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Any given Thursday

Linux Today has been gracious enough to post the Tuesday blog post and the responses to it on that page hit home with a topic — Linux evangelism — that needs to be discussed.

This is very important, so pay attention.

Important point number one: How you present FOSS is probably more important than actually promoting Linux and FOSS. Let me say that again: How you present FOSS is probably more important than actually promoting GNU/Linux and FOSS.

[Yeah, I said it twice, but not because of the Linux-vs.-GNU/Linux thing, though that was very convenient, huh?]

This is how we do it in Felton Farmers Market table: We essentially ask “Do you know about Linux?” If not, we explain what it is. If so, we ask them about their experience. What we stress is, in both cases, “Remember, you have a choice.” And the choice is simple — either you can have an operating system and software that you own (and is not licensed to you) or you can have an operating system and software that puts you at the mercy of those who own it (i.e., Microsoft, Apple, etc.).

Yes, it may take a little work to get up to speed, but the trade-off is that you’re essentially free of viruses, spyware, malware, etc., and your system (especially an older one) will run faster. Also, if you need help, we let them know that the Felton Linux Users Group (for which the table is set up) can help.

The key operating word here is choice: You give the people the choice of whether they want an operating system and software that is theirs to own, that is free (as in beer/KookAid/bottled water/whatever as well as in freedom) and that, with a little work, they can control more easily than what they might have now.

Or they can choose not to change, and that’s completely up to them, which — another important point — is a decision that should be respected no matter how wrong we might think it is.

Which, of course, brings us to . . .

Important point number two: There’s no need, let alone no room, for zealotry. The zealotry that’s often masked as evangelism harms GNU/Linux and FOSS far more than it helps.

Think about it in these terms — and this is not to cast evangelicals in a negative light, but just to use some of the more zealous, overbearing ones as an example — how effective are those Bible-thumpers you may encounter, telling you you’re going to roast like a July 4th marshmallow in the eternal fiery pits of hell’s damnation unless you embrace $RELIGION that they profess? Does that kind of pitch fill you with instant inspiration to take them up on their cause, or does it fill you with an overwhelming desire to find the nearest hose and spray them down?

Same thing with Linux/FOSS zealots: If you horse-collar people and tell them they must use GNU/Linux and FOSS or they will die, then you’re acting no better than the misguided evangelicals mentioned in the previous paragraph.

We have all been “filled with the Holy Spirit,” to use a Christian term for divine inspiration, at some point in our conversion to Linux/FOSS and it’s only natural to want people to know what we know, and to experience what we experience, when it comes to our operating system and software. But . . .

Important point number three: People are people. Some people take pride in their car or house and are constantly doing work on them; whether it’s tuning up or doing repair work themselves on their car, or being on a first-name basis with the guys and gals at Lowe’s or Home Depot while making their home their personal pride and joy.

Then again, some people have ratty cars that are driven into the ground and live in the hovel to which their mail goes — because they don’t care.

[This is not to say that people who drive ratty cars don't care. I drive a '92 Toyota Paseo with 316,000 miles because it's all I can afford. It looks like death warmed over, but I do regular maintenance on it and it runs like a champ.]

Some people — more than likely in the first category — are the ones who are more likely to consider their computers as more than just an appliance; the latter may not consider their computers anything more than a television screen with a keyboard.

It’s those in the first category that realize what they have in a personal computer (i.e., more than just an appliance) that tend to want to know more of the options in the digital realm. Hence, most of those we encounter at the farmers market fall into the first category.

Those in the second category, well, fall under the “Lead-a-horse-to-water” group. You may not be able to make them drink, and while no one really deserves the slings and arrows that befall Windows users, people have to want to get themselves out of that quagmire before they can actually get out of it. Whether they have to “hit bottom,” as they say in AA circles, is worthy of debate, but the main thrust is that they have to want to help themselves.

