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August 18th, 2014

The Time to Recommend Linux & FOSS Is Now

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.

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

11 comments to The Time to Recommend Linux & FOSS Is Now

  • sola

    I concur, that nowadays, it is much easier to convert people to Linux. Microsoft has been dropping the ball for so long, people got tired with it and have become more open to alternatives.

  • Abdel

    I completely agree. I’ve got a friend who never imagined himself using any other system except windows. Well, a few months ago he came to me complaining that his antivirus license is about to expire. I suggested Linux, not hoping too much, but to my amazement he promptly accepted to give it a try. To make a long story short, I’ve installed Ubuntu 14.04 on his laptop, and, before that, Rosa LXDE on his Kids low-powered desktop. Up to now, he hasn’t complained. On the contrary, he even informed me that his daughter is so happy with Rosa, because besides being so lightweight, it looks so modern and elegant. As a side note, I’d like to say that I chose Rosa at that time because Lubuntu LTS wasn’t released yet, and I was looking for something light, stable and which would be supported for a long time in the future. Rosa fitted the bill as it is a semi-rolling release distro (at least this is the information I got after googling the matter a little bit).

  • Uncle Ed

    The way things are going in this realm are interesting, if not almost disorienting. Hard to be a prophet crying in the wilderness when the land has been cleared and already plowed for you.

    After I retired, we moved to a small town in Arkansas to be near my wife’s relatives. A REALLY small town. A local fellow plows my garden and split the firewood from a dead oak tree I had cut down. I guess I’m easy to talk to, because we talk. Told me he needed to get a new laptop, maybe a Chromebook. I was guessing because of the price. I looked at his old one, 512 Meg, 40 Gigs, XP, and agreed that it needed to go. I dug out a laptop I got in a swap, 2 Gigs and 250 Gigs, and put Mint 17 on it. Told him to save his Chromebook money for a little while and give this a try. He agreed. I delivered it and got it connected to his wireless and showed him how to get it going.

    Life happened and he needed a laptop for a church activity on short notice, so he found a refurb with W7 from a nearby dealer. I figured that was the end of Linux for him. I told him if it was in the way I’d pick it up. He wasn’t interested. This man is 72 years old, bib overalls and boots, mows lawns and plows gardens, and he doesn’t just want to play with my Linux laptop–he wants to understand Linux!

    The vibration you’re feeling is the earth wobbling on its axis.

  • CFWhitman

    It is interesting how much things have changed. There are a number of people now who actually know what Linux is.

    I have given out Linux laptops (old XP machines from work that were written off) to a couple of my younger nephews, and they have used them, and their siblings have used them.

    Just a little while back, my oldest nephew, who is not a sibling of the ones I’ve given Linux laptops to, had his wife’s laptop become unusable, and, without coming to me about it at all, he decided on his own to install Ubuntu on the machine. His wife hadn’t really wanted to use it after that, but he has continued to use it since then. He’s mentioned that there might be some reasons that he would want me to look at it since then, but nothing has been enough of a problem for him to actually bring it to me or ask me to actually come look at it.

  • I have a business that provides GNU / Linux services. I too have had the same experience. People have to make the choice. Some do not even want to despite the low cost and the ability to get their job done without the familiar hassle. They do not want to even try! They mindlessly fear the ‘unknown’.

  • […] The Time to Recommend Linux & FOSS Is Now […]

  • Mike

    @K M Ashraf

    “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

    – H. P. Lovecraft

  • Gary

    I have placed Gnu/Linux on machines for others but their use was limited. Mainly because of the familiarities with MS Windows and expecting the same from Linux. Not wanting to dig deeper into the inner workings of the DE to find the gems within seems to be the big issue from most.
    LibreOffice has really matured into a useful suite so I cannot see why anyone would wish to spend big $$ on MS Office when you can get the same functionality from LibreOffice.

  • Eddie G.

    Bravo Christine! I have helped a few people make the switch, and although it seems rocky in the beginning for some of them…most of them…after a few questions and inquiries as to “Ho To…” do something….have been using Linux steadily and with not a problem. I think that underneath the placed-there-by-Bill Gates fear of the unknown, along with the way Linux has always been portrayed in the media, and in general from word of mouth….the whole image of Linux being for a fat, sloppy person who lives in their parents’ basement…..surrounded by old PC’s and looking at everything through a terminal typing commands and coding all day…LoL! Boy would they be wrong…also the amount of people adopting Linux shows that the masses are indeed ready for a change….a REAL change and not just some new backgrounds….new icons…and a re-named application that does the same thing as the LAST one!…Long Live Open Source!…LOL!

  • winner

    I agree now is the time for Linux switch.
    I recently had a young man that I know come to me asking where he can get Windows XP as his computer had crashed due to his sister having let viruses or malware on the machine.
    He had gotten the machine some time ago and didnt know what they did with the XP installation disks. He was on a limited budget and couldnt afford a new PC so I recommended he put Linux on it, specifically Elementary, given his old hardware.I gave him a disc with Elementary on and told him I will help him to install it.
    A few weeks passed and I heard nothing from him. Then one weekend as we talked he smiled and announced that he had installed Elementary by himself and it was so easy. He was really impressed with Linux and was excited about the free software options and the the fact that Elementary just looked way cooler than windoze.
    Another instance recently I used my own Linux Mint LMDE laptop for a presentation and the youngsters were very impressed with the way it booted so quickly and the desktop was way cooler than windoze. So this coming weekend I will hand out a few more discs and encourage a dual boot install so they can compare or maybe even Virtualbox to play around with.