gOS: A wake up call for Freedomware marketing
Think gOS. It might not be such a bad advice after all. It's been hyped up, but it sold out. And there may be lessons in its deployment and success for all of us Free Software and GNU/Linux advocates!
First of all, what is gOS? Well, it is a light operating system based on Ubuntu GNU/Linux. It uses a polished Enlightenment E17 GUI interface and integrates deeply with various web services and applications most of which are from Google. The "g" in gOS apparently stands for "green" which does make some sense considering that it can run on PCs that consume very little resources and hence essentially save up on energy, which is environment-friendly.
The gOS is sold pre-installed with Everex gPCs which were sold out through Wallmart. These PCs aren't very powerful machines either in terms of hardware, and that was obviously intentional. A gPC with a gOS is not supposed to be a computing power house all by itself. It is meant to be used merely as a front-end to the applications that reside on the web. As such, gPC is an embodiment of this new trendy idea of Web 2.0 computing - it is a thin client to the web - where the real computing happens, from Office work, storage to all the other things we commonly do on the internet - which is, to be honest, most of what people do on their computers these days. A computer is increasingly seen as just that, merely a window to the internet.
But there is a problem, at least from the point of view of those who, while recognizing this trend also recognize the new threats this poses to our basic freedoms, ones because of which Free Software movement exists in the first place. Who is hosting the applications we are increasingly using? Who is controlling the source and through it our private data? How can we trust Google? How can we trust any central entity with our computing activities and our data, an entity which is at that a private profit-driven, shareholder pressured public company?
The gPC with its gOS may be a very nice idea in itself, but the fact that it encourages people to become dependent on applications which are essentially proprietary with their data hosted in a centralized fashion. We don't even have to mention that gOS includes certain proprietary programs in its own installation. Perhaps this is a nice idea done the wrong way, at least when you think about the deeper and more long term implications.
This considered, I can't escape the thought that something like this could have or could be done, with perhaps same or similar success, in a way that wouldn't promote such dependence. It can't be hard to make a PC like the gPC and it can't be hard to make an operating system based on Ubuntu and around a light window manager like Enlightenment E17. All of this is fairly easy.
Where the difficulties begin is where I suggest differentiation. Instead of integrating with centralized proprietary web applications like ones by Google we should provide the integration which wont result in such potential lock-in. So instead of Google Docs, our libreOS should integrate with a web based office suit which is fully Free Software and supports an OpenDocument standard, for a one good example.
What makes a difference here is the same thing that makes Jabber different from ICQ, MSN and other such proprietary IM services. It is Free Software, can be deployed by anyone and is completely decentralized. That is what we should be going for.
But there is one more thing, which concludes to the main point of this article. We can learn something from gOS, but it is not just about what not to do in terms of long term consequences we believe in avoiding (tied to including or referencing proprietary centralized offerings), but also about how to do marketing right. Just look at the gOS web site. Clean, simple yet attractive design with consistent colours and compelling branding - calling you to discover something new and exciting - enticing your curiosity. What does it remind you off? Yes, Apple. There is no doubt in my mind that, while we can judge them on their closed and proprietary nature, we can learn a lot from them about how to do good marketing. Don't worry, it IS possible to learn good marketing from Apple, and indeed gOS, without rubbing off some of their closed nature on to your own project.
And that is the key point I want to make. Among the key things that Free Software today lacks from the point of view of those who seek to increase its adoption is good marketing. There is nothing wrong in marketing freedom. Who says that just because we are talking about promoting some ethical values and freedom it automatically isn't something that can be honestly and ethically promoted through that old capitalist method: marketing? Why does it always have to be activism?
If there is a product. If there is a service. If there is an idea. Even if it is about freedom, in a world which responds most to marketing - that is exactly the way to bring it to the people, to the masses. It's a method that is staring us in the face. It's time to stop judging it off and learn how to use it!
Now, if you are a developer who is enthusiastic about doing something that would help promote Free Software far and wide, consider a new project: gOS with no proprietary software and no references to centralized proprietary applications. Oh and of course, a different name - a short easy to remember excitement inspiring name. Not like gNewSense. Yes. I did say that.
Think about marketing your Freedomware if you care to bring the masses to the equation, or find someone who can!
- "It's not the internet anymore" by Olivier Cleynen
Note: The logo attached is just a quick illustration of a logo that could be used for a hypothetical libre.OS, which would be the gOS alternative I describe. I like designing logos like this, so I put it in as "concept art" if you will. ;)