Linux wins, but Microsoft rules

CIOL Bureau
New Update

Over the last one-year a number of PC vendors have launched Linux-based PCs. As branded PC vendors tried desperately to bring down price barriers and fight the assemblers in their stronghold of competitive pricing, swearing by Linux became the name of the game.

While the Singapore-based distribution major and OEM supplier eSys is believed to have pioneered the paradigm shift of Linux-based desktops, the arrival of MNC players like HP-Compaq and IBM, as well as others has indeed crowded the market. With prices ranging from Rs 17,000 upwards, branded PC vendors have squarely taken assemblers in their home turf.

The action began sometime in October last year with eSys launching its PC followed by LG with its "MyPC" range. The tempo was picked up by biggies like HP-Compaq, HCL and IBM. But strangely, other then making their launch a public event, vendors have maintained a low profile with their Linux PCs.

Irrespective of that, the market lapped up the low priced PCs. Said Iris Computers Pvt Ltd Chairman and CEO, Sanjiv Krishen, "Linux-based PCs have found very good market acceptance. We have been pushing as much as 500 Linux-based desktops in the last few months as against our total sales of 2,000-3,000 PCs per month." Iris is one of the largest distributors of IBM and Compaq-HP in India.

Another top distributor, Tech-Pacific, echoes the sentiment. The company has been supplying around 1,500 Linux-based desktops for the consumer segment and 500 Linux-based PCs to the business segment per month. According to its Business Manager for HP PCs Mahadev Bhosle, "Tech-Pacific has had a very good response for the Linux-based machines, particularly in the home segment. Most PCs directed at the home segment come with WindowsXP that costs at least Rs 6,000 whereas the Linux OS can be downloaded free. Some of the Linux applications, however, come at a relatively small cost."

Does that means Linux-based PCs are here to stay for a long time? Ask eSys, which sells only Linux-based machines. The company is brimming with confidence and according to its MD and CEO for India operations, GS Paul, it is already selling 3,000 PCs and around 8,000-10,000 kits per month.

Offering PCs on Linux platform has helped vendors to cut costs drastically. Retail rates for Microsoft software at the desktop comes for as much as Rs 31,000 with the OS priced at Rs 9,500 and Office applications coming for Rs 21,000 plus taxes.


While vendors who have launched Linux-based PCs vouch for it and claim that the party has just begun, the ground reality might be somewhat different. Experts suggest the pirated Microsoft software may throw up a party pooper.

CNS investigation reveals that many a customer, who found the Linux-based machines attractive because of the price factor felt that it was not the same as a Microsoft loaded PC. So they did the next best thing and bought pirated copies of Microsoft software. While none of the vendors were willing to go on record, most of them said that they have long suspected such actions. They, however, declined to own responsibility of any such action by the users. "What customers do after buying a PC is their prerogative. We do not have much control over it," said one of the PC vendors.

While not all resellers agree that customers have been going for pirated software, many like the Delhi-based Shahji Jacob of Zion Computers, an IBM reseller who also assembles PCs suggest that customers have been going back to using Microsoft. "True, customers have responded well to the Linux-based IBM machines primarily because of the lower price-points but we have often seen customers coming back and asking for Microsoft licenses," he said adding that only 5-10 percent of his customers opt for Linux software in their PCs.

Such feedback is quite common amongst the reseller community. Most people said that customers either use old licenses of Windows 98 or Windows 95 or quietly pick up pirated software. According to Compro-Computers Director Pankaj Bandlish, "In reality nobody bothers about Linux OS as people simply go to the market and pick up pirated Microsoft because that’s what people are used to. What matters to them is that they get a branded PC at Rs 30,000, which is a very good deal."

There are others like Challenger Computers, OA Compuserve or MC Modi and Co who accept that customers have responded very well to the Linux-based machines but decline to comment on users reverting to Microsoft. Interestingly, a large number of resellers have denied customers coming back to them for Microsoft licenses. This in other words means that people are either using Linux as a desktop OS or are going in for pirated software.

However, it seems unlikely that consumers are actually using Linux as there has not been a corresponding increase in the demand for Linux among the assemblers.

Speaking to a number of small assemblers CNS found that retail or home consumers do not go for Linux. Although all of them have done some business in Linux, most says it has always been easier catering to institutions or tech-savvy engineering students.


What should the vendors do to have a smashing ‘Linux’ party? Experts suggest that creating awareness is the most critical factor and there is a dire need to familiarize consumers with Linux as an OS. While tech-savvy people are not scared to experiment, lay users find the unfamiliarity a huge stumbling block..

According to Open LX Director, Sudhir Gandotra, the PC vendors are themselves to be blamed for the situation as they have done precious little to promote Linux. According to him people who have long been exposed to the Microsoft OS, cannot take up Linux OS all of a sudden. "Applications on Linux platform are just as simple as on the Microsoft platform. One just needs to use it and see," Gandotra said. The company is a vendor of Linux-based applications.

Software resellers have lashed out at PC vendors. "Vendors have turned a blind eye as to what is going on in the market. They are also aware of it because they know that there is no support infrastructure for Linux. So the boys who go to install the PCs quietly slip a pirated copy of Microsoft," said Computer Vision Director Saket Kapoor.

Microsoft too has taken advantage of vendors’ lethargy in Linux promotion and has been raising the pitch about its tried and tested software. According to Microsoft, Senior Marketing Manager, Karthik Padmanabaih, "We have stepped up our activities amongst the channels educating them about the time and money spent on supporting Linux would tell on their profitability in the long run."

According to reports, Microsoft has stepped up its activities amongst the channel community and is holding closed-door meetings and training sessions. While training sessions were unheard of a year back, the Linux challenge has increased the interactions to as frequent as once a quarter and partners are being trained extensively on training support tips. It has also been seeking feedback from the community, which is implemented diligently.

Not to be left behind some PC vendors–eSys and more recently IBM–have drawn up their plans to promote Linux in a big way. While eSys has chalked out plans to roll out a training initiative and is considering bundling Linux-based applications like games with their PC, IBM has also unveiled a Linux-promotion plan in the US. In fact, the IBM plan describes Linux as a nine-year-old child who absorbs knowledge from the world around and shares it with everyone to benefit mankind.

While all agree that there is nothing amiss with Linux as an OS, what the nine-year-old requires is just the promotion by vendors to popularize it amongst users–perhaps a lesson from Microsoft’s awareness campaign might be of great use.