpensive, it has instant on (ok, 8 seconds), it has free applications built in, integration with Google Drive, it is very secure (Pwnium 2013 showed that), and easy to use.  Moreover, it is hard to break.  It is fair to say that the Chromebook has become a veritable Internet Appliance.

All of these attributes combine to make this a quite attractive option when shopping for a computer.  It is also quite attractive to OEMs who see that selling Chromebooks will require little post-sale support and returns will be low.  Turn on, use.  It does it well.

Google didn't mention Linux because they know it will scare buyers away.

That's unfortunate, but true.  And we need to come to terms with that fact and work towards improving the 'Linux Inside' brand image.

Yes, it seems clear we have a branding image issue here which we at Linux Advocates hope to elevate and improve with time and your help.

-- Dietrich

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  1. Gonzalo Velasco C.April 5, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    I don't know about the stigma. But here we are again with the "with or
    without GNU", but deeper: "with or without Linux". As I have said
    before, several GNU/Linux distributions are called "blabla_OS", without
    the "Linux" word, even though they are well known GNU/Linux distros and
    are not trying to hide that, that _could_ be the case with commercial
    options as Google ChromeOS.

    See, also, that MacOS doesn't say "I'm Darwin inside, a derivative of FreeBSD" :-D

  2. "Google Linux" would make absolutely no sense, "Chrome" is part of Google branding and instantly recognisable. To take your anaology one step further, should Chrome be called "Google Browser", or should G+ be called "Google Social Network". Of course not, that would be stupid. So why should their OS be any different just because it runs Linux?

    Why does it need to be shouted from the roof tops that it's Linux at all? Ubuntu isn't "Ubuntu Linux", it's just "Ubuntu". You go on the Ubuntu Features page and try and find the word Linux, it's not their either.

    That point of having "Linux inside" is totally irrelevant. The fact that it's a stable OS that works extremely well is the only important thing here. Linux is being adopted worldwide by through Android, Ubuntu, ChromeOS and many other systems - which is awesome. But it doesn't need to be crammed down peoples throats that it's Linux. What's the point?

  3. I think there's some truth to both cases. I think in Google's case it's a chicken or the egg issue. Back in September of 2008, Google released Chromium, initially designed to be the dev release of Chrome. By mid-2009 they'd announced Chrome OS and open-sourced Chromium. The dev community (like my man Liam "Hexxeh" McLoughlan) quickly picked it up and did awesome things. I don't think ChromeOS released an "official" release until early 2011, right? I got a couple of the intial CR-48 computers due to my relationships around Xmas of that year or into January.

    In any case, if Google intended to omit that ChromeOS was linux, they did it from the very beginning. I don't think they've ever denied it, and they're more than willing to discuss it if asked.

  4. Dietrich, I am extremely glad someone else has picked up this topic. I beat this same drum way back when and I was surprised at the number of people who thought I was way off base. Between Canonical and Google...I think if anyone thought "Linux" was a marketable product, it would have already been labeled as such.

    So in 2010 I published an artlcle/blog with the titel "Is The Linux Brand Poisoned?"

    And after almost 3 years, I still have to respond with a resounding Yes

  5. I have to agree with Kev Quirk, there is no reason to slap the 'Linux' name on every device running a Linux kernel. Every time I go to the grocery store and use the kiosk, instead of a cashier, the underlying software is using the LInux kernel. Still, it doesn't have to advertise that, and it's certainly not being labeled "Linux Kiosk v1.2" or something like that. It's stable, it's fast, and it fits a purpose- that's what matters. As long as linux is functional and stable, it will continue to be used for a variety of operating systems on a variety of hardware. But that doesn't mean they all should be named 'Linux'.

  6. Using the term Linux is a liability, esp. when many who hear Linux then insist on people saying GNU/Linux... which would tie Chrome to Stallman. As wonderful as the GPL is (and it is... no doubt in my mind), Stallman has become a liability to the open source world.

    Google is smart to keep their branding simple and to avoid tying themselves to the Linux / GNU/Linux / FOSS community. Sad to say... wish that was not the case.

  7. I don't have first-hand information on their choice not to mention Linux, do you? Clearly, it was avoided and there is a stigma. Exactly how they view it is something I am interested in pursuing directly with them. Thanks.

  8. This reminded me of perl... its the stigma... ppl often refers to perl with stigma.
    Same with linux... but in the end, all of the Java boys use perl in some way or another because their linux server comes with perl, and if they use for example postgres, they are using perl in some way... and they have stigma without knowing they use perl.

