Linux: The Brand

Posted in Free and Open Source Software, Politics, Ubuntu on March 16th, 2009 by doctormo

If you haven’t yet, catch some of these videos that were entered into the Linux Foundation’s competition.

Despite how great some of these videos are, I do have a problem with the way ‘Linux’ the brand is used. This post won’t win me many friends, we’re all very invested in the current Linux brand. But I argue that has to change:

When Gnu was starting out, it was a dedicated project with a wide set of aims, but it’s brand got trampled by the ambiguity of the platform and the lack of understanding about what it actually means for users. So instead when the project was joined into complete systems with the Linux kernel, the result was just called Linux (much to Stallman’s chagrin).

Then as time went on, Linux became the interchangeable name for the generic ‘platform’ we use as an operating system. Even the Tux pengiun was used on hardware boxes and games that supported certain distros.

Now it’s time the Linux brand got trampled to death too. The term is ambiguous and unhelpful when you use it outside of the programming and sys-admin industries. OK so we love having a single banner to fly and Linux is a very successful kernel project. But it’s not good to advocate with a conversation that starts off with a lie, that this system your using is Linux. Because then you’ll be constantly trying to explain why Linux doesn’t work here, but does work there, doesn’t do that, except when it does over there. It’s not a coherent system like the name’s use suggests.

I think we should be more specific and say what we mean:

  • Linux – The Kernel project
  • FOSS – The Philosophies that underpin the creation of software
  • Ubuntu, Fedora – The Operating Systems

not-linuxWe can’t use specific names for the platforms, because there is no such thing. The Linux kernel with the BusyBox tools and Java meddley on a locked down G1 phone is not the same platform as Debian. The fact that you can mix and match makes it very difficult to brand everything the same. I’d use the LSB as a platform name, if they had a good enough brand name that wasn’t so confusing. Or perhaps FDO is useful as a platform name? (f.d.o, freedesktop.org).

So what do I do when I advocate for my LoCo? I promote Ubuntu, I say that it is Ubuntu, a Debian based Operating System just as good as Windows. If they wonder how it’s made, I go into FOSS, if they need help I show them the communities they can join. What I don’t do is say it’s ‘Linux’, why bother? I might just as well call it ‘gnome’.

If your thinking of making a video, I think you should promote FOSS. It’s the social ideas that lead to change and FOSS needs much explaining. Give examples in your distro of choice, in Firefox, in OpenOffice or even OpenLDAP or Apache. If you want to promote a replacement for Windows, then promote your distro of choice and be happy that your marketing will be much more tightly focused and less ambiguous.