Convert people to Linux: the easy way

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 πŸ˜‰
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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜‰



19 Responses to Convert people to Linux: the easy way

  1. […] Go to the author’s original blog: Convert people to Linux: the easy way […]

  2. A.J. Baudrez says:

    I enjoyed reading your article. I once had a similar experience.
    A friend of mine called me for the n-th time that his XP was dead and asked me to help him out. So I went over with my PCLinuxOS distro. As soon had he seen the CD that he claimed that he didn’t want Linux on his box, because Linux is foor geeks and Windows is much simpler.
    I was pissed and decided to play it hard. So, instead of reinstalling his XP myself, I handed him a nice shining XP SP1 OEM CD and told him to go ahead and show me how easy Windows really is.
    Well, it took him more than an hour to get it installed, because it was the first time for him and after the basic install, he had a running XP, 800×600 display, no audio and no network. After a few hints he managed to get everything online, but then complained that he didn’t find his office nor his Photoshop. As both were ‘copies’ installed by his brother in law, he had to call him to get the illegal stuff back on his box.
    So, nearly 3 hours since he put the CD in the bay, and numerous reboots later he was more or less happy with his accomplishment.

    Then I handed him the PCLinuxOS CD and I told him if he couldn’t install it, I’ll buy him and his wife a nice meal in a local restaurant.
    Guess what… 25 minutes later he had a working Dual-boot PCLinuxOS with openoffice, Gimp, Amarok, … and he was really surprised that Linux was easier to install than XP.

    They must first see it before they believe it


  3. Nice article, and completely true.

    I’ve done some “conversions”, mostly because those people were not able to keep their xp machine running properly.

    Installed some shiny Ubuntu’s, got them all up and running and nicely themed.

    They are pretty happy with it.

  4. drascus says:

    This is all well and good. I personally find it easier to facilitate the switch in people by talking about the issue rather then the technological benefits of GNU/Linux per say. When people ask me about DRM or about their privacy are all good moments to start a conversation. I tell them about the proprietary industries stance and objectives. They usually ask me what can be done or how to stop that. Then the only answer left is to switch to a Free Operating system. You can argue from a stance of convenience or technical benefits if you like. However then when the times comes when the Gnu/Linux community needs defending they might not get the point. They never had freedom explained to them so they don’t know why it is important. Bottom line I personally feel it is best to get them on board from an ethical stand point first.

  5. […] the flip side of the coin, here’s a post that offers advice that’s quite a bit more gentle and potentially more successful. The three […]

  6. Vincent says:

    The last point is the most important one. Just make sure people know you use Linux. Or better yet: make sure they know which distribution you use. Personally, I don’t think every Linux distribution is better than Windows. But I know of a few which are and for which I can provide support. If they need help, I’m here.

    Plus, I’m even worse when it comes to Windows support: I’ve never administered a Windows version other than ME which I’m sure nobody I know is using anymore. And if they did, I wouldn’t know how to administer it any more.

    I don’t think it’s more important that they hate Linux than that they hate me though πŸ˜‰

  7. celettu says:


    Exactly what I’m talking about. People sometimes confuse what they’re used to with “easy”. Nice story.

    Bill Goldberg:

    That’s my experience too.. Most of the time, people just don’t want any hassle using the PC. Linux can be a hassle (one many Linux users enjoy) πŸ™‚ But so can Windows.


    You’re right of course. The freedom of open source is something I don’t generally talk about. I find that many people don’t care, not in the free as beer context (Windows is free too…when it’s pirated), or free as in speech.
    It IS one of the reasons I switched myself.


    Obviously πŸ˜‰ I’m guilty of trying to spice my article up a little πŸ™‚

  8. Gary says:

    Well put…nice read too

  9. Murtadh says:

    Nice article, the most thing that I liked is that you share with me one of the main reasons that made me change to linux 8 months ago….. which is people are making me their tech-support. Therefore, I become less familiar b the time πŸ™‚

  10. Alexandra says:

    A great post. There’s so much truth in this. I’ve had much the same experience as you. Thanks!

  11. Rubanov says:

    I fully agree with your article.
    Windows bashing won’t help anybody. They just need to try it out for themselves.

    I do find it a bit ironic that people that are not that experienced in Windows and click every link and open every mail are the ones that would benefit the most from using Linux. Linux – and more specifically Ubuntu – can now be used by not so experienced users as long as they have smelly nerd to help them once in a while. Of course that same smelly nerd was already helping them with their spyware infected Windows installation.

