Why Linux Doesn’t Spread – the Curse of Being Free


Linux isn’t very popular on the desktop. It’s a far third behind OS X, which is a very far second behind Windows. Most people cite pre-installed operating systems as the reason. But as a student of psychology, I see something most people don’t. There’s one big factor in why Linux isn’t popular on the desktop. Linux is free. I know this sounds like complete dog’s bollocks, but hear me out before judging my sanity.
We can all remember the story of Tom Sawyer. At one point, Tom had to whitewash a fence. When one of his friends happened along, Tom tried to persuade and bribe the friend to help him. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
A few moments later, as Tom was unhappily whitewashing the fence, another friend stumbled along to jeer at Tom’s misfortune. This time Tom decided on a cunning plan. He ignored the friend, and seemed very absorbed in the whitewashing. Soon the friend became intrigued, because what could be more interesting than talking to a friend? Shortly thereafter, he started begging Tom to let him whitewash a bit of the fence. Tom wouldn’t give in.
The friend offered Tom some of his most valuable possessions if Tom would just let him whitewash a little bit. Tom reluctantly agreed, secretly jumping with joy on the inside. More friends happened along, coming to laugh at Tom for having to whitewash a fence. Tom simply did his act, and they all stayed to help whitewash, and paid for the privilege!
The above story illustrates a basic human nature. We don’t value things we can get easily. Yet we’d climb mountains, cross rivers and travel across deserts just to reach something we can’t easily get our hands on.

The computer world

The same thing applies in the world of computers. Humans are naturally suspicious of that which comes too easily. Imagine you were promoting an expensive brand of champagne. If you were running around forcing free samples into people’s hands, they would be very wary. But if you set up a stand where you would offer small samples for $10 each (“Special promotional price! Normally costs three times as much!”), people would see your champagne as posh and valuable.
It’s still the same champagne. Yet your presentation radically changes people’s perception of it.
Which brings me to Linux. There’s one problem with Linux getting to new users. It’s free.
That’s right. Linux being free is a problem in reaching new customers.

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