Dear all OS vendors: Provide DVD images.
Seriously. Everybody you care about has a DVD burner. Everything has a DVD drive. Well, almost everything. Some older equipment might not, so yeah, you’ll have to keep the CD ISOs around. But I hate burning five discs when I could just burn one DVD. I hate keeping track of five discs when I could just keep track of one DVD. If customers don’t have a DVD drive, suggest that they spend $25 and get one.
Now, if you’re one of the vendors that doesn’t even provide ISOs to your customers, CD or DVD, here’s my message: die, die, die. Take IBM, for example. IBM, technology giant, hasn’t figured out that letting customers download AIX in ISO form will ease their support pain. Internet? What’s that? About three years ago I was part of a panel at an IBM function about software distribution. The only thing I wanted was ISOs. Here’s how that went:
“What would you most like to see improved about software distribution?”
“I’d like to see IBM follow Sun’s lead and let customers download ISO images of AIX.”
“Can you explain what an ISO image is?”
“Sure — the standard for a CD is ISO 9660. You can take a CD and make a file out of it, and it’s known as an ISO image, after the standard. You can use standard software tools to turn that file back into a working CD.”
“With your idea, how would customers get these files?”
“Um, they’d download them from your web site.”
“To make these CDs, what would people do?”
“They’d use a product like Roxio’s EZ CD Creator, or Nero, or any number of tools that can burn CDs.”
“What do you mean ‘burn CDs’?”
“Burning is the term for creating a new CD.”
“What if customers didn’t have this software?”
“Then they wouldn’t take advantage of this. However, nearly every tech has a CD burner in their desktop computer by now.”
“Does this require a special device?”
“Well, technically, yes, but nearly all PCs have been shipping with these devices for a few years now, including PCs from IBM.”
“We cannot require that people buy a device to use our OS.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that all your customers probably have all this equipment already and it’s much more convenient for them than waiting for your software people to ship a box of CDs to them.”
“So, how would customers get the data, if it’s in file format?”
“They’d download it, like off your web site.”
“Oh, we can’t do that. Our licenses prohibit that.”
“Yeah, but aren’t they YOUR licenses?”
“A CD is 650 MB — those files would be pretty large, wouldn’t they?”
“The term ‘large’ is changing quite rapidly. It used to be that a megabyte was large. Then 10 MB. If 650 MB is large it isn’t going to be for long.”
“What if customers don’t have the same high-speed connections you do? How would they participate?”
“Um, they wouldn’t. I’m not saying you should stop mailing CDs to people, just provide an alternative.”
“Well, what if someone wasn’t licensed to run the OS, and they downloaded it?”
“So secure it so only people with a support contract can download it.”
“Well, what if they have the files stored on their PCs and their support contract expires?”
“So what? What happens if they have the CDs you sent them and the same thing happens?”
“What if they try running these ISO files on a different type of hardware?”
“Tell me what other hardware can run AIX. You can’t be serious. And besides, who cares? It isn’t like it’ll be supported.”
“I’m pretty sure our customers wouldn’t really understand how to convert the files into CDs.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m pretty sure they do. Especially if they’re also customers of Red Hat or Sun Microsystems. Red Hat and Sun let customers download their OS to run on their hardware. You can download it on your own time, you can get quarterly OS update media instantly, and you can store the files so that if you need a CD you just make it on demand. If you want to check this out spend a couple hundred dollars on a license for Red Hat Enterprise Linux and check it out.”
At this point the moderator cut me off, ostensibly because we were out of time. It’s now 2006 and IBM still doesn’t have downloadable ISO images of their OSes. My prediction: Sun and Red Hat customers will be downloading their stuff in whatever format succeeds HD-DVD before IBM will even think about this.
Internet? What’s that?
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This post is old and dead, but all I can say is: Ah, IBM. How the hell do you make money again?
(I think in theory you can download ISOs from their partner site. In practice I couldn’t get usable ISOs the one time I tried it.)