Monday, August 21, 2006

Linux's Public Image

I was engaging in a random Skypecast a few days ago, and I found myself talking to a Mac user who was considering installing Linux on one of his Macs.

He explained to me that he was reading about Red Hat Linux, and that he saw there was a lot of console-based stuff going on in the screenshots. From what he was telling me, I got the impression that he didn't realize there IS a graphical interface for Linux (X, or Xorg these days).

I explained to him that he should try looking at Fedora Core or Ubuntu Linux, since much of the information on Red Hat Linux on the internet is very outdated (that's the price of being around forever, I guess). I continued to tell him that any recent version of these operating systems feature a user-friendly graphical interface that rivals the usability of Windows and OS X. (I was speaking about Gnome from experience, but I wouldn't discount KDE at all here.)

This is precisely one of the reasons why I blog about Linux - I want to spread the word about what Linux is really like today, and where it's going.

I've talked to so many people who've reacted to the word "Linux" with, "Oh, all that text-based stuff?". The Linux community needs to do everything they can to shake this image. Somehow I don't think billboard advertisements are going to show people what Linux is really like.
Frankly, the Ubuntu Video project is going to be more effective in this area. Cool YouTube videos don't hurt either. :)

I'm curious to see what other people think the best way to show people what Linux is really like is. Any thoughts?

Also, have you ever talked to someone who had an extremely outdated view of what Linux is like? Share you story in the comments below!


Cellfisher said...

Installing Linux on (all) computers in public libraries and schools that currently run Windows would be a great place to start. Then whenever people use the computers for mail, websurfing, text processing etc., they would notice that something were different. After a while, their perception of Linux as "wierd software for wierd people" would change to something more like "software that is almost like Windows", which would be a good start. A small step for a user, but a giant leap for Free Software.

Reasons why it would be the easiest, most obvious place to start (IMO):

-Usually no need to run anything but Firefox, OpenOffice and a few other programs.
-A specially tailored Linux distribution might actually be easier for school/library personel to setup than Windows is today.
-Saving money, which is probably more important to these institutions (who get a certain amount of money on a regular basis) than it is to most companies (who increase their income when they increase productivity).
-Som schools/libraries might be interested in "educating" the public by allowing them to use and discover free software.

The problem with the way we do it today is that users don't switch operating systems. They switch computers. To make people use Linux at home, you need to sell computers to them with Linux pre-installed. And before we can do that, we need to change the image of Linux.

GameGod said...

Good points Cellfisher!

I think the education/schools market is a place where Linux would actually serve on the desktop very well right now. (for the reasons you explained)

I think someday someone's going to have to do a push where they say "You already use Firefox, Thunderbird, and Gaim on Windows, why not try Linux on your next PC?"
(not exactly like that, but something along those lines...)

The beauty of open source software is that it's going to help people become less alienated with the big software titles for Linux (like Firefox, etc.)
When a Windows user switches over to OS X, the only program that they'll be familiar with is MS Office. They need to read to find out about Adium X and other useful apps. (Although, Linux distros try to follow Apple's lead here: Apple bundles most of the apps with OS X that an average user's ever going to need...) If a person is used to running open source apps on Windows, it makes the switch to Linux that much easier. (I know it did for me...)

And your last point - you're absolutely right. Nobody changes operating systems, and that's a very important observation. I think once Linux has become established in desktop markets that average joe comes in contact with (business, schools), then perhaps we'll see people buying computers with Linux for their homes - and that'll be quite the marvel.