Monday, January 27, 2014

Marketing the Escape from Software Captivity

Not having gained employment in health information technology, I've gone back to school for business administration. One of the required courses is an introduction to marketing. It is easily the most engaging class I have this semester.

What's one of the first things I got from it? Desktop Linux fails in no small part because of poor marketing and a complete lack of marketing management. To be fair, most of the things which make desktop Linux awesome, by which I mean community and freedom, prevent it from being marketed effectively as a desktop OS.

Linux is an IT pro's playground. If there's anything such a person wants to play with, Linux is just about the best place to go. In some ways, Linux is like Protestantism. Any time any portion of a community is unhappy with how things are going, he (or they) can split off to start another. In Linux, this is not automatically a bad thing. After all, unlike Jesus, Linus Torvalds never prayed that all in his Kingdom would be one. And it leads to all sorts of nifty innovations, like CrunchBang Linux (still one of my favorites), PCMan File Manager and Terminator terminal emulator (both originally one-man projects, and largely they still are). But it does prevent a unified or even coordinated message.

On the other hand, never have the disadvantages of captive software, and entrusting your computer and your information (like what software you install), to the likes of Microsoft's butterfingers been so evident. So what am I asking of the Linux community at large?

Tell people interested in keeping the control of their computers in their own hands to start with a mainstream starter distro with broad support and friendly forums (e.g., Linux Mint, Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu, Ubuntu, Mageia, OpenSUSE, Fedora, Korora, Zorin, Sabayon). Assure them that if there's something they really dislike, it can probably be changed. Ask them whether software should be stable and mature or up-to-the-minute. Ask them which version of Windows they liked best, and why. Ask them what applications they absolutely must have, and if the open source alternatives will meet their needs. And apply their answers to the distro you recommend to them -- if any. There are people for whom total escape is not worth the effort. (And yes, I am one of them. I run Win7 to play Need for Speed: World, League of Legends, and Warframe.) Let them keep it.

I am of the opinion that nearly anyone intent on escaping the control that Microsoft has over their computer, and regularly gives to the likes of the RIAA, the MPAA, and the NSA, would do well to use KDE as their desktop environment. This isn't a knock on Unity, GNOME Shell, XFCE, LXDE, or any other UI. It's an opinion, based on my assessment of KDE's usability, maturity, stability, and familiarity to people used to Windows XP and Aero. I would only point them at distros with interfaces that use the start menu, task bar, and desktop paradigm that Windows has used since 95. I think there is absolutely no point in talking with potential new users about Ratpoison (a GUI that does not use the mouse), Fluxbox, or whether GNOME Shell, Unity, Cinnamon, XFCE, or MATE will become the predominant GTK+ 3.x environment. Sure, they're out there, and useful, and interesting, but not to somebody who has only ever used Windows.

Nor does any good come from trying to indoctrinate them to hold your position with regards to vi vs. emacs vs. nano, init vs. SystemV vs. Upstart, or whatever other dispute or controversy you are absolutely sure has only one correct position.

A fair number of popular projects have elitist communities which are actively hostile to newcomers and people who aren't interested in learning a lot about their computers. And it's possible for new projects to spring up with little or no quality control, and/or promise a lot more than they deliver. Either experience will gravely hinder or derail anyone's Linux adoption. No matter how much you may love such a distro or project, don't suggest it to a newcomer.

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