Friday, February 5, 2010

Linux Advocacy: The Right Way

I am a full time student, one of the primary uses of my computers thusly is for school work. At any given point I typically have my netbook (which runs Ubuntu) and my phone (which runs Maemo) with me. Having and using these devices in the public on a daily basis has made me realize that there is a right way and a wrong way to promote Linux to those who are unfamiliar with it. What is the right way to promote Linux you ask?

Simple: You don't.

In two different instances this past week I've found people are more interested in stimulating a conversation about the operating system if you let them ask the questions - don't force information on someone they very well might not want or even care about.

I'm currently taking a Number Theory class this trimester, the class involves a lot of algebra at times. So I don't get bogged down with such menial work I typically always have my netbook out with wxMaxima. As I was going through some group work with a few other students this past week, I was showing the results of some equations I had the computer solve to a classmate when he made me pause for a moment. The conversation went something like this:

"What was that?"

"What? You want me to double check the numbers?"

"No, not the math. Your window, when you moved it - what did it do?"

He was referring to the "wiggle" my window had when I moved it around. Compiz is a wonderful eye catcher. I then proceeded to show him the desktop cube and a few other effects that are easily enabled. After a couple of moments he asked my favorite question:

"What version of Windows is that? Its pretty neat."

I mentioned that it was not Windows, but something else - Ubuntu. Alright, I lied before then he asked my favorite question:

"Oh, never heard of that before. How much did that cost?"

I smiled.

"It's free."

He then asked:

"Free? Really? What can it do?"

"Oh, you know everything you expect a computer to do. Type a paper, surf the internet, solve math equations, play games..."

He then asked where he could get it from, I gave him the web address and told him if he had any questions about it he could feel free to ask me next week at class.

This is the right way to get someone interested in something. You don't force it down their throat or rant and rave about how it is better than something they are already using. People are often comfortable with things they find familiar and they are naturally resistant to change. Many users (myself included) find themselves over excited when they first discover the world of choices that open source presents them. As such I think they feel it is their "duty" to make others "see the light" and "convert" to this new way. Even though they do not mean to - this attitude hurts the image of the FOSS/Linux community and is where the negative term "Linux Zealot" comes from.

In closing, if you feel you must make the general public aware of Linux remember this: mention - don't preach.

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. Yea as I recall my friend just stole my laptop and started installing Ubuntu on it. I was pissed at first, but then he showed me Compiz and I was okay with it.

    Heh. Wiggle window.

  2. I cannot agree with you more. Let people know that there is an alternative. The choice is theirs.

  3. And next week, you have to show him, how to get Steam working on Ubuntu. :-)

  4. First of all, I agree with you 100%. People get annoyed and defensive when
    you are too aggressive. I'm not an advocate, nor am I good with my words so
    it's relatively easy for me not to get too aggressive when talking about
    Linux, I just show that I'm happy and content with it and that's it.

    However I've never had such questions asked from me, instead the people I'm
    associated with usually know something about Linux, and they're usually
    somewhat Windows enthusiastic. When they come to me they expect me to be
    the basic Linux-fanboy enthusiastic who gets all angry when someone brags
    about Windows. As they are adamant that they're operating system of choice
    is the best one, I don't get any chance to promote Linux :/.

    But I'm not saying that I haven't gotten people to move to Linux, but I'm
    not proud of the way I've done it. I'm usually asked to do some helpdesk
    work at my old place, and as I got tired of the viruses, trojans, spyware
    etc., I recommended installing Ubuntu and they agreed. They've had problems
    since then, but they're too embarrassed to ask me for any help anymore, and
    now they're suffering because of it.

  5. /me couldn't agree with you more, really! Nothing irks /me more than those fanatic Linux evangelists, who is out on the holy mission of saving the demented souls of the heathen non-linux users! To quote Aaron Griffin, the Arch Linux "Overlord" : "Some people act like it's some sort of holy grail that's going to save us from
    global warming, swine flu, and World War III. It's just software. Get off the
    high horse."

  6. @sayanriju I don't like Linux zealots either but it is not true that 'It's just software' mantra because is much much more.

    It's Freedom, it's open source code, it's respect to standards, etc, and Linux have a big impact in economics, politics, global collaboration, etc.

  7. Jeff, I couldn't agree with you more! One of the biggest reasons I had to disassociate myself from my local LUG was because of their belief that Linux should be on EVERY person's desktop. I objected to their routine practice of installing Linux distros on friends & relative's computers, and then theming it to look like XP or Vista in order to dupe users who didn't know any better. Their argument was "they'll never know the difference." Mine was, "That's the point. You're doing Linux, free software, and your friends a terrible disservice." I prefer to answer questions about Linux and open source when they are asked, not to mandate its use on every PC within my reach, or to deploy it through deceptive means. GUI or otherwise.

  8. If you don't think that people should be exposed to "Linux Zealots", then why on earth did you steer him toward Canonical's site?? Canonical's forums are _full_ of "Linux Zealots" who take every opportunity to make some of the most conspiracy-laden Ubuntu-uber-alles swipes at everything Microsoft related, and are the epitome of hot-headed zealots. And frankly, some of those people are forum moderators. Please steer people toward other distros with a much more serious, professional enduser base than Ubuntu has, if you don't want to promote fanaticism.

  9. Good post, you're entirely right.
    Anonymous - for which distribution(s) are you zealoting around? ,-)

  10. @Anonymous - There are also a lot of honestly helpful people on the Ubuntu forums. Besides Ubuntu the only distro I recommend to new users is Linux Mint. They are the best I feel for new people to get started with.

  11. I recently converted a friend to Linux Mint. His netbook which ran Windows 7 ran HD videos terribly. I asked if we can try an alternative OS to Windows. He gave me his consent and I booted Mint 8 through a flash drive. The HD videos played flawlessly. He then asked me to install Mint. He's a happy Mint user now.

  12. Educating people really is a pain. It would be much better to keep them in the dark and treat them like consumers rather than as friends. Hell, they might see you as preaching at them about something you care about and that you think society should value--clearly you shouldn't let that happen!! Thanks for this blog!!! Great reminder about what being dumb is all about.

  13. Good points. Here are a couple of pages that may help anybody interested in "linux advocacy done right":

    How to turn into Free Software supporters people who couldn't care less (this even made slashdot when I wrote it)

    Mother explains why everybody should attend a Linux Day


  14. Agreed I have it at home (CentOS), on a netbook (Ubuntu) and (old) laptop (Puppy). I *do* always have a couple of LiveCD's in the bag, one you'll never no when you need one, banking on the road, rescue a virus infected mchine of some other OS, or to give away. When they ask how much it cost, I do stretch the truth and say "it's a pirated copy" and "I think the [whichever distro] is about $50-60....", Two things I don't say, the word "Linux" and "free" as MOST American's believe in the adage "You get what you pay for" or "if its free [as in beer] then its gotta be cheap [as in quality]". Stallman may object, but let the potential future user try it with an open-mind, they have plenty of time to find out the truth later. So far I've probably given about a dozen disks away in about the last two years and maybe half have found that Linux meets their needs better than commerecial offerings, to include the Mac-OSX.


  16. Good points. Here are a couple of points that may help anybody interested in "linux advocacy done right":

    Recently I just came across a good article on "100 Linux Tips and Tricks"
    Here is its link.

  17. yep- and don't listen to the bitches who can't accept a good thing when they see it. just let them mull in their limited, commercially controlled existence untill they get bored and come crawling back to the light for redemption!

    i'm not preaching. it's TRUE! I SEE THE LIGHT!