Proposal for a product innovation
This is the shortened translated version of an originally German document which can be found at http://www.hauke-laging.de/ideen/rechnerspezifische_linuxdistribution/konzept.html
Version 1.2/1.7, 20.06.2005Hauke Laging, Berlin, Germany, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
target groups, price range, revenue, distribution
The aim of this proposal is to reach new customer segmenty by very little technical modifications of the available distributions (removing (nearly) all selection possibilities) and clever marketing. The innovation would be an adapted version of the distribution for certain (very widespread) PC configurations.
Among the important reasons which prevent Windows users from switching to Linux are:
lack of knowledge or interest, dependencies of certain software
Concerns about the complexity of the installation and the compatibility with certain hardware
Most users with very low technical competence do not feel to be part of Linux' target groups.
This proposal shall solve the points 2 and 3.
The buyer of a PC which is sold in high volumes in identical configuration (who is probably not a real IT expert and as such not a member of today's Linux target groups) shall be offered a version of the Linux distribution which recognized his PC. This version could be installed "idiot-proofly" - insert the CD/DVD, press enter and come back in an hour. This installation procedure would have the "complexity" of a Windows recovery CD (at most).
The standard distribution could be extended by a mechanism which checks for the availability of certain configuration files (at least similar features already exist for some if not all distributions). These configuration files would contain all necessary information about the hardware and the software selection. The only requirement would be enough free space on the harddisk (a rather theoretical problem considering today's PCs' capacities and the storage requirements of current Linux installations).
It would make sense to offer a mechanism which stores the necessary configuration files only on another data medium so that interested people can download them. During booting the user could be asked for such a data medium.
An alternative would be to offer a small CD image which would just boot Linux (a kernel suitable for this certain hardware configuration, this a quite small one), start the (modified) installation program with the respective configuration files and then ask for the normal installation media for continueing. Very idiot-proof.
The (technically) most simple solution is probably to adapt the normal media (the respective configuration files). It is possible to put several configurations on one medium. During booting it would be checked if the PC has the correct configuration (one of the supported). If not (or if requested) then the normal installation program would be started.
Am einfachsten dürfte es sein, einfach die Standard-DVD anzupassen (mit der jeweiligen Konfigurationsdatei). Beim Start würde dann geprüft, ob es sich auch um einen entsprechenden Rechner handelt. Wenn nicht (und auf Wunsch), würde die normale Installationsroutine gestartet. Bei der Gelegenheit könnte man die aktuellen Patches mit reinnehmen. When creating new distribution media anyway it would be easy to include the new patches.
This option could be reasonably offered as an alternative only because it is not (really) suitable for download.
If a PC configuration is sold in high volume but contains components which (can) cause problems then this configuration should not be covered by this offer. Alternatively those components could simply be left out in the confuguration.
It must be considered if such an offer should include PCs which are delivered with a recovery CD/DVD only which would destroy the Linux installation. This problem could be solved - enough free space on the hard disk given - by adding this recovery feature to the Linux installation (a simple compressed dd backup).
The given software configuration would install Linux with support for the known components only and should avaoid any hardware detection beyond that during installation in order to obey the "insert - works" principle. It is questionable if the normal hardware detection during each booting should be disabled as otherwise those effects which shall be avoided (zero user dependency) were just postponed a few minutes. Hardware detection should be activated at explicit demand only (could be selected in the boot menu).
These versions of the distribution have the problem of rather small runs, several hundred up to a few thousand. On the other hand the work of creating the necessary configuration files for a given hardware configuration should not be much. Furthermore it makes sense to assume that the installation-related support costs decrease dramatically.
The target group were those technically not very competent people who could not be reached by "normal" Linux distributions for quite a while. For this reason rather small runs and the necessary work seem even more acceptable because these sales would increase the Linux market as a whole.
These distribution channels are possible:
shipping with the PCs / offering the loader CDs in the shops
PC magazine CDs
offer images of the loader CDs for download
deliver by mail
Due to the treaties with Microsoft the best option (shipping with the PCs / offering the loader CDs in the shops) is usually not possible.
With respect to the magazine CDs it is important that a loader CD could be filled with normal software without problems. The loader CD would need the boot area and just a few megabyte of space.
Without any problems the images of the loader CDs could be offered for downloading. But it is questionable which share of the target group would download the image and burn it onto a CD. Most downloads would probably done by experienced Linux users who want to help novices. You could object that in this case the new user does not have to buy the distribution. That is correct but there is no reason to assume that this effect is bigger in this special situation than otherwise.
The registered users could order the adapted medium or the loader CD for a small price.
The target group should be interested in this offer not right at the buy date only. It should be more important that this offer is for this special configuration. It should not make a big difference to the user if the offer is a few days or months old.
Thus it should make sense to offer loader CDs for all PC configurations of which many are expected to be in use yet. This means on the other hand that the loader CDs should be offered not only for one version of the distribution. It should be quite little work to adapt these configurations to newer versions of the distribution though.
How shall one get the information about the product to the potential customer? It seems quite probable that the press will explain this new product. In the future one should aim at getting the information about a new high volume PC early enough for a press release stating that a loader CD for this PC and the current (or next) version of the distribution will be available from a certain date on. Many magazines should mention that. Even if these news would be very small they might have the effect of getting used to it. I noticed that people got interested in Linux independently of the technical development just because they had heard that name again and again over two years.
If a potential customer is interested in the loader CD he certainly wants to know whether one exists for his PC. Thus a list of the supported models would have to be maintained on the WWW. It would make sense to offer a small Windows program for downloading which checks the hardware and looks for a suitable loader CD. This should be easily possible even for people without much knowledge.
Of course, every competitor can imitate this offering quite soon but it may be possible to get an advantage by the customers remembering the brand of the pioneer. Furthermore the pioneer would have the best contact to the press which certainly prefers to report innovations about reporting "me too" products. Thus it might happen that the press mentions the pioneer's support for a new high volume PC but not the other ones'.
The market size could turn out to be an effective barrier for competitors. There are probably not enough potential customers so that it would make sense for an competitor to invest work and money into a small share of them. A competitor would have to do more to make his product well known. This is not valid for experienced Linux users who use this feature to make other people use Linux, though.
In case of a big success this offer could be extended to smaller volume PC configurations.
If the tools for bulding the loader CDs are made available then probably several people - just the open source way - would create configuration files for other PCs. They might do this in order to make certain friends and aquaintances try Linux who have PCs which are not supported yet. If the creation of loader CD images were completely configuration file-based (without the involvement of executable code) then there should be no security risk. These third party configurations could be added to the official database (marked as third party, of course).
This refers to the normal distribution: It might be a good idea to solve certain support issues by providing suitable loader CD images. These could contain a new kernel, new drivers, installation-relevant patches and so on. For each version of the distribution there could be a current "support loader CD version". Downloading these images might be more comfortable for certain customers than fiddling about with kernel options and the like. The general rule "In case of such problems please try the current support loader CD first" could reduce support requests, too.