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.
Astute readers of Larry the Free Software Guy might notice a trend in this week’s blogs, and if you said “pop music references,” you’d be right. Yesterday’s “Monday, Monday” is the title of a song by The Mamas & The Papas, and today’s comes to you from the Moody Blues. OK, kids, go ahead and hit Wikipedia to look up those bands we old folks continually talk about . . . .
Tuesday, of course, is farmers market day in the People’s Republic of Felton, the town that had the unmitigated audacity to buy its waterworks back from a multinational and put it back in town hands. And at the ring of the bell at 2:30 to signal the start of the market, Felton LUG was set up and ready to go, with both Frank Adamson and me staffing the table.
That’s Frank in the photo in the article linked above. Frank, an octagenarian, takes a walk about a mile down the hill every Tuesday to staff the Felton LUG table (not to worry, folks — we make sure Frank gets a ride home up the hill, usually with indefatigable FOSS evangelist Bob Lewis or sometimes his wife drives down to pick him up). An Ubuntu user, Frank has been a FOSS advocate for about a year.
With his work with Felton Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW) and other activities in Felton (like the Friends of the Library), Frank seems to know everyone in Felton. People come to the table and say hello to Frank, and immediately Frank starts off into his pitch about FOSS and GNU/Linux.
This farmers market table seems to be working well, not only for the LUG — which had nearly 20 people attend the meeting last Saturday — but also for FOSS in general.
People have a general sense of what Linux is — it’s that operating system thing, right? — and seeing it in an arena that’s not normally a “tech environment” makes it a lot less threatening, for loss of a better term. So I would strongly urge everyone who wants to promote FOSS, GNU/Linux and Linux (for those who want to make that distinction, which I don’t anymore) take the word forth to places where you might not normally find tech talk; like farmers markets, or tractor pulls, or gun shows. Anywhere where people congregate is a place where FOSS can be pitched.
Also, one of the funniest things today was handing out stickers to kids. One kid asked for one, and then her friends came up and said, “Excuse me, can we please have stickers, too?” (Such polite kids we have here in Felton.) At one point the kids had come back several times, and they had stuck the stickers on their shirts, so they were wearing Fedora, OpenSUSE, WordPress and the GNU/Linux “Dynamic Duo” gnu and penguin superhero stickers on their shirts. Sure, I bet moms wanted to strangle me, but one dad commented to me about his daughter, “You know, she looks like a stock car,” which I thought was funny.
So Tuesday’s down and Wednesday’s next. Watch this space.
Colonel Panik, my good friend and constant commenter to this blog, asked me to give you all some insights about what we’re finding at the Felton Farmers Market every Tuesday.
An order is an order, and Bob does outrank me.
So here’s what we’re finding in Felton:
More people are using Linux than come to the Felton LUG meeting: We’ve encountered roughly a dozen people in two weeks who live in Felton who use Linux who we’ve never seen at a meeting. My oft-echoed question, “Have you heard of Linux?” has been met with a constant “Yes,” and many of the people who have, and who have used (or are using) it are already using Ubuntu. I like to think this has something to do with the Lindependence events back in 2008, not to mention the Software Freedom Day events we’ve had here since 2007, but there’s no hard evidence to back this up. It’s just a hunch.
Most people are looking for digital alternatives: There are only a handful of people — I can only think of two in two weeks that we’ve had the table — that have no interest in FOSS after explaining what it is. In fact, a lot of people are looking for alternatives to the laundry list of maladies that accompany their daily Windows experience. In fact, easing them into FOSS with the OpenCD is a good way to introduce them to programs like OpenOffice.org and GIMP, and eventually we can get them to change operating systems to something — oh, I don’t know — free as in freedom and price?
“. . . I haven’t used it, but my $FAMILY_MEMBER has”: This is a common response by those who have not used Linux/FOSS themselves. This is a promising sign. Even though they may not be using it, at least they’re aware of it. Those who went home with a disk hopefully will know more about it and come back the following week with questions.
There are other things that amaze me: The Google engineer who stopped by the table — “Oh, I’d better know what Linux is.” — and others who work “over the hill,” as we call the Silicon Valley, who would stop with strawberries in hand to take a look at what we had, and take a disk or two to try out. Also, what amazes me is that a lot of youngsters — teens, of course — who have used FOSS and don’t mind spending their time at the table talking about things like “Will GIMP ever have only one window?”
Thanks for helping at the booth so far go to: Bob Lewis, my partner in Felton LUG organizing, who is one of the most sensible and passionate Linux evangelists I know; Karsten Wade, who brings his vast knowledge and rapier-quick wit, and OpenSource.com swag, to the table; Frank Adamson, the Ubuntu-using octogenarian who took his daily mile-walk to come to staff the table; and to Peter Belew, for making his talents available at the table.
See you next Tuesday. Coming up next: Reports from OSCON.