One of the great things about living where I do is the people by whom I’m surrounded in the FOSS realm. Each community has their peeps that do yeoman’s work on a daily basis to promote Linux and FOSS, and in the Silicon Valley and “over the hill” on Santa Cruz side, we are stocked with great people who do excellent work.
Grant Bowman, as I’ve mentioned before in past blogs, is one of them.
Grant started a discussion on the LUG mailing lists in the Silicon Valley and concludes with this: Is there a “best” way to introduce people to knowing more about computing without limits? Grant’s e-mail eloquently continues in seeking an answer to how we, as Linux/FOSS advocates, can help those who are Linux/FOSS curious experience what we already know is a better way.
We all know there’s not an easy answer to this, and arguably if you get 10,000 people in an arena to answer that question, chances are you’d end up with 12,000 different answers. However, it’s a good issue to discuss to get ideas regarding how to best promote Linux/FOSS with the proviso that there is not a “right,” one-size-fits-all answer.
Putting aside seeking community — going to LUG meetings, for example, and becoming an active member — I’d prefer here to address the one-to-one issue of Linux user introducing a non-user to Linux.
One basis — not the only one, but my own bottom line modus operandi — for determining how best to promote Linux/FOSS is to know why the potential convertee wants to use Linux/FOSS and how he or she plans to use it. Computer experience at this point in the discussion is secondary, though it is something that needs to be addressed early in the discussion.
So I would break the users down into two basic categories: Changers for philosopical reasons and changers for nuts-and-bolts reasons (and I don’t mean “nuts-and-bolts” in a bad sense: What I mean are those who don’t care if their software is “free-as-in-freedom.” They just want to do what they do on their computers to work as they’re accustomed to having it work).
There are others who might fall between these two basic categories — like those who get the philosophical side but focus on the more basic part of having the OS and software “just work” — but for the sake of discussion, let’s just use these two for now.
The inverted pyramid
In the news field, one of the principles of reporting is known as “the inverted pyramid;” an upside-down triangle, actually, where the most important item of the news story (that is, the widest part of the triangle) is at the top, with less important items following in a desending order so, as far as importance goes, the diagram would come to a point at the end where the least important part of the story would exist. The inverted pyramid’s purposes, in journalistic circles, stems from the fact that when there are space considerations in the newspaper — i.e., when the story is too long for the space — the editor can cut from the bottom and what’s lost is not as important as what stays.
How that affects the philosophicals
In the case of those changers who want to use Linux/FOSS for reasons that have to do with not wanting to be chained to EULAs or for reasons revolving around “sticking it to the man,” moreso than anything that has to do with basic functionality, you can start your inverted pyramid with the wide and lofty ideals of free software and how that works. Then you can narrow your discussion down to other principles and maybe functions of how to go about using a Live CD (if they don’t know how to already) and finally reach the tip at the bottom handing him or her the CD and let them know how to reach you if they have questions.
Meanwhile, back with the nuts-and-bolts crowd . . . .
Let’s say that you’re having a discussion with someone who’s giving you the blank, god-will-this-ever-end glazed-over stare while you discuss some of the concepts of free software. That’s a pretty good indication that he or she does not really care about EULAs and the philosophical side of things, and your inverted pyramid doesn’t have to start at the lofty ideals of FOSS. Here you can emphasize some of the functionality of Linux and FOSS programs, with the proviso that “your mileage may vary” (an important point — remember GIMP may not do everything Photoshop can do, but for the amateur photographer, GIMP works just fine). The concepts that the software is “free as in free beer” may also resonate. From there, you narrow your discussion down to how you can try out using Linux/FOSS on with a Live CD, etc., and so on.
Again, these are two extremes where a lot of new users may fall somewhere in between, but some of the more important aspects of introducing and helping new users know and share what we might take for granted.
But bear in mind that when you’re advocating for Linux and FOSS:
I look forward to further discussion on this, and thanks, Grant, for posting this.
(Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
Amid the recent — and completely minor — hubbub around politics injected into Linux User Group discussions on the Berkeley LUG mailing list, it’s interesting to see how FOSS and GNU/Linux can bring people of different political stripes together.
Exhibit A: Ken Starks and me.
Ken and I put together Lindependence 2008, an effort that brought Linux and FOSS to Felton, California, through a series of miniature GNU/Linux and FOSS expos at the Felton Presbyterian Church hall in July of 2008. Various distros — Fedora, Mandriva, Ubuntu and Debian, to name four — had tables set up at Lindependence, as well as FOSS programs like OpenOffice.org. Representatives from each of the distros and programs had representatives on hand, and the idea was to convert the town to Linux and FOSS.
Ken, a Texan, is an Operation Desert Storm vet and as Rebublican as you can get; a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. Those who know me know that I’m an unapologetic lefty no longer affiliated with any political party, and many of you are already tired of hearing me tell of my Green Party candidacy for statewide office in California (for those who aren’t keeping score at home: In 2006, I was the Green candidate for Insurance Commissioner and got the most votes of any Green statewide that year — 270,218 votes, 3.2 percent).
But recently, I was looking at some clips from video that a San Francisco filmmaker, the Digital Tipping Point’s Christian Einfeldt, shot on Lindependence 2008 featuring Ken and me, and thinking about how despite our differences, those of different political views can work together for FOSS and GNU/Linux, even though each is approaching it from different directions — ranging from either from a purely libertarian (small “l” to describe the philosophy, not the capital “L” political party) perspective to from the anti-corporate, anarchist (in the true sense of the word) paradigm.
[Ken and I, of course, fall somewhere in between, far from either end, of both extremes.]
In watching some of the clips that Christian had shot at Lindepdence 2008, I found one where I said something to the effect that I would never talk to Ken if it weren’t for our shared passion for FOSS and Linux, as he would say (GNU/Linux as I would say), because of our political differences.
I’d like to publicly take that back.
Thanks to this experience, I have since been convinced that you can work across political divisions to achieve a common goal, i.e., Linux and FOSS adoption, and as a result I welcome the opportunity to work with those with whom I may not share a political philosophy.
Despite our political differences, Ken and I worked well in getting Lindependence 2008 going. Further, I’m proud to serve on the board of a project that Ken chairs, the HeliOS Project, which provides Linux-based computers to underprivileged kids in the Austin, Texas, area.
In conclusion, there’s a lesson to be learned here, for the observant.
One of the great things about someone else writing something you wish you had written — other than the fact that you don’t have to write it yourself — is that now, thanks to the Internet, you can just link to an on-line written work and say, “Yeah, what he said.”
On the issue of getting started with a distro as a contributor — and I hope you are all contributors at some level (and if you’re not, here’s your chance to make up lost ground) — Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier nails it in his latest blog item on the topic.
Go there now — it’s worth the read. Thanks, Zonk!