  9. And its the same for ruby, python, any language... if you use "Linux" you probably have "perl"!

    Check if perl is installed in your system, type in a shell:

    perl -v

    bet you didnt know about it!

  10. Why are we calling out ChromeOS here? Go to and tell me how times you find "Linux" on the page. Same result at Android doesn't make a big mention of Linux either. Neither does my wireless router. Nor my NAS. Should I keep going?

  11. Figured I'd just copy & paste my comment from Google+ over here too (why not!)

    Is it a desire by those companies (Google, Canonical) to remove themselves from any perceived "stigma" or more of a branding exercise?

    Apple runs iOS and OS X on the XNU kernel actually (which Darwin runs on top of too) but nobody calls it iOS/XNU or OS X / XNU - that would be confusing.

    Windows 8 and Windows RT and everything below that down to Windows 2000 on desktops/laptops run on the NT kernel, same idea.

    I don't think either company makes that obvious anywhere but in the fine print.

    It would just be confusing, plus in the case of applications might lead people to believe that a program for iOS / XNU should logically work on OS X / XNU (or a Windows 8 / NT program should work on Windows RT / NT) - which they don't, as we know.

    Now... imagine for a moment what a new person could think with respect to Linux.

    Canonical can write their own "Ubuntu apps" and Google can write their own "Chrome OS apps" and nobody will - hopefully - think that they are interchangeable.

    But if you're faced with 200+ "Linux" operating systems, you might start to wonder why the program you just bought for Ubuntu doesn't work on Mageia, or whatever.

    Hey, what do I know :)

  12. I would argue that the real problem is that we live in a consumer culture, and in consumer culture, "Linux" is just a "no-name brand", which people tend to judge by how closely this "generic product" resembles the "brand leader(s)".

    Before you dismiss this as "too much of a stretch, let's recall the great days of the Cola Wars.

    Pepsi Cola just could not shake the public perception that Pepsi was a second-rate product, a cheap(er) "cola" -- merely an imitation of Coca-Cola, Coke, "the Real Thing". For decades, market research continued to confirm this hierarchy; people might generally buy Pepsi "to save money" -- but they made sure to bring out the "the real thing" when they were serving guests.

    It took a decades-long, intensive and very expensive marketing campaign to break this frame, which didn't really succeed until Pepsi finally enlisted the likes of Michael Jackson and Michael J Fox to represent their cause in quite spectacular campaigns -- and Pepsi could finally be accepted as a product equal to Coke, that people choose quite simply because they like it better than the alternatives.

    The rise of the automotive industry is also interesting in this regard, and perhaps more pertinent, as people may feel that choosing a computer (or, in our perspective, an operating system) is a bigger decision than buying a carbonated beverage. But even here, it took a long time, established quality, and heavy marketing, etc. And unlike the desktop OS market, there was no one, dominant player in a position to abuse an effective monopoly to tilt the competitive playing field and bar competition.

    (I may not much care for Canonical or Ubuntu, but I believe Mark Shuttleworth is [i]very[/i] conscious of such concerns.)

    Intel had good results from their "Intel Inside" campaign -- but how long did that run? How much did it cost? Is anybody in the desktop Linux sphere willing -- or able -- to hire kind of marketing talent and support the kind of marketing effort that put the Blue Men on everybody's TV screen, for months on end for each stage of an ad campaign?

    Desktop Linux has been doing well -- amazingly well -- to survive and even grow in such an adverse environment. Now at last, even the bastion of computer gaming is beginning to recognize the merits of Linux -- Valve's Steam game client could well be desktop Linux's Michael J Fox. And in the meantime, if today three out of ten are willing to try Linux, and one of those stays with Linux, well then, we're still gaining ground.

  13. I do not have any insider info on Google. My comments about Stallman are based on his own comments and how people react to him as a person (I shall leave the details out unless you want them expressed here). But as far as the decision making from Google - no, that is just speculation... and I am sure there is more to it than just the few sentences I wrote.

  14. There was a post( ) some time back, that raised this issuue. From that post, I found these quotes to be interesting.

    "Why does Google refuse to reference that Android or Chromebooks are Linux-based?"

    Because Linux Users can't be trusted to behave if they are taken out into public.

  15. This whole post is a bunch of horse shit. I mean, if Linux wanted to become the
    next Apple it could have a long time ago. No one was calling for BSD to rebrand itself when Apple appropriated their code and made it successful.

