Linux wins, but Microsoft rules

DQW Bureau
18 Sep 2003

While cost has been the key reason for driving the demand for Linux-based branded PCs, experts suggest pirated Microsoft software still rules the heart

Over the last one year, a number of PC vendors have launched Linux-based PCs. As branded PC ven-dors tried desperately to bring down price barriers and fight the assemblers in their strong-hold of competitive pricing, swearing by Linux became the name of the game.

While the Singapore-based distribution major and OEM supplier, eSys is believed to have pioneered the paradigm shift of Linux-based desktops, the arrival of MNC players like HP-Compaq and IBM, as well as others has indeed crowded the market. With prices ranging from Rs 17,000 upwards, bran-ded PC vendors have squarely taken assemblers in their home turf.

The action began sometime in October last year with eSys launching its PC followed by LG with its ‘MyPC’ range. The te-mpo was picked up by biggies like HP-Compaq, HCL and IBM. But strangely, other then mak-ing their launch a public event, vendors have maintained a low profile with their Linux PCs.

Irrespective of that, the mar-ket lapped up the low priced PCs. Said Sanjiv Krishen, Chair-man and CEO, Iris Computers Pvt Ltd, “Linux-based PCs have found very good market accep-tance. We have been pushing as much as 500 Linux-based desktops in the last few months as against our total sales of 2,000-3,000 PCs per month.” Iris is one of the largest

distri-butors of IBM and Compaq-HP in India. Another top distribu-tor, Tech-Pacific, echoes the sentiment. The company has been supplying around 1,500 Linux-based desktops for the consumer segment and 500 Linux-based PCs to the business segment per month.

According to its Business Manager for HP PCs, Mahadev Bhosle, “Tech-Pacific has had a very good response for the Lin-ux-based machines, particularly in the home segment. Most PCs directed at the home segment come with WindowsXP that costs at least Rs 6,000 whereas the Linux OS can be down-loaded free. Some of the Linux applications, however, come at a relatively small cost.”

Does that means Linux-based PCs are here to stay for a long time? Ask eSys, which sells only Linux-based machines. The company is brimming with confidence and according to GS Paul, MD and CEO (India opera-tions), eSys, it is already selling 3,000 PCs and around 8,000-10,000 kits per month. Offering PCs on Linux platform has hel-ped vendors to cut costs drasti-cally. Retail rates for Microsoft software at the desktop comes for as much as Rs 31,000 with the OS priced at Rs 9,500 and Office applications coming for Rs 21,000 plus taxes.

Will the party last?

While vendors who have launched Linux-based PCs vouch for it and claim that the party has just begun, the ground reality might be some-what different. Experts suggest the pirated Microsoft software may throw up a party pooper. 

CNS investigation reveals that many a customers who found the Linux-based machi-nes attractive because of the price factor felt that it was not the same as a Microsoft loaded PC. So they did the next best thing and bought pirated cop-ies of Microsoft software. While none of the vendors were will-ing to go on record, most of them said that they have long suspected such actions. They however, declined to own responsibility of any such action by the users. “What cus-tomers do after buying a PC is their prerogative. We do not have much control over it,” said one of the PC vendors.

While not all resellers agree that customers have been go-ing for pirated software, many like the Delhi-based Shahji Jacob of Zion Computers, an IBM reseller who also assem-bles PCs suggest that custo-mers have been going back to using Microsoft. “True, custo-mers have responded well to the Linux-based IBM machines primarily because of the lower price-points but we have often seen customers coming back and asking for Microsoft lice-nses,” he said adding that only 5-10 percent of his customers opt for Linux software in their PCs.

Such feedback is quite com-mon amongst the reseller community. Most people said that customers either use old licenses of Windows 98 or Win-dows 95 or quietly pick up pira-ted software. According to Pankaj Bandlish, Director, Compro-Computers, “In reality, nobody bothers about Linux OS, as people simply go to the market and pick up pirated Microsoft because that’s what people are used to. What mat-ters to them is that they get a branded PC at Rs 30,000, which is a very good deal.”

There are others like Challen-ger Computers, OA Compu-serve or MC Modi and Co, who accept that customers have responded very well to the Lin-ux-based machines but decline to comment on users reverting to Microsoft. Interestingly, a large number of resellers have denied customers coming back to them for Microsoft licenses. This in other words means that people are either using Linux as a desktop OS or are going in for pirated software. However, it seems unlikely that consu-mers are actually using Linux as there has not been a corres-ponding increase in the demand for Linux among the assemblers.

Speaking to a number of small assemblers CNS found that retail or home consumers do not go for Linux. Although all of them have done some business in Linux, most says it has always been easier catering to institutions or tech-savvy engineering students.

Awareness is the key

What should the vendors do to have a smashing ‘Linux’ party? Experts suggest that creating awareness is the most critical factor and there is a dire need to familiarize consumers with Linux as an OS. While tech-savvy people are not scared to experiment, lay users find the unfamiliarity a huge stumbling block. “Applications on Linux platform are just as simple as on the Microsoft platform. One has to use it and see,” said Sud-hir Gandotra, Director, Open LX. The company is a vendor of Linux-based applications.

According to Gandotra, the PC vendors are themselves to be blamed for the situation as they have done precious little to promote Linux. According to him people who have long been exposed to the Microsoft OS cannot take up Linux OS all of a sudden. “Applications on Linux platform are just as simple as on the Microsoft plat-form. One just needs to use it and see,” Gandotra said. The company is a vendor of Linux-based applications.

Software resellers have las-hed out at PC vendors. “Ven-dors have turned a blind eye as to what is going on in the mar-ket. They are also aware of it because they know that there is no support infrastructure for Linux. So the boys who go to install the PCs quietly slip a pira-ted copy of Microsoft,” said Saket Kapoor, Director, Compu-ter Vision.

Microsoft too has taken adv-antage of vendors’ lethargy in Linux promotion and has been raising the pitch about its tried and tested software. According to Karthik Padmanabaih, Senior Marketing Manager, Microsoft, “We have stepped up our activi-ties amongst the channels, educating them about the time and money spent on suppor-ting Linux would tell on their profitability in the long run.”

According to reports, Micro-soft has stepped up its activities amongst the channel commu-nity and is holding closed-door meetings and training sessions. While training sessions were unheard of a year back, the Linux challenge has increased the interactions to as frequent as once a quarter and partners are being trained extensively on training support tips. It has also been seeking feedback from the community, which is implemented diligently.

Not to be left behind some PC vendors–eSys and more recently IBM–have drawn up their plans to promote Linux in a big way. While eSys has chalked out plans to roll out a training initiative and is con-sidering bundling Linux-based applications like games with their PC, IBM has also unveiled a Linux-promotion plan in the US. In fact, the IBM plan descri-bes Linux as a nine-year-old child who absorbs knowledge from the world around and shares it with everyone to benefit mankind.

While all agree that there is nothing amiss with Linux as an OS, what the nine-year-old req-uires is just the promotion by vendors to popularize it amo-ngst users–perhaps a lesson from Microsoft’s awareness campaign might be of great use.

Balaka Baruah Aggarwal


Read the Next Article