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Despite Microsoft, Desktop Linux Begins to Take Hold in Japan

What country has the second largest PC market? From the headline, astute readers will correctly identify Japan. This diminutive island trails behind only the United States in PC sales, making it an important market for desktop Linux. Japanese was the 1st language we did a complete translation to after completing our native English version. (Linspire has about 50 language modules, but a complete translation covers every aspect from the installer to multimedia training tutorials.)

To bring Linspire to Japan, we've partnered with Livedoor - an accomplished Japanese company and despite Microsoft's actions to block us, we launched our product last year. Livedoor, formerly called Edge, has a track record of successfully importing technology products from the West. They're probably best known for developing and marketing the popular Eudora email program in Japan. Since then, they have gone public and greatly expanded their technology lineup. They are not simply a distributor, they actually play a vital role in the translation and development process. Livedoor typically has 2 or 3 developers here in San Diego at any one time, assisting us in adding features and fine-tuning the product to help it succeed in Japan.

Get Linspire in Japanese
Microsoft recognizes the importance of Japan and threw up some roadblocks, which we had to overcome. Two days before our press conference in Tokyo announcing the product, we got news that Microsoft had called the landlord and threatened a lawsuit if they allowed our press event to take place at their premises. We had to scramble to find another location, which actually worked out well. The new venue was larger, which we needed to accommodate the standing-room-only crowd of reporters. It was clear from that first meeting that Japan is hungry for choice on the desktop. Online e-commerce is not nearly as popular in Japan as in the US, so a lot of the Linspire sales there take place in retail stores. It's a constant battle to keep products on store shelves and positioned prominently though, because we have been told Microsoft uses its weight to "encourage" retailers to not carry our products.

Students in Japan using Linspire
Livedoor does all the traditional work you would expect from a distribution partner, but most importantly they help grow a new crop of Linux young people. Traditionally, a distribution relationship deals solely with tasks such as package design, building reseller channels and providing local support. Livedoor does all of those tasks, but they also discover new opportunities to deploy Linux. In schools, they've used the low-cost of Linspire to enable more PCs for students. The Japanese schools insisted that the students be able to use a few Microsoft Windows-based programs, even though they didn't want to put Microsoft Windows on all of the computers. So Livedoor, along with some help from NeTraverse, used LinspireLive!-powered web stations and a Win4Lin terminal server to get students access to the necessary MS Windows applications, while managing to meet their budget.

If you'd like to experience a Japanese Linux desktop, you can download for free our CD based product based on LinspireLive! which goes by the name "LindowsCD Japanese" in Japan. The Japanese version will shutdown after 15 minutes, but a full version is available from Livedoor. We're making the Japanese, English and brand new Spanish version of LinspireLive! all available as a free download via BitTorrent. So try it today!

-- Michael
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