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SEUL: Commercial port advocacy howto draft
Here's the 2nd draft of this. This draft and the first were sent to
seul-dev-apps, which seemed to me to be the place to discuss it, but
Roger suggested that I place it here too. I've incorporated some
changes and additions suggested by Roger in this second draft.
This is my first try at writing a howto, so you'll have to allow me a
little leeway if this doesn't seem up to the normal standards of such
things. With your help, we can refine this to address all the questions
and caveats people will undoubtedly have about this attempt. You can
send any comments about this to email@example.com.
WHY WRITE THIS?
I read over all the other advocacy howtos for Linux that I could find
(I've listed them in the resource section at the end). They were almost
all addressed to convincing end users (either business or personal) that
Linux could meet their needs on a day-to-day basis. That's a very
useful thing to do, but it wasn't what I was looking for. Only the Linux
Advocacy Project came close to what I was looking for, and it didn't
quite cover what I wanted. I wanted something that would help me
approach organizations making software for other platforms and convince
them to port their works to Linux. Since I couldn't find any howto
concerning that, at the urging of a few others here at SEUL I decided to
In this howto I'll cover how to approach software companies and what
arguments may be most effective in convincing them to port their
programs to Linux. I won't talk about trying to convince them to
release their Linux ports under open source licenses. While that might
be a good idea, I think these things should be done in small steps.
Advocating a port to another OS is much more likely to meet with
interest than advocating "giving away" product.
HOW TO CHOOSE COMPANIES TO APPROACH
First, you need to identify an area where Linux is deficient in
programs. I wouldn't try to convince any company to port their web
server to Linux. There are plenty of such programs available. I'd much
rather use my time trying to convince companies to port games or
kindergarten through 12th grade educational programs to Linux, as
there's very little of those types available (none in the educational
area, so far as I know).
Second, you need to identify companies that are most likely to be
interested. I have no hard evidence of this, but I strongly suspect
that your efforts will meet more success if you concentrate on
second-tier companies rather than on market leaders in your chosen
category. I doubt that Disney or Davidson and Co. would consider
porting their educational programs nearly as quickly as say, Soleil
Software or Ohio-Distinctive. Also, if a company provides its software
for both Windows and Macintosh currently, it may be more likely to
consider supporting yet another OS than one that is exclusive to the
Windows or Mac world. If all the companies in your target category are
Windows or Macintosh exclusive I'd try the Mac shops first, as a Linux
port would give them a much greater market expansion (on a percentage
basis) than it would a Windows-only company.
THE ART OF COLD CONTACTING
What you will be doing is known in the fund-raising business as "cold
contacting." This means that your "target" company won't have known
that you'll be contacting it, and won't have been primed to hear your
message. A 1% response rate is considered normal. You should be able
to do better than that.
In a sense all target companies will be slightly primed to hear about
Linux due to the remarkable amount of publicity it's been getting of
late. In that respect your contact won't be completely cold. That's
The first thing to do is to identify someone in the company to contact.
It's always best (if possible) to identify an actual individual rather
than a job title. Depending on the size of the company and its
organizational structure, your best bet is the head of program
development. If that isn't a possibility, try for the head of whatever
technical section the company may have. If _that_ isn't possible, read
over whatever bios might be available in the "about the company" section
of the company's web site (they almost all have something like this)
and pick the person who seems most likely to be intrigued by Linux and
to become an internal advocate for a Linux port. Finally, if none of the
above things works try contacting the head of the company.
Incidentally, it won't hurt to contact more than one person in the
company if your bio research shows somebody other than the head of
program development as the most likely person to be interested.
Your initial contact should probably be via email. First, email usually
goes directly to the person addressed rather than being filtered through
various layers of the organization as postal mail and telephone calls
are. Second, with email everyone starts equal. Physical presentation
and elocution don't enter into the contact, so the logic of the message
may be more apparent.
The subject of your message should be understated. "Make Millions
Easily!" will just get your message deleted as spam. Try something like
"A good new market for your programs," or "An overlooked market for your
The first sentence in your message should probably be a conditional
apology for sending the message to the wrong person if the person
receiving it is the wrong person. The next sentence should request that
the message be forwarded to the right person and that that person's
email address be sent back to you for future contacts. This has a few
effects. The apology establishes that you're not a know-it-all and that
you are polite. The request reinforces the politeness and quietly lets
it be known that this won't be a one-time contact. That's important.