    The problem here is the comparison between Google's success and Linux's success is completely unfair and incompatible. Google, as far as ChromeOS is concerned anyway, is just doing what Apple was doing: taking open source software and using it to make billions for investors. That doesn't somehow make them "better" than the Linux Foundation. The comparison really doesn't apply.

    Kudos to Linux. Keep doing the things that keep your organization lean and objectively oriented in the current cut throat environment. Don't be distracted by all these fucking leaches.

  16. Anybody here know Linus? Get him to try my OS. It's ring-0-only and has paging identity-mapped. If you know what those two things mean, you'll know it's got no Linux code.

  17. Let's not forget those Chromebooks are so cheap because you are selling Google your data.

  18. the real test will be if regular PC shops push google chromebooks, because as it is today, no linux based stuff, nor hardly any mac stuff is pushed, simply because it doesn't break down and isn't as big of a money maker for them.

  19. ...You realize Pepsi is made by Coca Cola, right?

  20. The use of Ubuntu or ChromeOS is basic marketing. Most people use brand names as a proxy for (perceived) quality even though the competing products may be very similar (or virtually identical). As a brand name Linux has a negative impression to most potential users as something that is stuck in the late 70's and very difficult to install and use. By using the distro name as a brand name one avoids these negative connotations because (hopefully) the public regards these brands as being quality products.

    Remember the typical computer user is in reality OS agnostic. They use what was installed on their devices and rarely switch OSes even if the replacement OS is much better for them. Their OS choice is determined by what is available preinstalled, price, and does the OS support the apps they need to use on that device. App choice is probably the most important for most people than the OS. In the tablet/netbook market most are used for content consumption with light content creation thus the apps they commonly need installed are different from a laptop or desktop.

  21. Actually, no -- I don't.
    (It isn't)

    (I suppose that technically, they might now both be owned by some humungous mega-conglomerate, but that's not actually relevant.)

  22. Richard FranklinApril 8, 2013 at 5:32 AM

    I'm surprised that so many Linux "advocates" like to praise Google's Chromebooks (solely because a Linux kernel is in there), yet they have no problems chastising, say, Canonical for including internet search results in Unity's Dash.

    Can you switch off Google's data collection on the Chromebooks? No. (Unless you install another OS. Quite the hard task for the layman.)

    Can you switch off online search in Unity? Yes.

  23. If you truly want control of Internet privacy, encryption is your only recourse.
    I have left Ubuntu because Unity is a net regression. Fuduntu 2013.2 satisfies all of my needs.

  24. Excellent point. Google is given a free pass by many of the "Free" advocates... they stopped Asus from selling devices with an OS competing with Android (Aliyun OS), they have a business model based only completely on monetizing personal information, etc. And yet these same people claim MS and Apple are "evil" for doing a lot less. It really is amazing to watch.

    Bottom line is Google is a massive corporation doing what is best for its bottom line - just as MS and Apple are. In each case they do what they can to please customers the best they can while avoiding taxes in legal but reprehensible ways, using the IP laws to their best advantage, etc.

  25. > Fuduntu 2013.2 satisfies all of my needs.

    Then you haven't left Ubuntu at all.

  26. Yes, keep going. This article is dumb. Linux devices are eating up the gadget market share from smart phones, televisions, e-readers, GPS systems, routers, etc. and NONE of them market themselves as Linux Phone, Linux TV, Linux e-reader, Linux GPS, Linux Router...And why the heck should they? It means nothing to most people so it's not like a round sticker applied to the cellophane stating "Linux Inside" is going to get a whole lot more people to buy it. Even if it did, that's not going to magically drive a bunch of money to the Linux Foundation. Sounds to me this writer has a personal issue with google or something. Anyway, terrible article. Just so dumb.

  27. Don't be clever. Say something constructive.

  28. The story is a 'hat tip' to Google and ChromeOS is a win. But the sad fact remains that the 'L' word was avoided in their marketing campaign for a reason. If you don't see that, I am sorry.

  29. Chromebook represents the first Linux based computer to reach the brick and mortar retail setting at Best Buy. It is positioned along side of Apple and Microsoft product. And it was done with panache but the avoidance of the 'L' word is conspicuous and quite intentional.

    That Chromebook is a win in spite of that should tell you something.

    This article has scored quite well on pageviews and even got slashdotted: