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7. 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? Also, 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 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 installed.

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 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 <>. 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. The WINE Project (<>) 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, Inc. (ARDI <>) 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, of all the operating system choices available, it best fills my needs and desires. 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.

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