How to Advocate for Linux (Without Coming Across as a Lunatic)

Sometimes it can be difficult to see what’s best for those we love.

Take Linux, for example. So numerous are its virtues and so brilliant its shine that many of us get completely caught up in adoring it — sometimes to the detriment of any efforts to advance it in the world.

How much space on the Linux blogs, after all, gets devoted to wondering why more people haven’t already adopted our favorite operating system?

Aiming to direct the efforts of Linux aficionados who want to advocate for their OS, Linux Today’s Carla Schroder recently put together a list of tips suggesting some effective ways to do that.

‘Show, Don’t Tell’

“The most effective advocacy is one-on-one, up close and personal,” Schroder began.

Among her tips: “Show, don’t tell” and “tie your hands behind your back.”

After all, “they don’t care what you like, they care what they like,” she wrote.

Perhaps most difficult of all: “Be kind and patient.”

Now, we here at LinuxInsider will be among the first to admit that self-restraint can be tough when it comes to Linux. Nevertheless, given the stakes at hand, we knew the topic warranted a closer look.

‘Throw People Into the Pool’

“Carla Schroder is right on as usual,” blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider. “I have introduced thousands to GNU/Linux, and turning them loose on it works very well. Young people are much more accepting of change if they can see the benefits in person.”

People “who do the long song and dance to migrate people as Munich did are wasting a lot of time and energy,” Pogson added. “It is much more efficient to give a short introduction and to throw people into the pool — they will be highly motivated to learn to swim.”

The No. 1 thing GNU/Linux needs “to complete its ascent as a widespread OS is numbers of users,” he asserted. “We are at the edge of the time when manufacturers and OEMs will cater to the body of users of GNU/Linux.

“Next year everyone will realize they are losing market share by not catering to GNU/Linux,” Pogson predicted. “M$ still can intimidate some temporarily, but the good old days of monopoly are over.”

‘Linux Isn’t Great’

At the same time, however, “I think the biggest thing we need to do right now is avoid shooting ourselves in the foot,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack warned. “This means pushing Linux where it makes sense, but not on people who have applications that Linux is not ready for.”

Similarly: “I agree partly” with all of Schroder’s tips, “but I’ll add the caveat that ‘Linux isn’t great’,” Monochrome Mentality blogger Kevin Dean told LinuxInsider. “This caution should be a mantra to all would-be advocates of Linux.”

Of course, “Linux isn’t great, but neither are Mac OS X or Windows,” he added. “Meeting the needs of people is great.”

Know When to ‘Back Off’

If someone has a “clunky old XP box that is just turning them off fromcomputing, Linux might be their answer,” Dean explained. “Their need for a stable, faster OS might be met by Linux — in which case the best way to sellLinux is to show them that faster, more stable OS.”

Yet it’s also important to know when to “back off,” he added. “Nobody likes pushy salesmen, and with Linux that’s no exception. If Linux can’t meet thatperson’s needs today, accept that and move on; if you push it, youbegin to cement the ‘Linux Zealot'” image.

“Back when I used to be one of those, I thought, ‘Linux is so great that a community forms around it!'” Dean explained. “The simple fact of the matter is that most normal people consider the operating system to be a bit of trivial technology.

“Lots and lots of people like and use zippers, but if someone said that they’re partof a community of zipper lovers, they’d instantly be classified in the minds of uninterested parties as lunatics,” he concluded. “Being classified as a lunatic by your potential converts is a BAD MARKETING MOVE.”

‘The Key Is in the Corporate Market’

Schroder’s tips “are good ones, but I think they are aimed at markets which are more difficult to reach at the moment for a variety of reasons,” Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told LinuxInsider. “There is no singular, monolithic desktop market.”

The key to success is to “make sure one understands the user’s needs and provide a quality, easy to use system that meets those needs,” Travers opined.

“Right now, the key is in the corporate desktop market. Attention to detail, solid engineering of solutions, and empowering the company and user are the important elements,” he explained. “‘We can make this system do whatever you want’ is the best selling point of Linux systems today.”

Make It ‘Newbie-Friendly’

More than better advocacy techniques, what Linux needs to succeed is to be made “newbie-friendly,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told LinuxInsider.

“With my Windows and Apple customers, the CLI simply doesn’t exist,” he explained. “Compare that to Linux, where you often get, ‘open up Bash and type’ to fix even the smallest problem. That has to end.”

Similarly, a “Help Me” button to connect customers to a volunteer Linux “guru” and a Linux hardware store for compatible products would also help make it easier to switch, hairyfeet added.

“Linux guys have to remember that new users just don’t think like them,” he concluded. “They are used to walking into Wal-Mart and buying things, not downloading packages. If you don’t make it easy, then Win7 and OSX will be happy to take those customers from you.”


  • It may be true that GNU/Linux does not meet the needs of some particular user of PCs but the short-coming, if it exists, is almost always one of perception or knowledge. Many times I have read that application X does not run on GNU/Linux so GNU/Linux does not meet the need. This is false as a different but similar application may well meet the need and run on GNU/Linux. Also, the newbie or person unfamiliar with GNU/Linux will have no concept that it is often possible to filter the output of one application to feed another or that file formats can be converted easiliy or that networked solutions may be trivial using GNU/Linux. To bridge some of these gaps may require only a few seconds of time from a guru of GNU/Linux with no change required in GNU/Linux itself.

    I have worked 40 years in IT in several fields. I have not seen anything GNU/Linux cannot do lately without writing or re-writing any component of GNU/Linux. GNU/Linux is a great OS, a toolbox for users of PCs from all walks of life. Estimates from various sources put the level of meeting needs at 80% or more of users as it is. With the help of gurus, the level must be higher than 90%.

    I believe there are good bases to argue that GNU/Linux is the greatest OS even if it is not perfect. In the real world, we do not expect perfection but GNU/Linux comes close for many purposes.

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