In a piece about the market share of Ubuntu outside the United States, Christopher Dawson writes about the innovation that is going on using Linux outside our borders. Since his pieces tend to highlight education, I sometimes discount what he says as being from a too narrow viewpoint, but after reflection, and some other digging, I see that it is perhaps the rest of us that are incorrect in our world vision.

His article was written as rebuttal to another piece by another writer on ZDNet, wondering if Ubuntu would ever get beyond minor player status in the world. That article painted a fairly dim picture of Ubuntu’s chances, but I think that it might have been a result of a narrow view of someone writing from a big business perspective.

Mr. Dawson puts forth his point about the massive adoption of Ubuntu in China, though the large amount of piracy, and otherwise extremely low pricing of Windows there, might seem to favor the Microsoft operating system.

This leads to a question. Why, in a country, where there is little chance of prosecution for using a pirate copy of Windows, and if conscience attacks, a legit copy is a paltry 3 bucks, why is Ubuntu market share, along with other varieties of Linux, growing?

While Dana’s post specifically addressed Ubuntu, he might as well have been asking if Linux would always be a marginal player on the desktop. If I have learned nothing else by attending the Classmate Eco System Summit it’s that there are a lot of people outside the United States doing a lot of incredibly innovative things in education and that many of them are doing it cheaply with Linux.

So-called “emerging markets” (which, at this rate, won’t be emerging for long, and will quickly become “overtaking markets”) are rolling out a variety of operating systems and engaging in really progressive learning models. Worldwide, there are 13 million active Ubuntu users with use growing faster than any other distribution. Check out these trends from Google gauging online interest (with breakdowns by region).

later in the same article –

In China, Ubuntu is gaining traction quickly since, due to rampant piracy, Windows is essentially free in that country. New users are choosing operating systems based on merit rather than price, since price is largely irrelevant in that market.

Does this make you think we might be a bit too MS-centric in our thoughts? Perhaps it is time to overcome the inertia, and begin to force ourselves to learn another operating system, and the major software that comes with it. Not because it is cheap, and not because it is a statement about many of Microsoft’s policies (though it can be both, if you want it to), but because the freeing effect of being able to choose of an entire world of unknown software, much of which has been ported from long used solutions in the Unix world. Remember, Unix was designed by a lot of intelligent people, with no deadlines, no cost restraints, and no corners cut.

Some of the software floating around is not new, and has twenty or more years of being polished, as it was developed for Unix, and simply recompiled for Linux. twenty years is longer than Windows (as anyone would recognize it) has been around.

When you choose software for Linux, or the BSD distributions, you choose it because it does, or can be easily made, to do what you want it to, not because it’s all that is available, or it happens to fit within your budget.

Many who read this will say that gaming is what keeps them from using something other than Windows. I understand. However, there are companies (id software) that make Linux binaries available. No, there are not many, but if you buy what there is, and request more, the developer dollars will follow.  I’m certain that developers would much rather develop in an atmosphere that tends to be stable, and not be locked in to Microsoft’s idea of the month.

The drivers are also a problem, but work is underway to get the best drivers for nVidia and ATi. Other peripherals can be made available, by using either choices where appropriate drivers from the manufacturer are available, or generic drivers work satisfactorily. USB has made all of this much easier, so progress is much faster between new product and the development of a proper Linux driver.

Another thing that will change things is dropping the idea that everything about free operating systems also must be free. If we can get a mentality among the users, and the suppliers, that a good driver at a fair price would sell that many more (printers, scanners, cameras, … whatever), the driver problem could be cured. Actually, I’m surprised that there is not a shareware market for drivers and other operating system ‘splints’. It could make a large difference quickly.

If I can be allowed up on the soapbox for a moment – the shutting down of many repositories, and their mirrors, has had a deleterious effect on the spread of many types of software. It would seem that the internet would have made it all easier, but in many ways, it was easier in the time of 28.8k modems and BBSs. New and different software was found in places with names like Walnut Creek, Simtel, and Channel 1. Once logged in, the world was your oyster. The development of Google has made lots of searches easier, but searches for software are not one of them. Simply because there is not nearly the amount of software to be found. Perhaps it is different in other countries – if it is, someone please,  let me know.

Ubuntu, Fedora, SuSE, and Mandriva (formerly Mandrake), are all distributions that work without problems if you give it a little effort. Reverting to the ideas that a little wonder, some accumulated knowledge, and a little time is necessary to get the best results when computing. (Pleasing the lowest common denominator might be good for the LCD, but not anyone above that level.)

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