So to recap: We have most, if not all, of the solutions for everyone to have a free-as-in-freedom digital experience through GNU/Linux and FOSS. It is open to everyone and anyone who wants to participate — at whatever level fits their comfort zone — and the community aspect is one that has the ability to reach far beyond merely the technical realm.

A lot of people, to varying degrees, “get it,” and most, sooner or later, they will change from using Windows/Mac to Linux/FOSS. Some don’t, and while that’s unfortunate, it’s their choice.

And that’s what this is about — the freedom to choose.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for staying awake.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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  1. Colonel Panik
    August 12, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    The LtFSG soapbox grows ever higher.

    Point #1 Well said indeed. Maybe your best to date.

    Point #2 Zealot Zeal”ot, n. [F. z['e]lote, L. zelotes, Gr. ?. See
    Zeal.]
    One who is zealous; one who engages warmly in any cause, and
    pursues his object with earnestness and ardor; especially,
    one who is overzealous, or carried away by his zeal; one
    absorbed in devotion to anything; an enthusiast; a fanatical
    partisan.
    [1913 Webster]

    Do you see that part that says “one who engages warmly in any cause,
    and pursues his object with earnestness and ardor”?
    Being zealous is not a bad thing. Being a zealot is not a bad thing.

    It is not a good thing to be over zealous. However, zealous is almost
    always used as a negative thing now days. Like the word manifesto,
    you never see that word anymore. Some brilliant geeks have and are
    using it but for the most part it is always associated with the
    “Communist Manifesto” and there goes your audience, heading for the
    exit. In fact communist, communism and such are not in and of
    themselves bad or negative. But the Colonel digresses.

    At the Texas Linux Fest Mr. Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier in his Keynote
    address said …that only our enthusiasm and passion will get people to
    try the Linux distros. Your wonderful technological “proofs” and the
    unbeatable specs of FOSS software are just not enough….

    So, be a ZEALOT. But please be a very polite and humble zealot.

    Point #3 About that horse to water thing… two Texans can but that
    is all I can say on this world renown blog.

    Larry said: “And that’s what this is about — the freedom to choose.”
    That’s it in a nut shell. Linux, the freedom to choose.

    Other than starting a sentence with And, this is your best ever.

    • August 12, 2010 at 12:42 pm

      Well put, Colonel, and shame on me for starting a sentence with “And.”

      And I think I’ll go stand in the corner for that one for awhile.

      You provide a good example of how the word “zealot” has been changed to mean something bad, and perhaps “zealot” is not the right word. However, if you can come up with a better word for a person who blindly evangelizes, then I’m open to changing it. But I agree: If you’re going to be zealous in your advocating FOSS, please be humble and polite.

      The person I describe and the person Zonker described in his keynote obviously are two different people. Enthusiasm and passion will win over the day.

  2. August 13, 2010 at 5:39 am

    Hello Larry,

    There’s another approach, which is like yours in that it simply presents the facts and then leaves the listener to make the choice: I point out to people that by implicitly agreeing to the licenses of proprietary software, they are going against what they learned in kindergarten. I developed this tactic after hearing rms say in RevolutionOS that signing a non-disclosure agreement was signing “an agreement to be a bad person.” I’ve found people very receptive to this idea.

    The people that I find are really resistant are your “more than an appliance” audience. Those who have heard of the issue and don’t understand it and therefore resist any mention of it. I was once eating a piece of leftover cake at our lab lunch table and someone pointed out my publicly-expressed value of sharing. My reply was “Software should be shared; cake should not be shared, not today.” Someone at the table replied angrily “Software should not be shared!” I think he thought I was talking about proprietary software and so called “illegal sharing” (that’s what they call it here at our university). He just doesn’t know that there’s a community built around sharing software and creating it for common good.

    Then there are skilled computer users who have only had bad experiences with what they call “Linux” [sic]. This usually means a poorly setup system manned by sysadmins who don’t know anything about Unix, who set up their systems primarily as platforms for proprietary software (e.g. Matlab).

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