It's a lot easier to blow off a message if you don't think you'll ever
hear from the writer again.
That brings up another point. If things work out right, you won't be
making just a one-time contact with this company. You will be signing
up to be an outside contact for them, a source of information about
things Linux. As such, there are some guidelines to follow in all your
contacts. Be polite. Be patient. Be truthful. Be helpful. Stay
apart from internal politics.
Be polite means responding civilly to all messages, even if you consider
them insulting or moronic. Remember, "A soft answer turneth away
wrath." Besides, it's just possible that you may have misunderstood
the message. Asking for a restatement of the message to clear up its
meaning can't hurt.
Be patient means answering what you consider obvious questions calmly
and clearly, and answering them as many times as necessary. Email isn't
real-time; you can take a jog around to block to cool down before
answering yet another, "But doesn't a Linux port mean we'd be expected
to give our products away?" message.
Be truthful means answering each question to the best of your ability,
and saying "I don't know" when that's the correct answer. However, "I
don't know" is only the first part of that answer; "but I'll find out
and get back to you" is the rest of it.
Be helpful means going beyond just answering the immediate question and
trying to address the reasons the question was asked. For example, one
company asked me how it could publicize the existence of a Linux port if
it did one. I mentioned the standard places (comp.os.linux.announce,
Linux Weekly News, Freshmeat, Slashdot, Linux Journal). Then I brought
the question up in the seul-dev-apps mailing list. The discussion there
eventually started the development of the lu-news system
Stay apart from internal politics means keeping a little distance
between yourself and your company contact. However friendly your
exchanges are, your role shouldn't be one of confidante but one of
outside expert and advocate. You won't force the company into
supporting Linux. You can only make sure they know about the
opportunity and help them find the best way to take advantage of it.
WHAT TO SAY
Okay, enough about what tone to adopt. What do you _say_ to convince
them that the Linux community is worth porting for? Here's what I did.
First, I explained as well as I could just who the Linux community is,
and why Linux users would be a receptive group for my target company's
products. I very carefully didn't exaggerate, and made sure that I
explained when my figures were estimates rather than hard numbers. If
SEUL's research questionnaire is a big success, we may be able to get
the hard numbers we need for market demographics, but till then we have
to do our best.
Next I explained why I thought the Linux market would be good for the
company to enter.
Then I laid out the ways in which the company's current program line
could be ported to Linux. I must say that I lean toward using Abacus
Research & Development Inc. (ARDI) <http://www.ardi.com> Executor
technology as a "wrapper" for Macintosh binaries as the easiest and
quickest way to do that, but WINE <http://www.winehq.com>, the TWIN
library <http://www.willows.com>, and possibly the McClone library
<http://www.gate.net/~mclinux/mcclone.html> are all possible tools to
help move programs to Linux without full-blown ports. Incidentally, I
cleared my letter with ARDI before I mentioned any action that their
engineers might be able to take for the company. You would lose
credibility if the target company acted on your recommendation,
contacted someone like ARDI, and was essentially told, "We don't know
what you're talking about."
Finally, I ended with a personal note on why I was trying to convince
the company to port to Linux. Here's a copy of my standard letter;
don't copy it word for word, but feel free to adapt its organization if
MY STANDARD CONTACT MESSAGE
Dear Sir or Madam:
If I've sent this to the wrong address in your organization, I
apologize; could you please forward it to the appropriate
person? And could you let me know who that appropriate person is
so I can direct future communications to him or her? Thank you.
I know that [insert company name here] has fine educational
software programs for both the Macintosh and Windows PCs.
However, I'd like to speak on behalf of a computer community that
has heretofore been overlooked by the entire educational software
industry; the Linux community. I'd also like to call your
attention to porting tools that can make moving Windows and
especially Macintosh software to Linux nearly trivial.
Linux is the fastest-rising operating system in existence.
Although it isn't possible to give exact numbers of Linux users
(the operating system is freely downloadable from the internet),
the best estimates put the numbers at 6-7 million worldwide.
That's more than the worldwide total of OS/2 users and is near
(if not more than) the number of Macintosh users. In addition,
these numbers should probably be in some part subtracted from the
Windows and Macintosh user figures, as almost all of the
computers Linux is used on initially had Windows or MacOS
Just who are these Linux users? They are primarily male,
technically educated, and in their early twenties. The first two
traits are more standard than the last; Linux users range from
the teens to probably the mid-40s in age. (I'm 45, so I had to
extend the range at least that far.) This is a prime demographic
for the educational software market. These are people who
generally have or will soon move into well-paying jobs in
technical fields, and who are often just starting families.