    Personally I still prefer using Windows XP.
    I have installed Linux many times. I installed Arch recently and stopped using it as soon as I had configured it to my wishes. I tried several windows managers and was happy with xfce4. But it wasn’t Windows XP.

    So why did I come back to Windows XP so fast?

    1. Cause I know it inside out! I can solve almost any problem and if I can’t, I reinstall. I have an unattended install iso (made with nlite) and I have my system up and running again in 25 minutes. It’s completely configured with to my needs, including windows 2000 look and several registry hacks. (like annoying windows pop ups telling me I need to do stuff)

    2. I like playing the latest games. You still need Windows for that. I know you can use WINE for several games but I prefer running outside an emulator (I know what WINE means but it stills feels like an emulator πŸ™‚

    3. Total Commander. Omfg god it’s so great! Managing lots of data in windows explorer is completely retarded. I’m moving my data around hard disks and partitions a lot and in explorer you cannot even see the speed it’s moving.
    Now I know there are commander clones out there in Linux and I have tried them all. They don’t work the same. I just can’t get them to work exactly the same. Especially the right mouse selection. And maybe there is a way to configure this correctly which brings me to my last point.

    4. I’m absolutely ub3r l33t in working with Windows. I don’t need to read countless forums to make something work. Wait, that was my first point. Anyway, a lot of times I feel like a total n00b when using Linux. And I don’t like that. πŸ˜€

    5. I guess 4 wasn’t my last point after all. I need Windows for my job. My company uses websites that only work in Internet Explorer (full of active X crap) and I hate them for it. Firefox is far superior.

    P.S. Vista sucks

    P.S.S. I’m the brother of the author. He still needs to work on converting me completely. πŸ™‚

  12. […] good advice on converting friends (or enemies) to linux 1 09 2008 Celettu offers some great ideas on attracting new comments to linux. I especially like his suggestion that you refuse to continue […]

  13. Hampton says:

    Taking the first step must be considered on a case by case basis. I agree that people happily using a Mac or Windows, who have bought lots of applications for their proprietary operating systems, that they have no interest in hearing about Linux. They probably have already evaluated Linux and made up their minds about it. These people will have to come around in their own time. However! There are still many people who feel so disenfranchised from computers that they feel they are locked into Windows. People who are just using the Web, just the Windows-supplied tools like WinWord, and worry about all the viruses they have, then these people are very interested in hearing about the new developments of Linux. They are looking for an easy to use operating system, with lots of basic functionality, but they feel computers are confusing and don’t bother researching themselves. You do not help these people by waiting for them to make the first step, and those technically-minded who do make the first step are probably capable of figuring this out for themselves.

  14. Ibod Catooga says:

    Negro ain’t no Windows user smart enough to use Linux.

    I use VAX. NAH>

  15. ajclarkson says:

    Very interesting article, you put your opinion across very well.

    I converted 2 house mates at University to using linux, one was ok as he was a fellow computer scientist, but the other was just impressed with the freeness of everything. Although it does lead me to say I definitely agree with you on the point about making sure you are experienced. I think it also demands a great deal of patience, we have to remember that even though a problem to a new user seems trivial to us, thats only because we were once new users.

    I just wish many people didn’t wrongfully assume that pc = windows and there are no alternatives. Thanks for the new advertising campaign playing this up microsoft.

  16. Jim B. says:

    “Convert people to Linux: the easy way”
    Very nicely done and gentle, also.

    I have a very substantial investment in Windows and would love to convert to Linux. SuSE interests me as it is the old Novel crowd and they have a vested interest in getting it right. (Getting even with M$.)

    Remember, “It ain’t right till Lotus is broke.” I see the same sh_t coming from M$; in that now the mantra is, “It ain’t right till Google don’t work.”

  17. […] my job when I’m at home. Unfortunately, I couldn’t yesterday. I’ve been playing Heroes of Newerth lately, and one of the people I sent a beta key to is my sister in law, who couldn’t connect […]

  18. Ali says:

    I agree with the comments of the author of this Article. As a Linux user, I can comfortably put it that Linux is for Programmers and Geeks coz it’s been designed by them.

    Supposedly when making an easy to use Linux, its assumed that a simple user knows how to get around the terminal and making bug Fixes. We also ass-u-me that an end user would Google or Look up a community website to find a cure to a common Problem.

    On Most occasions GUIs are missing and confusing. Wierd and confusing names for simple functions and commands make it difficult.

    The tolerance level during a transition phase is very low. But still Linux developers and users insist that it’s easier to install and use Linux.

    Anyways it is interesting article and worth referring.

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