[linux-elitists] Linux desktop investments

Don Marti dmarti@zgp.org
Tue Sep 2 11:14:02 PDT 2003

begin Jonathan Corbet quotation of Tue, Sep 02, 2003 at 10:08:40AM -0600:

> I've been wondering for a bit what might happen if Sun really got its act
> together and did a good job with its "mad hatter" stuff.

And I've been wondering if pigs had wings, could you serve pig wings
instead of chicken wings at your Super Bowl party when the Vikings
play the Seahawks?

Sun has entered a death spiral of inflated costs, underperforming
products, and unsubstantiated arrogance.  The company that replaced
minicomputers with cheaper commodity processors and a commodity OS
is watching the same thing happen to it, and it's inspiring to watch,
if you like the story of the Spartan boy and the fox.

As long as I have been into Linux, one of the big reasons people
cite for Linux projects in every industry has been to do what Sun
does better, faster, and cheaper.  What is Sun's answer to this?
Every time someone pops up with an idea of what to do about it,
hammer him down or force him out.  Remember Steve DeWitt?


OK, now somebody will come up with some wild and crazy reason not to
give up on Sun.  But we were talking about Linux desktop companies
with a future.

There are two, count'em, two, Linux desktop markets.  Market one:
several expensive verticals with impressive-sounding names such as
Digital Content Creation and Electronic Design Automation.  Most of
the TCO of a desktop Linux box in these markets is licenses for
some very expensive proprietary applications.  You could say that
an investment in the proprietary software companies responsible
for these apps is a "desktop Linux" investment.  If you believe
that ISVs with a cross-platform strategy (dammit, Microsoft,
why should I have to type out "cross-platform") are in a better
position to control their own destiny, and better off long-term,
you could invest in cross-platform application vendors, and vendors
of cross-platform development tools.

Market two: generic desktop.  These are for the people who get
the mass-market chair, not the Herman Miller chair.  Or no chair.
All that GNU/* does for this market is open up the software side
to the same relentless price war that the hardware side has been
fighting for 20 years.  Every proprietary single point of control
in this market will be eliminated, worked around, or driven to a
brutally low price.  Investing based on this story is a lot harder
-- since all that the generic desktop is doing is giving customers
lower prices and more control, the sensible investment here is in
companies that _use_ information technology effectively (hi, Shawn)
not in companies that sell it.

Alternative investment plan: Find a publicly traded company that is
a pure software play with one or a few products.  While you short
the stock, hire a team of developers in your favorite low-cost
country to develop or "polish" a free software clone or replacement,
and a team of helpful consultants and mailing list posters to make
sure that users in high-cost countries have a positive experience
with the free software.  Fund a startup to do support contracts,
and more important, PR, for the free software.  It doesn't matter
how well the startup does, since you make most of your money from
the short sale.  VIGN has a market cap of $586 million, BTW.

Don Marti                Reform copyright law -- return abandoned works
http://zgp.org/~dmarti   to the public domain after 50 years:
dmarti@zgp.org           http://www.PetitionOnline.com/eldred/petition.html

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