After eight years in business California-based MadTux, an online retailer specializing in systems preloaded with Linux, has closed. A visitor to the MadTux website sees just this simple message:
We regret to inform you that economic conditions have forced us to close our doors after eight years in business.
The news was first reported by Vector Linux co-founder Darrell Stavem in that distribution's forum on December 13. The news received no other notice or mention I could find in the Linux press. Back in August, 2007 I wrote a piece about PCs preloaded with Vector Linux being offered for just $139 by MadTux.
Lots of retailers are hurting or in danger of closing during the current economic downturn. What makes this story different is that I don't believe the economic crisis tells the whole story. The move of Linux based systems into the mainstream marketplace would have made it difficult for MadTux to compete even in better times. It is the success of Linux, first on netbooks and now on a wider range of systems, sold to consumers by large, well known companies both online and in traditional brick and mortar retailers that truly doomed MadTux. I fear other Linux specialty retailers may face a similar fate.
A year and a half ago if you wanted a system with Linux rather than Windows a specialty retailer was probably your only option. Nowadays you can order from a trusted name. Dell, HP, and Asus have expanded their Linux offerings beyond netbooks to full sized notebooks and desktop systems. Linux systems are available online not only from large electronics vendors but also from Amazon.com, WalMart.com, and Target.com. Here in the United States you can now walk into BestBuy or MicroCenter and buy a Linux system off the shelf. Netbooks with Linux are even in stores like Target and Toys 'r' Us.
A clone vendor like MadTux simply can't compete. Price isn't enough. People will buy name brand because they trust the system will work. Large retailers have liberal customer service and return policies that many small vendors just don't offer. Many of these stores are just plain convenient.
The failure of MadTux is more than just another footnote to the economic crisis. It may spell the beginning of the end of the Linux specialist, victims of the success of Linux as much as anything else.