Weaving Markets

Black and white contrasts make for interesting marketing case studies.

I had a chat with Jeremy White, headmaster at CodeWeavers. Jeremy and I met years ago while I was helping push SuSE Linux into the undisputed #2 Linux distro position. Jeremy sold a product that made using the Open Source WINE emulator a livable experience. For the uninitiated, WINE emulates Microsoft Windows OS functions and thus allows Windows applications (Office, Quicken, etc.) to run on Linux.

Jeremy had a hit with Crossover Linux because even technically astute Linux desktop users had trouble configuring and managing WINE. Like way too many Open Source solutions, it was a great idea technically well executed but lovable only to über geeks. CodeWeavers made it lovable by all.

So when I saw that Jeremy had worked the same magic for Mac users I had to ring him up.

From a technology perspective, the markets for Crossover Linux and Crossover Mac are identical. The products run on a UNIX/LINUX operating system, have x86 binaries to make everything work, and launch Windows applications on the native OS. However the separate markets are as different as garden salads and baby back ribs for lunch.

“Some of the Mac customers will buy the product twice because they can’t figure out how to download it the first time,” Jeremy chuckled. The first difference between the markets is technical competency. Linux desktop owners are typically technologists first and users second. Mac owners are users … period (Well, that is not entirely true — some knowledgeable technologists own Macs for a variety of techno-bigotry motivations, mainly of the anti-Microsoft variety).

“On the Linux side, the dot-communist are a problem,” he noted. Within the Linux world — including desktop users — the majority opinion is that if a product isn’t free it isn’t worth using. Despite the fact that Crossover Linux is inexpensive and is a complement to the free WINE stack, some Linux desktop users simply refuse to pony-up the few bucks it takes to buy Crossover.

Perhaps these folks are broke, still being underwater on their stock options.

Mac users are not ashamed to spend money. Given the premium Apple demands for Macs (and iPhones, and iPods, and iEverythingElse) Mac users readily toss lucre at Jeremy. Those profits however are diminished by the extra technical support Mac users need.

The other marketing oddity between Linux and Mac users occurs during promotions. “Post a message on SlashDot and you have reached all the Linux desktop users,” was Jeremy’s claim. But Mac users, despite being heavily wired are more of traditional social creatures when making technology buying decisions. Jeremy and crew spent time at Apple stores showing their product to the resident geniuses and encouraging word of mouth promotions. This dichotomy of stereotypes — the wired Linux nerd and the socializing Mac user — creates interesting branding, PR and promotional challenges for CodeWeavers.

For essentially the same product.

There are several lessons to learn from Jeremy, and all of them are painful:

  • Parallel markets exist: Often technology vendors become myopic and do not see a market that is less than a step away. Jeremy saw it and discovered the market was simultaneously larger and more profitable per customer.
  • The market is defined by the customer, not the technology: The mechanical difference between Crossover Linux and Mac are small. The difference between Linux and Mac buyers is huge. Though the markets were technically similar, the approach to the customer was starkly different.
  • Social promotions are primary: Both the Linux and Mac products were promoted socially. For Linux it was via online social networks where the participants rarely meet face-to-face. For Mac users more personal connections had to be fostered.

I’m hoping Jeremy can make an XP emulator that runs on Vista.


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