What's "Linux on the Desktop" Mean, When We Don't Know What a Desktop Is, Anymore?

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Most computer users don't think about the device manufacturers' point of view (they're called OEMs, for Original Equipment Manufacturers, though the abbreviation is often expanded to mean "anyone who messes with hardware"). Linux users might chafe at what they see as the"Windows tax"—that is, paying for a preloaded copy of Windows that's immediately discarded after purchase—but, Zemlin explained in an interview later on Friday, few recognize that the included software represents a third of the cost of a PC. "The OEMs in Taipai love Linux,"he said. "It shaves $30 off the BOM [bill of materials, i.e. the product cost]." Even when an OEM doesn't make Linux available, he added, it's a legitimate topic for price negotiations, "a toehold that actually succeeds."

Nor is this only about operating systems and the software that a company will stuff onto your new notebook computer. It used to be that you got most of your applications directly from indpendent software vendors (ISVs) and that hardware vendors were completely uninvolved in that transaction.

"The industry is going elsewhere," said Zemlin. "In the mobile phone industry, app stores are changing the ways money changes hands." The application vendor is giving 30% of its sales to the OEMs, who control what is made available. It's a huge linchpin, said Zemlin, with the OS provider making all its money on the app store fees and controlling what applications go on or off their platform. That's going to change the way that PCs work, he believes — and not just in phones.

"Free phones made mobile phones take off," Zemlin pointed out, making the intermediaries more powerful. The providers gave away the phones because they made money over the customer's contract. And, he believes, that same model may happen with PCs too. (See Linux exec: Personal computers will be free like phones.) And when an OEM can control its own destiny, Linux looks mighty fine indeed. In any of these scenarios, "Linux is perfectly suited because you don't necessarily have to pay royalties,"he said. All the players realize they need to address this new dynamic, and "They are not locked into a Redmond brand."

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