Amongst Linux users, there’s a shared feeling that any Linux OS is superior by far to anything Microsoft produces. More often than not, I also notice a frustration that the rest of the world doesn’t know/acknowledge/cares about this. There’s a lot of talk about converting people to Linux, and the best way to do that. But actually, it’s very easy. Here are some tips.
Make sure you’re comfortable with Linux. A new user of Linux will need support, just as sure as a new user of Windows will. The difference is, with Linux, you’ll have to be the support. You can’t simply say “Oh that problem? Yeah it’s common. I have no idea how to fix it”, because the new user can’t simply bring his PC to the shop and ask them to repair it. If you haven’t spent at least a year with some kind of Linux distribution, don’t bother to convert others. They’ll end up hating you, their PC, and worst of all, Linux.
Refuse to do any Windows support. This may seem harsh, but I noticed that the more I learned about operating systems and computers in general, the more people I knew grew to rely on me for their tech-support. I don’t mind helping out my friends, but anyone who ever was in my situation knows what the number one complaint of Windows users is: “My PC has become very slow”. The reason? No firewall, no virusscanner, and clicking everything they see in Internet Explorer. Fixing that more often that not requires a re-install, which is slow, boring work.
Furthermore, the more I used Linux, the less familiar I became with Windows. I haven’t done any problem-solving in XP since SP2, and I have no experience whatsoever with Vista. Beyond the very basic, I won’t be able to help anyway, and if I have to start using google…well, people can do that themselves, can’t they 😉
There are a couple of people I know who use Linux, and I’m always more than happy to help them. Funny thing is, most of the time, any problems they might have are fixed in five minutes or less.
Don’t take the first step. Simply put, if people are happy using Windows, why bother? For most people, the OS they’re running on their PC is completely unimportant, so the choice between Windows and Linux is irrelevant. Singing the praises of Linux over and over again will only make them hate you, and more importantly, Linux.
Of course, most people using Windows aren’t happy with it at all. I have no doubt that there are enough people who keep their Windows PC absolutely virusfree and in great shape, but their number is dwarfed by others who have no idea what “maintenance” means, and could benefit from using another OS.
What I’ve noticed is, if those people notice you’re happily running Linux, which can be easier, faster, safer and better looking than Windows, they get curious. If they take the first step, and if you help them with the others, converting them can be very easy indeed.
To finish, I’ll give you two examples of what I mean. My girlfriend is not a Linux convert. She has a laptop with XP installed. The problem is, the thing breaks down constantly. Or she forgets the recharging cable. Or there’s another reason why she can’t use it, so my old PC has to come to the rescue. Mostly, I use it to test new distributions, but for her I used a partition to install Arch and IceWm with a Vista theme, and everything else she might need like OpenOffice, Firefox and Emesene. She’s fine with it, partly because she knows I won’t put XP on it anyway, but mostly because she has no problem whatsoever using it.
In fact, the only reason why she (sometimes) says that Windows is better than Linux is because she knows it annoys me 😉
Another friend of mine is a full convert. When Ubuntu Gutsy came out, she asked me to set up a dual boot for her, because she didn’t want to upgrade to Vista. Most of the time, she still used XP, but for some things she used Ubuntu, because it was easier (like FTP some files to her website, which was very easy in Nautilus). When she bought a new computer with XP pre-installed, she asked me to transfer her files. Also, she wanted her PC ready for daily use, because of course XP came without any software worth a damn. I interpreted that as “set up a dual boot again, and transfer all my settings”, which took me something like 45 minutes, everything included. I didn’t touch XP, and simply told her that I didn’t care what she used, but Ubuntu was prepped and ready. If she wanted the XP install to offer the same functionality, she’d have to call someone else.
She’s been using Ubuntu ever since, with only one small apt-get problem which was fixed in a matter of minutes, with a little help from me on MSN Messenger.
So of course, the title of this article is a bit misleading. There’s no magical way to make people use Linux. In fact, if they’re happy with their XP, Vista, or OSX, there’s no reason they should. Personally, I won’t force Linux down anyone’s throat, but I share the opinion of the people I mentioned at the beginning of this article: I do think many Linux distributions are superior to Windows, in terms of stability, speed, safety and even ease of use. If people want to try it out, I’m ready to help, and if they don’t…well, that’s more time I can spend tinkering with my own Linux box 😉