There were seven of us gathered at a local watering hole down on Sixth Street in Austin. Just a few friends and associates who had run into each other and decided to pull a couple of tables together and share some time. A couple of them I knew. One was someone I run into professionally on a regular basis. We all had links to each other, in one way or another by various degrees of separation, but none of those links had much to do with technology or computers.
Several of us had recently gotten off work and had our laptops or minis with us. There were three on the table and one of us mentioned a particular clip on Metacafe. I opened my laptop and opened a browser to the mentioned link. It was to some contentious exchange between help desk technicians that devolved into a pushing match and ultimately into high-pitched screaming.
Modern-day warriors in the midst of cubicles.
While my Acer was on the table, I absently spun to the next desktop and opened a document I wanted to share with one of my table mates. The guy next to me stopped cold.
“What did you just do?”
I glanced over at him. “What do you mean?”
“That spin thing on your computer…how did you do that?”
I manipulated the touch pad and dropped the desktop to a cube with Atlantis in the background. I spun it and angled it so the top and bottom cap could be seen.
“You mean this?”
The guy on the other side of me heard the conversation and looked over.
“What program is that. Is it freeware?”
I shook my head without looking over at him.
“No, it’s not a program. It’s Linux. It’s an operating system with 3D capability.”
I shook my head again and answered, maybe a bit too tersely.
“No, not like AutoCad. It isn’t an application or program for Windows. In fact, your Windows computer probably can’t do this. These are different desktops, all individual from one another, and I can do different things on each one of them at different times.”
I opened the desktop configuration GUI, expanded the number of desktops to eight and then started flipping between them as I opened different applications on each environment. By then, everyone at the table was trying to get into position to see the Acer. They were talking about how nice it would be to encapsulate a number of tasks and leave them in various states of completion without worrying about losing their work when they switched between them.
Then I hit the shortcut for the water drop effect. Simple things capture simple minds…or so it would seem.
I didn’t much feel like doing the whole welcome to Linux thing. Contrary to what some believe, I do appreciate some time outside the box, so to speak, so I switched it back to “no effects” and closed the lid.
The guy who first noticed the desktop asked me how he could make his computer do the same thing. I just shrugged.
“Unless you are willing to use a new operating system without training wheels, you probably can’t.”
He scowled for a second or two. “What the hell does that mean?”
I laughed and held up my hands in a disarming manner. “It doesn’t mean anything really. Most people who use Windows are stuck in that mindset and can’t fathom that there are different ways to use a computer. Mental laziness on our part mostly. You’d probably play with it 30 minutes then give up.”
Paul, the one guy at the table I did know, grinned and took a pull from his beer.
“You’re givin’ him fifteen more minutes than I would.” A couple of the other guys laughed.
But that’s the point. Whether it’s mental laziness or any other excuse, the majority of people presented with change, even for the better; will status quo themselves into inertia. At least to my experience.
Paul called me early yesterday morning and reminded me about this little exchange. He seemed amused. “You remember that yuppie throwback that liked your desktop at the bar?”
I affirmed that I did.
“Him and that tall guy are brothers and they work in Asset Development here. We had a meeting Monday and I noticed that both of them were using Linux on their laptops. He was showing me how easy it was.”
I just smiled to myself and told him he needed to bring more of the female staff on the next boys night out. He said he would.
Sometimes the direct sell method isn’t the best way to close the deal. How do you think the whole “play hard to get” thing got traction throughout the years? That method is successful in any number of applications. And really, I wasn’t wearing my Linux Advocacy hat that evening…I was just a guy relaxing after a day’s work.
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue