Worst-ahem-BestBuy has started to sell my favorite distro, and what I am using right now, Ubuntu for $20. To be clear, this is the same distro that can be downloaded for free. It is odd to see something like this during this day and age with the wide availability of broadband access. I mean 15 years ago, this would make a lot of sense as dial-ups were too slow to download the distro from the web. Should we scoff at those who spend money on something that is technically and legally free?
I think this is a good step in the right direction. There is some legitimacy to a shrink-wrap box for some consumers. It increases confidence in Linux and the idea that there is support with the package may help those who are in the realm of, “it should just work.” It is all not that dissimilar to what Redhat attempted about a decade ago on a more enterprise level. What you were paying for was not necessarily the software but more for technical support to ensure everything worked. Ubuntu is mature enough that I think it should be available to the masses for installation and you can let Windows tag along if you wish (Ununtu does a great job walking you through this process during installation).
Now the next question is, by binding a fix price to Ubuntu, will that price be perceived by a clueless consumer as a reflection of the quality of the software? In this day and age of “you get what you paid for,” will crap-ahem-Bestbuy consumers view this purchase as inferior to Windows? This one is a bit harder to gauge. I for one value the quality that goes into my purchases and am willing to pay for such efforts but with regards to software, that is a hit or miss statement. I mean with all the R&D that went into Microsoft Vista, can you honestly say that you are getting the best experience shelling hundreds of dollars to purchase the OS? But to those not in tech circles, Linux has a long history of “you are now free to render my computer useless.” This of course is no longer true but the perception that Windows just works and Linux is a tweaker’s dream is still relevant. I believe $20 is a great entry for those willing to try something different or about to upgrade their OS. It reduces the confusion of selecting a distro and allows the mainstream consumer to gently enter the world of Linux. I mean if someone went to the store to buy a copy of Windows and notice Ubuntu next to it for hundreds less, it will at least encourage that person to give the distro a hard look. For the sake of moms and pops of the world, I hope this succeeds.
There is a change in the air and it is exciting to have options for our computers. Apple realized that with their launch of OS X and now the maturity of Linux can be a viable option next to Windows. If anything, I hope it will fire up the competitive edge of Microsoft and force them to lean up and build practical features that we can actually use.