Red Hat: no money in desktop Linux

Red Hat

No mincing of words here. Ever since Red Hat dropped its Linux boxed set in favour of Fedora, the company has demonstrated a lack of interest in the mainstream desktop. Now, at the InfoWorld Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst has reaffirmed his company's position on Linux for the masses.

"First of all, I don't know how to make money on it. Very few people are running a desktop that's mission-critical" said Whitehurst, noting that Red Hat does have a desktop offering pointed at enterprise deployments, but not home users. The story notes other businessfolk playing down Linux's chances in the mass market -- although one chap noted that he has Linux deployed throughout his business and on his home PCs.

It's a complicated situation. Without doubt, there's more interest amongst dabblers now than ever before, and Linux is getting into new hands thanks to the blossoming netbook market. But when users get hooked in by the free (as in beer) software, perhaps they're more reticent to buy boxed sets. So, readers: do you buy your desktop Linux (eg Mandriva Powerpack)? If not, what could distro vendors do to make you part with your coinage?

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I have never paid for a

I have never paid for a linux distro, but I have donated money to the ubuntu foundation because I was very pleased by their OS. I have nothing against propeitary software on linux either, but if I'm going to pay for a distro it must be a helluva distro and it must contribute back to its FOSS foundation - I won't support companies that take advantage of FOSS and dosen't contribute back to it (like cedega).

Beats me

In South Africa open source has cost me more in broad band use and magazine prices than I ever spent on Microsoft software. Here the Linux Format DVD costs more to download than to buy with the mag. I still do my Ubuntu upgrades over the internet though. No retail system can deliver the speed and support base of the internet community.

Not any more

I bought numerous box sets of SuSE from 6.1 through to about 9.3 (mostly buying alternate releases) - but I haven't bought any since then. SuSE always did very good box sets with good manuals. Ubuntu is nice, but imagine if it had an easy to read guide come with it - introducing all the best apps. I remember the SuSE manuals used to have sections which covered all the best audio apps and all the best graphics apps, details about how to setup various servers. I'm sure much of this is available on the web, but it was great having it all in one box.

Retired geek

I started out on Red Hat boxed sets, my net connection was so bad downloading something was about impossible. When they dropped them in favor of Fedora I went along with it but found that I was spending too much time dealing with problems so I switched to the Suse boxed distro.

I've been paying for boxed copies of Suse ever since, now that it has changed to OpenSuse and Novell I started to look at other options. After the Novell-Microsoft shenanigans and the growing intrusions of mono into the system I've decided to move again.

I migrated a couple boxes over to Centos and that is doing well for what it does (servers, programming, VMs) but I'm still looking for something for my primary desktop I use for general home use type stuff.

Anybody have a good suggestion for a stable desktop setup that offers a decent KDE implementation and the low hassle level that Suse used to offer?

It's been a long time since

It's been a long time since I bought any Linux distro... I bought them before mostly because I had no way to download them.

But now - well, if there were nice glossy Linux box-sets, with books, stickers and other nice stuff inside, not just disks, available in local stores for a reasonable price... I'd be tempted to buy them just for an artifact. =) I really considered buying Debian 5 when it got released.

Paid in various ways

I used to buy alternate versions of SuSE Linux, but I've not been so keen on that since they stopped providing the full printed admin manual (which I could peruse in the bath).
I was a silver member of the Mandriva Club until I stopped using their distribution as my main desktop OS.
I have also donated to some Open Source projects that I have found to be particularly useful, at least when they have had a donate button on their home page.

I'm not against paying for Linux OSes, but it's got to be one I'm using every day and they must at least offer two years of updates and e-mail installation support (should it prove necessary).

Sounds like Whitehurst hasn't got it

Of course you are not going to make money out of a desktop but it's a bit like Ford or GM saying they don't make money out of the seats in their cars.

The point about open sourcing a product as MySQL have demonstrated is that you get the sort of feedback you can never get from closed source development. That means that you save on development costs and you can make money out of the added value services you offer.

Used to buy Desktop Linux...would consider it again.

I bought 4 boxed sets of SuSE Linux, 1 Mandrake(Mandriva) PowerPack, 2 Xandros retail boxes and a license for Lindows(Linspire). I've also bought tons of Linux books. I have spent more money directly on Linux than on Windows. My primary motivation was to support Linux' growth and I liked getting the printed docs.

I quit buying the retail boxed sets partly because they disappeared from the shelves but mostly because they weren't keeping up with the rapid changes and progress being made to GNU/Linux and Linux apps. And, the docs online, although they generally need lots of work, were more current and often more accurate than my printed manuals.

Of course...

...there is a market for the free desktop. Box sets (with manual, extras, stickers, bumber stickers and so on) are always nice gifts, good for geek shopping therapy and in the end a product someone non-technical would consider buying (easier to market than a download link).

The problem for the desktop is the total lack of coordination. I praised Mark Shuttleworth for his proposal of simultaneous releases, even though I don't like Ubuntu. I think it's the last clever thing I heard from a "CEO".

Now to comment on Jim:

"First of all, I don't know how to make money on it,"
--hmm if the only way for RH to make money is to convice people to pay 50$/year then I don't know either, but CEO's are supposed to be able to think above the average joe, right?
Well it proves THEY CAN'T.

"Very few people are running a desktop that's mission-critical,"
--well every desktop is more or less critical, not mission critical, but very important for their owners.

and his best comment:
"The concept of a desktop is kind of ridiculous in this day and age,"
--excuse me but I'm pretty sure I'll be seeing and using desktops for a long time to come (more or less on depending on "the cloud"). Video did not kill radio and "the cloud" is NOT going to kill the desktop.

