Thursday, November 16, 2006

Linux Adoption, Powered by PC Power Users.

For a number of weeks now, I’ve been pondering exactly who chooses to migrate to Linux and perhaps even more importantly, why. Seriously, what is the motivating factor when it comes to making the move to a new OS? Generally speaking, it comes down to a need for a change.

Whether this stems from the need to try something new, or the fact that Vista is making people in Windows land very nervous, the fact remains that there is a relative flood of new users coming over to the Linux world hoping to find a more effective alternative to proprietary operating systems.

Linux Adoption, Powered by PC Power Users. We might like to think otherwise, but the "great migration" Linux is generally being powered by advanced Windows users. These are people who are already comfortable enough with configuring their computers that the idea of opening up a shell prompt doesn't frighten them off easily.

This is not to say that beginners are not working off of Linux boxes themselves mind you. But in the end, most of the migrants will be switching, thanks in part to the free ISOs (CD'S) that are available for download from various Linux distribution sites.

I personally believe that Windows users are fed up with the need to continuously upgrade their systems with proprietary OS problems. And now that Microsoft has all but shot themselves in the foot with the promise of any rouge application sending the affected PC into a "bluescreen," many end users need a break from this madness.

Making the Switch: Challenges. One hurdle that I’ve seen with a number of people working to make the switch to Linux is the understanding that Linux is, in fact, quite different from what they are used to. Because so much of the Linux world is composed of community efforts, the user interface and unusual hardware is not always as "plug-n-play" friendly as the migrant user might like.

Unfortunately, even to this day, I still see so many instances of forum posts where a recent "switcher" makes a plea for assistance, only to receive some short posting with a URL to another thread in it. You know something - that was one of my biggest pet peeves when I first tried Red Hat a number of years ago. And from what I’ve seen, it's still happening often enough even to this day.

But in fairness to those posting these short responses to Linux support forums, it’s reflective of a frustration that veteran users feel as beginners are not taking the time to look for the answers first. The solution is to utilize clear communication techniques by pointing users to sticky posts with an explanation of how the posting can help them. Everything considered, it makes for a fair compromise.

A Glimmer of Hope. Today, we have looked closely at who specifically is moving to Linux and why. Even though this may not seem too important to the future of Linux for advanced users, I’d beg to differ.

Some of these new Linux migrants could one day become a strong voice in the open source and Linux movement. The impressions they have today could very well shape the Linux distributions of tomorrow. I believe in my heart that it’s damaging to dismiss newer users who may not have a firm grasp on what it truly means to be a user of this fantastic operating system.

As long as we are able to maintain a balance between the user and the needs of the Linux community, I feel very strongly that it will indeed be the newcomer to Linux that decides the operating system's fate in the long run. Just look at the Ubuntu phenomena - I rest my case.

by Matt Hartley

No comments: