A few years ago I wrote ”(if you think Free Software is about people) Please go in the streets, and ask the first N people you meet, with N as big as you like, if they want it”. This is just what will happen next Saturday in Bologna, Italy.

The Linux Day is the largest Italian event for the promotion of Linux and Free Software in General (as you may read in my reports on the 2005 and 2006 editions). This year it will consists of more than 130 simultaneous events all across the country. Coop is “a system of Italian consumers’ cooperatives which operates the largest supermarket chain in Italy” (from Wikipedia).

One of the events of the 2010 Linux Day will be, as far as I know, the first of its type in Italy: a presentation of Linux and Free Software not in some School or University, but right inside one of the largest Coop stores (the one at Centro Lame, Bologna) on a Saturday afternoon. That is, right in the face of thousands of people who may have never heard of Free Software otherwise. I think this is a wonderful idea (especially because Coop doesn’t use Linux itself yet, see below) that will find many followers worldwide. In order to know more about the relationship between Coop and Free Software, and about why they decided to host such an event, I contacted (thanks to Luca Menini!) Giorgio Benassi, Coop Adriatica Responsible for Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility.

Stop: Does Coop already uses Linux or other Free Software internally? If not, is it just because it didn’t happen or because of some specific problem?

Benassi: We evaluated the possibility of a migration to Linux from Windows about two years ago, when we had to renew our technological infrastructure. We studied the problem together with other branches of Coop Inres (a national consortium that designs the Coop sales infrastructures) and Gartner, the consulting company. Eventually, we chose Windows for the following reasons:

  • Lower Total Cost of Ownership: license costs are, in fact, just a small part of the total. The higher costs are those for training end users (just in Coop Adriatica, our branch, we have almost 2000 users distributed on 155 stores and 3 administrative offices), training technicians to use the new system and the costs of migrating or converting several software applications not compatible with Linux.

  • Greater integration with other tools, like those for fault monitoring or management of users and printers

  • Greater integration with other applications, for example collaboration and communication tools)

  • Easier access to personnel that already knows well the target environment, that is Windows

Stop: What is the relationship between this choice of hosting a Free Software presentation inside a Coop store and the Coop philosophy of education to responsible shopping and complete consumer information?

Benassi: One of the goals of Coop is to favour the adoption of responsible lifestyles and to educate to socially/environmentally conscious shopping. This means that we want that our members can know very well what they are buying and choose responsibly whenever they shop. When it comes to mass products, this approach leads us to highlight the objective quality of the products and to set up initiatives and information channels that can lead customers towards responsible, conscious purchases, taking into account the effects that those purchases may have on health, on the environment and on the life of the people involved in the production process.

This can mean also to inform our customers that, besides the more popular software products, there are others that offer somewhat similar features but at zero license cost. It is then up to the consumer to choose, just like it happens when he or she finds two bottles of extra-virgin olive oil, one produced in Italy from 100% italian olives from biological agriculture, in compliance with the SA8000 ethical standard and another that is produced with standard agricultural methods and comes without information about its origin or guarantees that human rights were respected during its whole production process.

Stop: Does Coop sell today computer with Linux preinstalled, or without any operating system at all?

Benassi: In this moment all the computers we sell come with Windows already installed: we did have some Linux netbooks in store until just a few months ago, but our customers showed little interest in them.

Stop: Would you plan, if this presentation for Linux Day will be a success, other initiatives to promote Free Software?

Benassi: At the moment, due to how the suppliers market is structured, we are not in the conditions to propose to our customer a product that has, at the same time, no operating system, hardware specs comparable that are comparable with those of the computers with Windows preinstalled, and a lower price. And if we have to propose to our customers a product with “something less”, that is without a proprietary operating system with a well definable price tag/economic value, we want to do it if the overall price is sensibly lower.

As a matter of fact the customer can always install an alternative operating system, or even disinstall Windows from the computers sold in our stores. The Microsoft Office package included in the same computers, instead, only are trial versions, that the customer is free to confirm or disinstall.

This said, we do want to understand more this whole topic, and clearly initiatives like this presentation inside our shopping center are useful for us too, since they allow us to see how much interest and which kind of demand these proposal can raise in our customers.