Updated: January 19, 2011
Now and then, you come across an almost evangelistic article explaining why Linux is the answer to life, the universe and everything, and then elaborating on the methods to borgify the plebes into the collective. These articles are usually too serious to take seriously, with a note of naivette and zeal that achieve exactly the opposite effect.
Therefore, as a sane and not at all fanboy user of Linux, I want to give you a realistic and effective recipe for converting non-Linux users to Linux. In a way, this article should complement my other anti-evangelistic pieces rather nicely, including using Linux for the wrong reasons and the 10 characteristics of a Linux guru. Links further down below. Now let's begin. P.S. Don't take this too seriously - but do take this seriously.
People with bad usage habits tend to blame the operating system for their failures. It's easier to say Windoze sucks than admit you may be misusing your computing assets. This happens a lot. And as a knee-jerk reaction, people switch to Linux. While it is more difficult to destroy a typical Linux distro, because of the built-in safety mechanisms, it's still rather easy. For example, nothing can prevent you from deleting all your files in your home directory. And if you have the root password, you can easily ruin the system in just a few seconds. Now, Linux security is an entire philosophy, which I won't debate here.
Switching over to Linux, for a wide range of reasons, including targetability, variety, exposure factors, usage model, and default security permissions, should make your experience malware-free. But come the day, come the hour, your bad habits will resurface and attack you. You can't avoid your own self, and no amount of code can help you with that. Eventually, if you're prone to malware in Windows, you'll have malware in Linux, without solving the crucial core issue of why you got infected in the first place.
Now, as an enthusiastic Linux user trying to flock your friends over, you can use the malware card as the conversion catalyst. Infect someone's machine; when they complain about it, tell them how Linux is malware-free. Job done.
This always works. Use brute physical force. Shout if necessary. Make their lives miserable, then turn into a cuddly puppy once they decide to comply. Don't be ashamed of your physical abuse, it's just a normal extension of radical fanboyism in the forums.
People are communal by nature. They like the idea and concept and safety of community. People love the indecision and blame denomination of the group, and the bigger the better. Belonging to a community means you can safely tuck your identity away and enjoy the trends dictated by the community. In this regard, Apple wins by a huge margin. No one gives their users such a deep false sense of belonging as Apple. It's a masterpiece of propaganda and manipulation.
The Linux community is nowhere near as sophisticated, plus it suffers from rifts and wars that make the War of the Roses and the Great Western Schism look like a child's game. Most Linux users are fairly passionate about their favorite distro and programs and will not take lightly to any attempt to intrude their happy place. New users will find this rather aggressive community a bit too hard to swallow.
If you don't want your fresh converts to flee on their first visit to a typical forum, make sure you protect them from anti-noobism in the initial conversion phase. And never forget to emphasize the importance of belonging and sharing the common goal.
This is not a simple task. In fact, it's almost impossible. Most people are set in their ways and will never budge, no matter what. Even if you provide them with superior alternatives to their software and methods, they will continue doing things the way they always have. This is the reason why people may not appreciate VLC over Windows Media Player, for the simple reason that the latter is not the former, and the former was there first.
Your only hope, your one true chance is to give your best shot when they come to you, asking for a program that does X, but which they currently do not have. At this point, you should flip open the lid of your Linux-powered laptop and show them the free and useful program you're using for exactly that task.
In everyday tasks, you'll be hard pressed to find good examples, but come the occasional not so mundane activity, like ripping DVDs, embedding subtitles, listening to music wrapped in a funny codec, 3D design and whatnot, you have a chance to shine.
Just don't suggest WINE as the first choice - and never say it works flawlessly. Money can be a factor, too, but don't overplay the freedom card. Education and frustration also cost a lot of money. My Frankenstein movie is a good example:
Here's the tough one. Even people who dabble in Linux for a long while do not understand what these concept embody. Choice does not mean being able to choose whatever you want whenever you want. Freedom does not mean the price tag. It's not even the RMS definition of having the privilege to modify the code as you see fit.
Choice means having the ability to refuse something - rather than accept something, in this case software. Choice allows you to say no rather than say yes. It's a tricky one, but think about it. Freedom is all about the knowledge that you can continue using your proprietary software, but should the evil corporations decide to leech your blood one day, you have an escape route. It's like the nuclear weapon, the ultimate deterrent and self reassurance.
Telling people they can choose fifty browsers when they don't even know what a browser is, is a pointless exercise in choice. Likewise, advocating freedom when people only want to download porn is futile. Freedom is such a heavy word. It brings along a terrible burden of responsibility, and few people are willing to accept that. Taking into account the relatively instability of the Linux desktop world, the whims of the developers and companies offering you free software and the ever-present threat your favorite distro might be decapitated, crippled, mutated, split, or quartered at any given moment, the price of freedom and choice can become high. Don't bet on people's ability to envision greatness; entice them with smallness.
Now, the best way to make geeks consider switching to Linux is by telling them how all the cool geeky girls who play D&D and AD&D - and also suffer from ADD - use Linux. Picture them a story of goth girls enamored by gcc and fortran, sing them a song of vast beauty, anime wallpapers and objectified female sex symbols through the free world of Linux. Don't forget to mention the few real women who happen to use Linux for personal and business reasons and shout their possibly unrelated and purely individual experience as the holy cause.
If you find words too difficult, go for the simple desktop background with a badly layered Ubuntu logo and some pin-up art. Alternatives include anime, manga, celebrities and T-shirt closeup from geekcons.
If you want to dis Microsoft, then the power of Youtube compels you. Nothing like showing Steve Ballmer's Developers video to an unsuspecting stranger to undermine their confidence in the largest and most powerful software company in the world, whose products they happen to be using. Things aren't much better in the Linux world, but they don't need to know that, at least for now. Like all the stuff you discover AFTER you get married. And I guess we can conclude this article now.
There's a popular saying that goes: there's a grain of truth in every joke. But the uncensored version is a little different. There's a grain of joke in every joke.
Converting people to Linux is not different from converting people to anything, be it a new religion, new lifestyle, new diet, new language, whatever. It's a painful and frustrating process for both parties, often compounded by overzealous and sometimes good-natured intentions on behalf of the converters. The only way to make the transition more pleasant is by using humor, bribes and incentives.
Unfortunately, too many people take their digital thingies too seriously. It's almost frightening to read some of the articles out there, which lay out the dominion plain in such simple terms, as if switching to Linux is going to cure cancer or expose new fossil fuel resources. Relax. It's only software.
Now, let the crusade begin!