Thursday, April 4, 2013

Linux in the Real World - A View from the Trenches

by Ken Starks

Katherine Noyes raises not only an interesting question in her recent posting to Linux Advocates....

She poses one that needs to be answered with a majority of us agreeing....soon.

What is our goal here? 

"But, but Ken....I don't think that can happen, the whole agreeing thing."

Honestly?  Neither do I, but as with life in general, a full understanding of the problem is 50% of the solution.

Even among our ranks within Linux Advocate, there are "lively" debates on what our goals should be.  But I will argue, given the current state of the Linuxphere.....

That's not going to happen either.   Our biggest strength is also our greatest weakness.  Fragmentation.

Let's break it down.

First off, and not to get lost in semantics, I consider myself a Linux Mentor as well as an Advocate.  Advocating is all well and good but without follow through, we're not getting the job done.

Everyone who enters the Linux Advocate fold does so with their own motivation and expectations.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.  That's just a fact of life.  I can't expect a natural introvert to do what I do any more than (s)he can demand I code to their level of proficiency.

What I've Experienced - A Report to Linux Advocates.

In my efforts with Reglue, I have introduced Desktop Linux to over 1500 children and adults.  And while I don't consider myself as an "expert" on the matter, I do have some meaningful insight as to how we might come closer to deciding on what some of  our goals might include.

It's The Kids Stupid.....

As to what makes their computer work?  They don't care.  They have yet to be
tainted or infected with zealotry.  They haven't taken part in the bloody forum and IRC battles, claiming flags and mountain tops by "winning" a debate on the OS wars.

They just want a computer to work.

Sure, many of them have had initial tech exposure to Windows, or sometimes Apple products, but the fact remains, they have malleable minds.  They have not yet become mentally lazy or adverse to seeing things from a different angle.

They are simply happy to get a working, connected computer.

As to once the computer is placed into the home, the biggest challenge has been the parent(s) or guardians.

While the computer was placed in the home for our Reglue kids, it often becomes a family computer, since most of our clients don't have the financial resources to place another one in the house.

I really wish I had kept better track of this, but I would venture a guess, out of the 1500+ computers we've placed...

200 or so have called us, complaining that "someone" tried to put windows on the computer and now they can't find "the Internet" like it used to be.

Clearly put, they either tried themselves or a friend came over and wiped the Linux install and replaced it with a cracked copy of Windows.

They don't understand why the programs and apps they previously had are now gone.  That cool game or application little Timmy was using has mysteriously disappeared.  They think they now have a "virus".  They thought that installing Windows would somehow let them keep the initial Linux install.

They have no concept of what an operating system is, or how it works.

But while we achieve close to a 100% success rate with the kids, finding adults who are ready to embrace Linux on their desktops...well, the numbers aren't even close.

I would estimate, three out of ten adults will give Linux an honest shot and two out of those three will find some -excuse- reason to go back to Windows.

So what is our agreed-upon goal?

I believe those of us who do introduce Linux to the general computing populace need to pick our targets carefully.  If the person you are helping utters, "Be patient with me, I'm computer illiterate..."

Pass them by.

Unless you have immediate proximity to your apprentice or you have large amounts of Prozac, your efforts will be wasted.  It's the people that have reached The Pain Threshold of Microsoft Windows.  I installed Linux on a computer two days ago for a retired lady.  Her reasons?

Grandkids that come over and visit stodgy gaming websites and inflict javascript malware by the metric crap ton on her machine.

30 minutes with a bit of hand-holding and she was on her way.  She is like the majority of home users.  They use their browser to do most everything and the underlying system means nothing to them.

So...I've probably increased my reputation for saying in 1000 words what I could have said in 100...

The goal of Linux Mentors here on Linux Advocates should be to pick our targets carefully...a bit of psych profiling can go a long way.  But if you are not educated in that matter, just do this.

If they refer to their browser as "foxfire".....

Run like hell.

-- Ken

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  1. "The goal of Linux Mentors here on Linux Advocates should be to pick our
    targets carefully...a bit of psych profiling can go a long way. But if
    you are not educated in that matter, just do this.

    If they refer to their browser as "foxfire".....

    Run like hell."

    Amen to that! After many (many) years of helping folks with their PCs (mostly OS problems and introducing a PC to a first time user) the above applies no matter what the OS is. As far as Linux is concerned I've always chosen my targets carefully and pretty much just as you describe.

    But the nightmare of nightmares of working with people and PCs is getting that one person who insists that they get a PC for the first time but absolutely refuse to learn anything about it, ie: "I don't want to learn how it works, just show me how to DO it!" (A response I got when I tried to answer their question about where their document was stored. You know, that thing about files and folders?)

  2. Alessandro EbersolApril 4, 2013 at 4:29 PM

    I can relate to that... Sadly...

  3. "I don't want to learn how it works, just show me how to DO it!"

    It's these same people that will call you, screaming that they can't find the document they just typed and swear they now have a virus.

    Whew, I am SO glad I cut my client list back while I am semi-retired.

    Did I just say semi-retired?

    I guess that's the same as being semi-deceased.

  4. Great description, Ken. As usual you said in a 1000 words what most of us can't say at all. So don't worry about that 100 word limit>

  5. They are not computer illiterate, they just lack the mental capacity to learn new things.

  6. Great article. I chuckled at the "foxfire" reference. I have heard several people say that. LOL.

  7. You got it right Ken. I see young school age kids using computers easily.. And after all, it's always about the children

  8. It was pleasant reading the experiences and philosophies of the author developed over time regarding approaches to the greater adoption of Linux and Free/open Source Software (FOSS), simply because a great deal parallels my experiences in the FOSS world over past fifteen or more years.

    I agree cimpletely that the focus and effort need to be placed with your people, since the negative and mostly ignorant rhetoricand response from too many adults, particularly those with a technology political agenda can be distressing and time wasting to contend with.

    Your efforts are reinforcing in encouraging me to keep the faith, especially in our challenging push of Linux and FOSS adoption to less developed countries in the North American region, particularly the Caribbean and Central America.

  9. Go on! Help the kids. Just make their life better, with the nice tools.

  10. Cannot help but pick the (otherwise very nice) picture as a target.

    The children on that picture seem to be "somewhat misaligned" to that "technology infrastructure" ;)

    At least as compared to usual Computer Work recommendations (eyes near screen top-level height, arms at a straight angle to keyboards etc.).

    So while I'm sure these children are very far from clocking in the near-damaging huge computer work hour count of some adults and are very young and flexible, it would still be useful to ease achieving a suitable position (e.g. provide some semi-high seat cushions or some other help).

    Also, at this young age you wouldn't want to have them get the impression that this is how to ergonomically use a computer during their entire life ;)

    Have to say that your conclusions in the article sound about damn right.

    Thanks for all your present and past efforts!