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Commercial Port Advocacy mini-HOWTO
v0.1, 29 December 1999
This document discusses methods that can be used to approach
commercial software companies to convince them to port their
programs to Linux.
This mini-HOWTO is Copyright © 2000 by Douglas R. Loss.
All rights reserved.
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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 I decided to write one.
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 what
the company may perceive as "giving away" product, or advocating
a radical change in their basic development model.
There are other groups and individuals doing their parts in
trying to get various software and hardware vendors to support
Linux. Norman Jacobowitz is a consultant working with SSC, Inc.
on an advocacy project that approaches the same problem I'm
addressing here, although from a different direction. Here's
what he told me about his efforts:
SSC, Inc, publishers of Linux Journal, maintain a
"software wish list"
at <http://www.linuxresources.com/wish>. They are
currently paying an
outside consultant to use these results and other data to lobby
marketing managers at ISVs to port their products to Linux. This
effective, on going project to bring more native software to
please drop by the wish list and vote for your favorite
Andrew Mayhew has been trying to convince hardware vendors
that making Linux drivers, or at least releasing the
specifications so the Linux community can write the drivers, is a
good idea. Here are his thoughts:
I go to conferences. I was most recently at
Networld-Interop in Atlanta (which was shortly followed by the
Linux Expo). There at Interop I went to many of the vendors with
agendas. First, I was there as a respresentative of the ISP that
for and was looking for solutions. But secondly, I was there
find out who
currently had Linux support and if they didn't have Linux
they didn't and was the company considering it. It is
note, that in the large Novell section, there were actually two
related sub-booths. Additionally, Cobalt Micro was there with
server, along with RedHat and Caldera. Fairly small showings in
completely non-Unix related conference, but a showing none the
Most of the companies that I was talking to are primarily
vendors. They already don't make any money off of their drivers.
just need to develop the drivers so that people will use their
My typical approach to one of these companies was to first ask
product in general, so that they could get through their
quickly, and then ask about driver support. When the only words
their mouths would be Windows 95, 98, and NT, I would ask about
platforms explaining that I run in a multiplatform environment
need interoperability between these platforms. In introducing
that they should support other platforms I would only slowly work
idea of Linux as one of them. I found that introducing the idea
wanted driver support for Linux right off typically got me a
reaction which would basically have the person shutdown and try
to find a
way to get out of the conversation. But if you can get their
defenses down then you can explain to them how, in
general, all they would need to invest to get Linux drivers would
openly publish the specifications for talking to whatever
possibly providing hardware to key developers. The biggest
this, is typically, "We have some proprietary ways of doing X and
want to have that information out in the open." The usual way
problem is to explain that being able to talk and use a device
normally mean having to know what proprietary tricks they are
least this fits with the wireless LAN and the Fibre Channel IP
I was dealing with.
One smaller company, which I think may attempt to find
someone in the community to help develop a driver for them came
up with an interesting
solution around the proprietary issues as well. This being that
would have the initial developers sign NDAs for the hardware
documentation, but the source code could be open source so long
documentation in the source was not just a copy of what the
provided the developer.
For software companies, I think it is a very good idea to
point out that
there is nothing or very little available of their kind of
whatever that area of software is. But it probably should also
what does exist. Of particular interest would be the development
the development support available, and possibly information about
porting projects. In terms of these other projects they would be
interested in the porting problems that they have solved or would
similarly be tackling.
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
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. Companies with seemingly dated
products or products that were aimed at obscure platforms would
seem to be good targets. Their software may not be dated for
Linux users since we're not always taken in by the hype factor.
They may well be looking for new markets for their products as
their present market dwindles along with their ability to
compete. I doubt that Disney or Davidson and Co. would consider
porting their educational programs nearly as quickly as say,
Soleil Software or Topologika. 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
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
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 good.
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
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
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 software."
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
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?"
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
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
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.
You should probably be prepared to answer questions about why
no one else in the target company's market niche is developing
for Linux (if that's indeed the case), and what capabilities are
available in Linux, such as multimedia. Are the available media
players exploitable commercially? Do they run efficiently? You
might also make the point that a port to Linux of a graphical
program will mean a port to the X Window System and will mean
that the program is much easier to port to any other OS that uses
X, such as Solaris, AIX, or HPUX.
Andrew Mayhew brought up this point to me, and it makes a lot
It has been my (albeit limited) experience that
email/letter sent to companies with the idea that I or one of my
clients is actually interested in their product at the beginning
closely as reasonable) of the document gets more results. Now,
only really applicable is you mean it.
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 someone comes up with a
way of measuring usage, we may be able to get the hard numbers we
need for market demographics, but till then we have to do our
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
Abacus Research & Development Inc. (ARDI)
Executor technology as a "wrapper" for Macintosh binaries as the
easiest and quickest way to do that, but
(as I understand it,these two groups are now working together)
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
Loki Software, which does ports of commercial software
to Linux. So far they're done only games, but when I talked with
the president of Loki a while ago he was quite willing to
consider doing similar ports of other types of software.
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 you like:
Dear Sir or Madam:
If I've sent this to the wrong address in your
apologize; could you please forward it to the appropriate
person? Also, could you let me know who that appropriate person
so I can direct future communications to him or her? Thank
I know that [insert company name here] has fine
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 growing operating system in the world. It is impossible to put
exact numbers on how quickly it is growing because it can be downloaded for free
off of the internet. The last attempt to estimate the total user base in early 1998
came up with 7 million users world-wide in early 1998 with over 100%
growth/year. The explosion of Linux publicity since then has undoubtedly kept that
growth rate alive, putting the current market at around 20 million with rapid
expansion for some time to come.
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 46, 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
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
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
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
There are "wrapper" programs available for both Windows
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
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. The WINE Project
(<http://www.winehq.com>) also has Winelib, a similar set
of libraries that Corel is planning to help develop and use in
porting its office applications to Linux.
For Macintosh programs, Abacus Research & Development,
(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
you proposing that you enter the Linux educational software
market is my 6-year-old son. I run Linux because, of all the
operating system choices available, it best fills my needs and
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.
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.
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