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I'd like a Chevy Cavalier

As you know, last week was the second annual Desktop Linux Summit, here in San Diego. Hundreds of people showed up from different continents to learn about the future of Desktop Linux. What is especially noteworthy though, was the convergence of great speakers and exhibitors.


A key element to the success of was the community contributions. Bands (from garage bands to super-famous rock stars) added information and MP3s to the site, providing appealing music in every genre. So when I got a peek at the Real Networks booth, I was very impressed with the direction they're taking with their open source Helix Player. By using the input of their own developers, and contributions from the open source community, Real is developing what looks like the beginning of a very cool video player.

Check out deviantART
The deviantART booth was one of the coolest booths I saw at the show. In addition to displaying some great looking art (their collection has more than five million pieces), one of the things that they were showing off was a new feature for Linspire. If you're a CNR member, you can now get deviantART wallpaper from CNR by adding the new "deviantART Wallpapers" plugin to your software browser (just open CNR, and click on "deviantART Wallpapers" under "Services").

At the Novell booth, I got a glimpse at the company's apparent intention to create a Microsoft Exchange replacement by combining technologies from Suse and Ximian (two companies recently bought by Novell). Seagate was showing off their newest Linux-loaded hard drives, while VIA was exhibiting some slick mini ITX motherboards (for use in form-factor and cube PCs). AMD's Athlon 64 also promises to help drive the next level of powerful computing. Sun showed a compelling demo on new desktop administration tools for making it easy to centrally manage an enterprise full of desktop Linux machines. And on the non-technical front, the lunchtime Emily Richards concert on Friday was a welcome surprise for everyone in attendance.

One of the most intriguing speeches at the show was Clay Christensen's talk on toppling large companies by using "disruptive technologies" to compete against non-consumption. For instance, solar-power won't soon defeat power companies in the U.S., as it won't meet all of our needs (especially on a cloudy day). In Mongolia though, small solar-powered TV sets sell extremely well because many residents don't have electricity. They don't care if clouds roll in and they lose power. Why? Because if it weren't for the solar-powered TV, they wouldn't have had television to begin with -- the solar TV was competing against non-consumption.

Find a low-cost Linspire PC
Keeping that in mind, it is interesting to note that in Latin America, computer use is not nearly as ubiquitous as it is in North America, in large part because computers are too expensive for many Latin American consumers. So when Elektra, a retail chain with more than 800 stores in Mexico, started selling very affordable computers running on Linspire, they found a lot of demand. These inexpensive PCs were competing against non-consumption by selling to people who otherwise would have been unable to buy computers. According to Elektra, since December 2003, and as of this month, that PC is the best-selling computer in Elektra stores, outselling all other computers Elektra offers with other operating systems. This bolstered another point that was apparent at the show -- Desktop Linux popularity is exploding internationally.

By now, you might be thinking "Hey Michael, what's with the weird title?" It comes from an interesting analogy that Doc Searls made in his speech at the Summit. A crowd favorite two years in a row, Doc identified where Linux should grow to capture the popular market. Comparing Linux to rental cars, he observed that when you rent a car, you can specify what kind you'd like. You may not get the model you want, but you'll get something comparable; interestingly, no matter what you specify, the Chevy Cavalier seems to be the equivalent. It won't please everybody all of the time, but it does the best job of pleasing most people, most of the time.

Get Lsongs: music software anyone can use
Our objective shouldn't be to build the Ferrari of operating systems. Sure Ferraris are nice, but they won't work as an equivalent replacement for most rental cars. While I think I would like to drive a Ferrari, if I take my family on vacation and the rental company tells me all they have left is a Ferrari, it wouldn't do me any good. The message that we in the Linux community should take away from this is that we should be striving to offer features that will be useful to the majority of the consumers, not just some really slick features that only a few people can use.

There were a bunch of great exhibitors and speakers (click here for some photos) at the Summit that I didn't mention here (not to mention our second annual Insiders' pizza party). If you want to make sure you don't miss anything next year, sign up to get on the Desktop Linux Summit mailing list now. And for those of you who will have to fly to San Diego to attend, remember to get a rental car (it just might be a Chevy Cavalier).

~ Michael

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