Crap Enormous and Obscene.

recommended reading: Linux Hater's Blog, Beranger.

I have to agree

with the penguin above. Ahh... box sets those were the days!
I guess it's a trend thing, even hardware was cleaner back then...
oh, and, Jim:
"The concept of a desktop is kind of ridiculous in this day and age,"
I can think of 2 CEOs laughing all the way to the bank with what you just said.
To conclude another guy worthwile reading: Tuomov (IonWM)
(don't get us wrong we really love linux)


Retailers dont carry much

I cant find a local retailer that actually sells a box version of Linux. Maybe I am shopping at the wrong stores? I would certainly purchase a boxed version for myself and many others if they were as easy to obtain as the download is. Yes, I understand you can buy it online, but same day shipping is too costly.


I agree with LRS above (and others!)

Apart from the speed & accessibility issues (I can download quicker & where do I go to purchase a boxed set anyway?) ~ there are no obvious advantages to the 'average' (if there is such a thing) user.

I used to buy SUSE boxed sets (2002 edition on the shelf above my head as I type this) ~ but Broadband & Repositaries (have I spelt that right???) have made all of that unnecessary my opinion, of course!

It depends if you want everything 'out of the box' I suppose?

people tend to prefer

people tend to prefer cheaper to free as long as it comrs with a great deal of certainty/stability.
modern day distribution of linux is cooler for us but consider all these people who just vagueloy heard of it

I got started with linux

I got started with linux because of not wanting to wait the hours it took on 56k to get the iso files. And my local Best Buy had RedHat and Mandriva sets so I bought both of them. I ended up sticking with RH and bough every box set I could get my hands on after that. I would still buy them, they are just nice to have around kinda like all my outdated books. I keep things on my shelves to remind me of where I got started and how far things have come.


It seems box sets have vanished and that is a shame. Consider giving your friend a cd with the contained os scribbled on it by you versus a prof looking box with manuals etc..what would she/he prefer? Of course it would have to be a quality os or else people would not buy. What kind of quality assurance does the desktop linux need? That is a question I think you should impose on your readers (us).
My chance is with a base system (ala bsd) maintaned by linux foundation released in stable binary once every year or two upon which interested for a wide audience distros could build their systems.
Maybe then we could one day enjoy an installer (also in the base system) and perhaps 3rd party software.
@Pedagogist above:
the average user nowadays is a person quite afraid of computers(although this is rapidly changing)(I just met a... 4 year old boy who was playing online games and his mom told me he connects to the net by himself (crap a 4 year old! I was making arches when i was his age (not the distro the wooden ones:P)))
so enough talking, "our" ceo's are dump,
how about a poll?
do we need a base system?
or what other way is there for linux to go over 1% on teh desktop?

Unnecessity of boxes

I would say that boxing GNU/Linux is not necessary, at all.

First, because you can get very nice package of Ubuntu (complete with colored cover + manual + CD) for free, and support can be obtained over forum and mailing list (which is doable for 10 year old child).

Second, you can always order CD/DVD from the retailers. I have done it once with Fedora, and I was pretty pleased with the process and price. Again, support is ALWAYS free.

Third, boxing may throw GNU/Linux (vendors) into the Microsoft's dilemma: how can you make your customers to buy the next version, if this one is good enough? The only answers are, of course, to hide some stuffs, or to lie, or to cheat, none of which appeal to the philosophy of GNU and Linux.

Fourth, GNU/Linux grows thanks to its dynamic nature. Trying to put it into boxes only kill GNU/Linux: you must have a very specific set of software/configurations for that box. We know what happens when people tried to control Unix last time. Do we want that for GNU/Linux?

Lastly, I want to say that if the price of x% of the market is the dead of GNU and Linux way of life, then x is not worth it, no matter what x is.


"how can you make your customers to buy the next version, if this one is good enough? The only answers are, of course, to hide some stuffs, or to lie, or to cheat"

-or to improve.

If a standard base(not static--standard, co-developed by
anyone interested) for everyday desktop use could kill GNU/Linux then something is terribly wrong. An example base: kernel, shell, basic command line stuff and X.

The death of the GNU and Linux "way of life"... I have nothing to say, I rest my case, grow up.

It seems to me an x%(>>>>y% 10 years ago) is ready for linux but linux is not ready for them. OS X expected that crowd (at least the wealthier part). My guess is the size of people ready for the switch is a least double from mac users.
And its a culture thing (not a cult thing).
Ask you GNU/brain this question:
Isn't this whole thing about people USING foss (freedom 0)?

stirring the spoon with with the coffee!

Apple sells hardware designed to run its software. Microsoft became the regulator of the PC hardware standard. When the win-modem came about and the Linux world did not respond with a Lin-modem, the weakness of Linux showed. He who runs flawlessly on the hardware users and businesses are destined to purchase, wins. If you pre-install you win. If you put the pre-installed on the store shelf, you win again. Microsoft sells on reputation, name recognition and shelf availability.

If Red Hat were not just a software company but offering hardware/software/support,they too could make money. So, approved hardware, pre-installation, on the shelf (whole systems) and support to fit. With Linux it can't just be about the software. Then if you happen to design hardware that runs Linux great and MS marginally, MS will have to step up their game or PC makers will have to build for OS transparency and neutrality.

Oh, and make a desktop user book and a system admin book. Making us all be admin is like teaching electronics to plumbers.

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