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!
Apologies in advance for this item being specific to the Golden State:
For those of you who may have missed this several years ago, I ran for statewide office in California. I was the Green Party’s candidate for Insurance Commissioner in 2006 (270,218 votes, 3.2 percent — “What do we have for our departing contestant, Johnny Olsen?”). During that campaign, I picked up the Free/Open Source Software I used for the campaign, as well as the FOSS paradigm which leads me today to be the FOSS advocate that now addresses you as Larry the Free Software Guy.
So in a nutshell, I gave up partisan politics after that campaign to become the FOSS advocate whose blog you now read. While I have often mentioned to folks — both personally and in correspondence — that I am through with partisan politics in order to promote FOSS, I’m going to change my tune a little this election cycle.
This year in California, we have a monumentally great opportunity to put a good friend of FOSS in the lieutenant govenor’s office in November (and for Democrats, actually getting him on the ballot during the primary in June).
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who fostered an open source software policy in San Francisco earlier this year, looks like he’s heading to become the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor this year.
As you all know, my voter registration does not affiliate itself with either major political party, and my contempt for many Democrats (see Blue Dogs) is legendary. But Newsom comes to the ballot for lieutenant governor with some serious credentials: As mayor of the world’s greatest city (and it is), he has shown adimrable leadership around environmental and human rights issues, to name two, coupled with guiding The City through some perilous financial straits.
Plus, he’s a friend of FOSS, who can bring the open source to the halls of Sacramento. What more could FOSS advocates want?
In addition, the likely Republican candidate — appointed (not incumbent, arguably) Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado — could be second only to Sarah Palin in being the least qualifed person to hold any elected office, let alone one where he’s a heartbeat away from being in charge of California. You’ll not want to get me started on my former state senator. Trust me.
In any case, if you’re a Democrat, you can vote for Newsom in the primary June 8. Come November, the choice in this race is pretty clear and with Newsom as the candidate for lieutenant governor, I’ll be voting Democrat for state office for the first time in a long time.
What she said here I completely agree with.
(Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
CNN analyst Alex Castellanos — one of the Republican pundits on a rather large team of political experts on hand on Election Day — made both a very interesting and poignant point about the incoming presidency and the possibility of its “open source” nature.
I was working at the Sentinel on the news desk racing to get local election stories on the page when I just about fell out of my chair at what you’ll see and hear around 0:37 when Castellanos mentioned “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” and follows up with making a very good case for a changing paradigm that we already know and adhere to.
An open source future for America — is that what Castellanos is saying here? Decide for yourself.
(Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs HeliOS Solutions West in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
First things first: If you’re at Linux World in San Francisco this week, feel free to stop by the Fedora booth and say hello. For those of you keeping score at home, I’m a Fedora ambassador and I’ve been staffing the booth at the exhibition. If you aren’t at the show, you’re missing a good one. More details to follow.
Without further adeiu:
Hopping: The word from the floor is that this is a more subdued Linux World than years past, according to those who stopped by the Fedora booth (where I essentially was stationed all day). I couldn’t disagree more — this place was absolutely hopping on Tuesday and materials and media flew off the Fedora table. A very healthy crowd traversed the floor of the exhibition throughout the day, tapering off during times when sessions were, well, in session.
The crowd on day one was also a huge cross-section of people with a wide range of abilities. Those who are new to GNU/Linux and FOSS — those are the folks whose eyes are a tad wider than the others — were very receptive to our neighbors and us (we’re bounded on the north by Creative Commons, on the south by Bay Area LUG). All were great — and I certainly hope that those who are new to this find the same passion and satisfaction in FOSS that most of us already share.
Observation: Those show-goers who have more experience in GNU/LInux and FOSS generally fall into three categories: uniters, dividers and whiners.
The uniters “get it.” — they understand that, for all intents and purposes, we’re all in this together. Those are the folks I’ve talked to who may not use the same distro or desktop environment that I use, but realize that what’s good for one is good for everyone — we all rise up together. Generally speaking, these are the open-minded folks who keep FOSS afloat, regardless of one’s preferences.
The dividers, well, just don’t get it. The dividers, of which unfortunately there are many, would rather talk about how great their distro is and not pay attention to what you — another distro user — has to say. They come in different levels and garden varieties, but let’s look what could be (could be) more than coincidental happenstance on Tuesday. Exhibit A presents several CentOS users who have come to the Fedora booth to, essentially, tell us how great their distro is in comparison to ours; some without the courtesy to me (or anyone else) to hear us out about why we prefer our distro.
[Note to CentOS users at the show or beyond: Feel free to flame here, but bear in mind that I think CentOS is an excellent distro. However, if the centerpiece of CentOS's marketing plan is to trash other distros, then you may want to try something else.]
While I’m not one to shy away from a debate (or worse), I do have my diplomacy hat on during the show, so you won’t hear any arguments from me.
The whiners: That’s pretty self explanatory, and in more than a few instances, the reason they’re whining has something to do with a facet of a distro — any distro — that’s sort of impossible to address, at least digitally; and if it is addressable digitally, it’s so far removed from the normal course of the average computer user that it’s not included in the release (which begs the question for those advanced users who also double as whiners: Want that feature? Ever think of contributing it?). But this is what we hear: “You’re distro won’t run on my toaster and won’t walk the dog in the morning. What’s wrong with you guys?” A shrug and a smile kind of sends them on their way, and I’m not convinced there’s much we can do about them.
Who’s here: While the usual cast of characters are here, a couple of folks who deserve special mention are here so far and have stopped by the booth. Cathy and Earl Malmrose have the ZaReason booth up and running great guns a few booths down from us — go guys! Tod Landis of dbEntrance also came up from Boulder Creek and spent some time in the booth. Christian Einfeldt of the Digital Tipping Point, camera always at the ready, also got yet even more footage around the Lindependence event from the floor of the exhibition.
[Again, let me emphasize, as I did on camera, that I am not a slob -- if it appears I haven't shaved in several days, it's because I haven't: I'm regrowing my beard so I look more like my picture here.]
More from the floor of the show on Wednesday as things develop, connectivity willing.
(Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs HeliOS Solutions West in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)