There’s a third part to the series of articles about building a distro that computer retailers could use to build PCs. I still don’t agree with running the project as a contest, as I’ve mentioned before, but I do think the idea in general is great. The project aims to develop not just a full distro in terms of the software that gets installed on the PC when initially setup, but also marketing materials, artwork, and apparently also software repository services. The article seems to indicate that under the concept of the Open Core of the home desktop distribution providers would now provide value added services. Currently distribution providers make self contained reasonably usable Linux systems. But the author says that the usable Linux system should be the baseline, and that disto providers should be adding something to this base. I can certainly agree with that point, but I think the arguments laid out are a bit fuzzy. I still have trouble picturing how this would unify the distribution providers. Sure, it would move the bar up, which is a good thing. It’s a step in the correct direction. But it’s not the complete solution I don’t think.
The article would almost seem to argue in favor of distributions providing services like Redhat Network, a service which Redhat has abandoned for all lines except the Enterprise editions. This was because the model just was not profitable for the other areas. Maybe there’s something in there that I missed, maybe coupling the update server with other services would make a difference. Most of the areas in which selling support for open source software seems to be profitable are the dual licensing model. Places where the product is free for non-commercial use, but must be paid for when used in a commercial offering. One example of this would be MySQL, who seem to be very successful with what they’re doing. Do I think pure support would be profitable for a company? No, I don’t think it would be. I just haven’t seen it work well before. Even companies like the former VA Research, who seemed to be aimed in this very direction, were able to make it work. And they seemed to have some very well informed backers and strong supporters. That’s not to say I don’t think a pure support play COULD never succeed, I just think the odds are stacked against it.
So what do these providers do? The article says:
To a small home-town white box builder or enthusiast who doesn’t have the resources to provide 24-hour customer support, remote automatic security, application updates, or comprehensive full-service warehousing of third-party commercial software application the resource would prove invaluable. Similarly, this core system might also offer content services such as LinTunes, LycPicks or XanPhony music download services. This is really only the beginning. The sky is the limit.
That’s a nice thought, but I don’t think it’s one supported by data from previous attempts. If I were a distro provider I would certainly be looking for a stronger argument for shifting my business. But lets assume that the core proposed here does develop, what can the distro providers do? I just don’t have a good answer for them. It’s probably something we should be thinking about if we do want to push Linux distribution in this direction. And I do think this is the direction we want. Hard questions are usually an indication that a solution is heading in the correct direction - they’re an indication that you’re treading new ground and not just shuffling around previous issues.