Linux users are usually not very patient with MacOS or Windows,
and so tend not to see or to consider software offerings for
those operating systems.
To the best of my knowledge, there are currently _zero_
educational software programs available for Linux. While many
Linux users will write their own programs if they can't find
anything to fit their needs, that has so far not been the case
with educational software. This may be because Linux only
originated in 1991, and has only experienced explosive growth in
the last 2-3 years. The market is completely open.
This has only recently been noticed by the Linux community.
As more of us have young children, the awareness of the need for
educational software for Linux is growing. I'm sure it will only
be a matter of time till someone begins to address this need.
What is the easiest, most cost-effective way to enter this
market? It's certainly not impossible to start from source code
and rewrite the operating-system-specific routines to work with
Linux. That's what many Macintosh ISVs did when they wanted to
enter the Windows market. However, there are easier ways.
There are "wrapper" programs available for both Windows and
Macintosh programs, which enable them to run on Linux without
having to be rewritten extensively. For Windows, there is the
TWIN library from Willows Software <http://www.willows.com>. I
don't have any direct experience with TWIN, but the Willows
website gets quite specific on what Windows routines move across
cleanly and what ones need some touch up.
For Macintosh programs, Abacus Research & Development, Inc.
(ARDI <http://www.ardi.com/>) has rewritten a substantial
fraction of the Macintosh OS and toolbox routines, and makes this
technology available in two different ways. Executor is
available both as a Macintosh emulator for end-users and as a
porting tool for Mac ISVs. Executor is available for Linux, DOS
and Windows. A demo of Executor for Linux is included on the Red
Hat 5.1 Linux distribution, the most popular commercial
distribution. The engineers at ARDI are fluent in Macintosh and
Linux and can evaluate how hard it would be to make a Linux
version of your Macintosh software. In many cases it can be done
without your needing to change a single line of code. A Linux
version of your program created in this way can easily fit on the
same CD-ROM as your Mac and Windows executables, thereby giving
you a three-OS program on one SKU. The expenditure required to
open up this potentially lucrative new market is relatively
minor; certainly much lower than the cost of the ports many
companies made in expanding from the Mac-only market into the
Windows and Mac market.
Finally, a personal note. The reason I'm moved to write to
you proposing that you enter the Linux educational software
market is my 6-year-old son. I run Linux because I can't in good
conscience support Microsoft in any way, and because I don't care
for Apple's extremely proprietary hardware and software. If
there were good educational software available for Linux, I'd
snap it up. I know I'm not alone; I've heard from other parents
every time I've mentioned the problem in various Linux forums.
There's a market out here waiting to buy your product. Please
don't disappoint us.
THE FINAL INSPIRATIONAL MESSAGE
If you decide to take a turn at advocating commercial software ports to
Linux, remember that in so doing you're not acting as merely one
individual, but as a representative of our entire community. I know
we're more honest than Microsoft; I like to think we're less
self-satisfied than Apple; I hope we're more generous in helping other
users in need than any of the other user communities. Show those
qualities to the companies you contact--honesty, humility, and
helpfulness--and you stand a good chance of being successful.
Here is the list of other advocacy documents I looked through before I
decided to write this one. While they didn't cover the aspect of Linux
advocacy I was looking for, they are well worth your time to read
through. They have a lot of good advice on how to be an effective
ambassador to the non-Linuxen out there.
Linux Advocacy Project <http://www.10mb.com/linux/>
Linux Advocacy mini-HOWTO
Why Linux? <http://www.seul.org/docs/whylinux.html>
Why Linux? <http://www.mwsoftware.com/linux/whylinux.html>
Why use Linux? <http://www.croftj.net/~goob/local/why.html>
[No Title] <http://www.flash.net/~landley/linux/index.htm>
Linux FUD Factor
Linux Myth Dispeller
Four Phases of Linux Acceptance
To use, or not to use? <http://www.linuxos.org/Why-Linux.html>
Linux Compared to Other OSs
Doug Loss My sources are unreliable, but
Data Network Coordinator their information is fascinating.
Bloomsburg University Ashleigh Brilliant