When I first started using Linux twelve years ago, no one I knew, other than folks on the local LUG, were interested in giving Linux or FOSS a try whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong; my friends were nice. They supported my enthusiasm for this Linux thing I’d discovered, but were politely uninterested when I suggested they might want to give Linux a try too. That didn’t surprise me at all. Hell, I’d been trying to get people to give Star Office a try since the turn of the millennium and they wouldn’t go for that either, even though they were paying through the nose for MS Office.
In those days it seemed that everyone was très afraid of wandering away from their familiar Windows landscape, lest their magic-box-hooked-to-a-telescreen cease computing and thereby end the wonders of Yahoo, online airplane tickets and email. Mac users didn’t wander either, not because they were afraid but out of a false sense of smugness.
When Vista came along things changed, but only ever so slightly.
Sometime around 2007, Stephanie, a student in an ongoing workshop on mysticism I was teaching, decided she didn’t want to spend a lifetime being the office manager of a tiny law office and entered college with the hope of earning a law degree. She even bought herself a brand spanking new, gleaming out of the box laptop, which she showed off in class one night.
It was a pretty cool machine, except for one thing. It was running Vista.
We had a talk about Vista, about what crap it was, what a resource hog it was, its problems with hardware support and all the rest. She already knew. The word was already on the street that Vista wasn’t an improvement on XP, as Microsoft desperately wanted everyone to believe.
Naturally, we also had a talk about Linux, about how stable it is, its ease of use, the abundance of free software and the rest. She was tentatively interested, but I reluctantly advised her against installing Linux on her new machine, as that would probably void her warranty.
That would’ve been the end of it, but it wasn’t.
The workshop ended in the summer of 2008 and I didn’t hear from Stephanie again until sometime around 2010, when she gave me call to ask if I’d be interested in teaching a pathworking workshop to her and a group of her gal pals. We decided to hold the workshop at The Unicorn Shoppe on Sunday mornings when the store was closed. At the first workshop she somehow let it slip that she was now running Linux at home.
It seems that her twentysomething son, still living at home, had been constantly screwing-up their Windows machine and was constantly getting it bogged down with malware. Stephanie finally had enough, remembered our conversation about Linux and took matters into her own hands. She downloaded and installed Linux, Ubuntu I believe, on the machine used by her son. There had been no trouble with malware since.
I was proud. It had taken eight years, but I’d moved my first person to Linux and hadn’t even had to do the install myself. She’d summoned the confidence to do it herself.
Moving forward to 2014, I find awareness of Linux continues to grow.
- A few months back, a coworker at the university library where I work told me of a friend who was going back to school. Unfortunately, her Windows laptop was bricked, wouldn’t boot except in safe mode, probably due to malware. Reinstalling Windows wasn’t an option since the machine had been bought used, without a restore disk. My coworker was going to try to get it running, but said, “If I can’t get it going, I might pay you to see what you can do.”
I told her I wasn’t much good anymore at fixing Windows problems, but I’d be happy to get her up and running with a Linux install for free, figuring that would end the discussion.
“Oh, I know you’d put Linux on it,” she said. “That would be no problem.”
That install never took place as my coworker was able to fix the Windows problems herself. However, the fact that she was ready to seriously consider Linux as a solution was a big change from just a few years ago.
- A week or so ago, also at the library, I was helping-out downstairs, working in an office with John, a graphic artist who’s been hired to do some scanning work for archiving purposes. While chatting, I mentioned that I’d just received a new-to-me desktop and that I’d be installing Linux Mint on it that evening.
I expected a grunt as response — or a deer in the headlight look. Instead, he said, “I really, really, really like free and open source software.”
I was stunned. I’d only mentioned Linux. Never had the phrase “free and open source software” been mentioned. Not in any conversation we’d ever had.
He isn’t a Linux user, but he’d tried working with GIMP several years back, trying to avoid the cost of Photoshop. He’s dead set against Adobe’s new scheme of offering Photoshop only by subscription, especially since it’s bundled with stuff he’d never use. In addition, he wasn’t too fond of the idea of storing his work on Adobe’s servers in the cloud.
I told him he might want to look at GIMP again, that it had continued to improve. I also mentioned he might want to check out the available GIMP plugins. When I told him about some sites he should look into, such as “Grokking the GIMP,” he grabbed a handy legal pad and took notes.
Again, this is not the way this conversation would have gone twelve years ago when I first started using Linux.
- This past Thursday I had some time on my hands after leaving work early, so I stopped to visit with my old friend Lucy. The conversation turned right away to her laptop, a Lenovo ThinkPad running Windows 7.
It was the same old familiar story. The thing had slowed down to a crawl, probably due to malware or a corrupted registry, and wasn’t much fun to try to use. Her son, a college student, had fixed it for her by doing a clean install of Windows — so I figured she was happy and good to go, Windows users being who they are.
Until she said, “I think maybe I should just use Linux. I know there’s a bit of a learning curve but people tell me it’s not that hard to grasp.”
So we spent about a half hour talking about Linux, how there’s really not much of a learning curve at all in the point and click world and the rest. Something tells me I’ll be installing Linux for her in the near future.
I know this doesn’t seem like much. After all, only one of these examples has actually made the switch. However, just a few years back, nearly all Windows users were unwilling to even consider anything else.
I think that cell phones and tablets have made people less afraid to move away from their Windows comfort zones. Indeed, I think that people have never been in love with Windows, it’s just what they knew. Now that they’ve seen that they’ve been able to learn to use Android and/or iOS like pros, they’re more than willing to move on when it comes to their PCs as well.
If there was ever a time to recommend Linux to friends, it’s now.