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HEXUS.interviews: Michael Robertson of Linspire Inc.

by Jo Shields on 19 April 2005, 00:00

Tags: Linspire

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apt-get, and Other Animals

Jo: There have been a few articles on-line about "Hacking Linspire", bypassing CNR and using the Debian repositories with apt-get and aptitude. What's your view on people who pick Linspire, but bypass CNR?

Michael: That's their prerogative, we provide an optional service. Hopefully we have great value and a good price, so most people sign up for it. If they don't, hey, we need to do a better job! But we're not going to weld the hood closed and not let people install things. If they want to use command-line tools, that's their prerogative. I think "Hacking Linspire" is a misnomer, it was about using apt-get repositories. Hardly hacking Linspire, it's pretty easy to do.

Jo: What do you think the big blocker is for the average person on the street to get a Linux PC? High-street retailers like PC World have been selling a Linux desktop for years; it's an antique thing with an old copy of Corel Linux on it, but it has been there for years. What would you say was the biggest blocker to an average person buying or using a Linux machine?

Michael: There are two things. One is availability - they want to go into a store, they want to see modern desktops and laptops, with Linux ready to go on them. And they want a trained salesperson to be able to answer any questions of theirs. So availability is one, and the second is the confidence that there are knowledgeable people around you. We all get stuck with our computers sometimes. You want to be able to call your friend and go "I'm stuck, how can I make this thing go?", so having the confidence that there's enough Linux knowledge around you to make that an OK choice is important and it's something that is slowly happening.

Jo: Where do you get most of your new users from? Is it from people buying it, downloading it, or is it more from the OEM systems - people buying a $300 Wal-Mart Linspire PC?

Michael: It's been from downloaders. We're just touching the early adopters amongst the geek community, I think for us to touch meaningful numbers of mainstream users, we have to get retailer support, selling pre-installed machines. We haven't done that on any big scale in the UK.

Jo: If I pay you £50 - or $100 - for Linspire 5 with all the trimmings, how much of my money is going to be passed on in licenses fees to Microsoft, Apple, Real, Macromedia, Cyberlink, and all of those who license Codecs and the like? How much of it is going onto the big Open-Source projects - the KDE project, things like that? How much of my money is going into the Linux community and how much is going into extending Microsoft's monopoly?

Michael: A lot of licenses that we have for things like Flash and Quicktime are free licenses. We try to minimise that part of our business, so we can keep our prices as we do today - and, as you've admitted, the £15 we than systems builders pay for OEM copies is pretty aggressive, so it's a very small amount of money that we spend licensing commercial products, and we spend millions of dollars on open source. By far, 20:1 probably, on how much we spend on open source versus how much we spend licensing commercial components, but we don't break down how much of your $100 goes to each group.

Jo: Which are the big projects that you fund apart from the NVU HTML editor?

Michael: Well we put a huge amount of money into WINE, back when we thought that that was the only option to get applications on Linux, to run Windows applications. We're big backers of Mozilla, we're financial backers of Debian, of KDE as well. There's quite a few. We try to do our part. Reiser, there's another big one.