My readers have been telling me that they’ve missed my blog entries where I look into some of the ideas around why Free and Open Source systems fail to gain traction. Today I’ll be conjuring that almost trope, the ‘Chasm’ adoption curve.
Basically the curve describes how any new technology must cross a barren dessert called the chasm from 10% to 20% of market share in order to gain enough share for the adoption to have enough momentum to go on and conquer the whole market.1 Often in the FreeDesktop ecosystem we see our adoption curve being really, painfully unable to push adoption past 10% of any slice of the market.
The problem we have, I think, is that we fail to create enough compatibility with our “compliments”; also known as all those requirements for tasks we want to do with our computers. I wish to use this to illustrate on one hand a rationale for why pushes into the mainstream fail and why I think peripheral hardware compliments should be a priority for all FreeDesktop programmers.
Every advocate knows that it’s easier to get people who are determined to adopt a Linux based FreeDesktop system than it is to get a windows expert to adopt one. For simple reasons, a self determined user will either make the sacrifices or make the investments to get his compliments compatible. This determination can take the form of either programming upstream new drivers, creating new applications or even just using toxic workarounds to fix an issue that causes things to not work on a fresh install.
Advocates will also often tell you about how successful they’ve been in getting their grandmothers using their FreeDesktop distribution. In fact many of us suspect that Ubuntu and similar distributions are very ready for typical technological Laggards, more than we are ready for early adopters. I think this has much to do with Laggard’s low investment in compliments and subsequent low exceptions about what computers can do for them.
This illustration (right) attempts to show the people to whom our software can be used as an acceptable replacement. In order to improve this, we’d need to either a) improve the attractiveness of the platform to encourage sacrifice of compliments or b) systematically increase compatibility of compliments.
The job of Unity in the new Ubuntu system is to improve attractiveness. An important attribute for sure. But many cycles has gone with a failure to improve compatibility with hardware compliments and this has shown that the gamble for Canonical is that they can improve the attractiveness to such a degree that the sustained investment into compatibility will come from the hardware vendors themselves.
I believe this is a mis-calculation. The hardware vendors will only invest in our ecosystem, when we are attractive compliments to their products. But they aren’t going to invest in their old discontinued products, but only into their new products. This leaves the old products without support and it just so happens that a great number of our main-stream users have made investments into hardware and are not willing to simply buy new hardware just yet. in conclusion, I think we can count on hardware makers providing us with drivers eventually; but for as long as they are not, we should be investing in all their old product lines and making sure they work with our desktop distributions.
This is why I believe it is important that Red Hat and Canonical stop playing around and put money directly into hardware peripheral device support. Printers, scanners, drawing tablets and even phone syncing. Everything that would improve our ability to attract new users over the chasm, by removing the things they would have to sacrifice in order to join us.
What do you think?
1 For a given sense of market, markets can be sliced and diced into different metrics and general purpose computers can be diced quite a fair few ways. For instance the programmers market is fairly healthy.