In the past 3 years, I have had the opportunity to do hundreds of Linux system installs for new Linux Users. Up until recently, this has all been pure advocacy work. Facing constant and growing difficulty in getting the "Linux Community" involved in such efforts, something had to be done to address the issue of funding such work. One such effort on our part was to form an enterprise called HeliOS Solutions. It is through that business model that we now achieve the majority of our advocacy funding along with our Komputers4Kids effort.
Shortly after I began my advocacy, it became obvious that some records needed to be kept, records not of the individual installs so much as the reactions and behaviors of the New User when faced with a new operating system. Linus himself states that learning Linux is somewhat akin to doing brain surgery upon yourself. Unlearning years of conditioned behavior is extremely difficult and this in itself has proven to be one of the greatest obstacles in getting people to make the switch. Often it has been an obstacle in getting people to simply try Linux. We are going to discuss some of those behaviors and reactions here.
While much of this data may prove useful to others in an advocates role, nothing here should be construed to be scientific or academic in nature. What is reported here simply represents empirical data gathered by a layman pursuing his passion.
The home computer user has spent a decade learning the intracasies and idiosyncrasies of Microsoft Windows. When faced with a different environment and many separate subsets of said environments, the user will balk where she once strode with confidence. Let's take a look at some of these reactions from different groups I have assembled over the years and see what we can learn from their reactions.
"Getting Your Tweak on"
For all intent here, Windows offers the Licensee one basic environment. The fact that the Linux User has available to them several environments isn't always understood by the new user. Sure they may understand that they have different environments, but until you sit down with them and physically show them each one and the differences therein, many have problems conceptualizing these different ways of doing things. Telling people that "Linux is about choice" is like telling a Swahili about icebergs. My apologies to any well-traveled Swahilis for assuming your ignorance. It was a convenient simile.
Man, having to be politically correct sucks.
One of the main features in the KDE desktop is the amount of "tweaking" one can do to change the appearance and functionality of that environment. Some intrepid Windows Users venture into the realm of various third-party Windows tweaks that snazz up the desktop, but even with the Vista release; Microsoft has left the licensee with one basic desktop in which to work.
When I've taken the new Linux User into the KDE Control Center Modules and shown them how to change the themes, styles, window decorations, fonts and icons, often it's like throwing the keys to a candy store to a 10 year old. I smile, all the while knowing they haven't even seen compiz yet. Now you do have those who absolutely bolt at the thought of so many options. The last thing these personalities want is to "get their tweak on." They like the structured, boring ways of Windows...but then again, that probably has more to do with being faced with learning something new than it does a lack of adventurous spirit.
The primacy affect theorizes that one tends to remember and favor the first learned task set. Simply put, once people put forth the effort to learn one way of accomplishing a task, they react negatively to learning another way to accomplish the same task. This is true even if the offered alternative proves without a doubt to be easier. They tend to prefer and protect that first method. I've often stated that Bill Gates isn't a genius for cobbling together and selling an operating system.
His genius lies in the fact that he recognized human behavior and specifically our aversion to change. He knew full well that any monetary fines he faced for monopolistic practices would be dwarfed by the profits achieved by doing so. He was right on both counts. He only had to be a monopoly for a fixed amount of time. After that time period, he was more than happy to admit to his sins and "correct" them. He had achieved in that time exactly what he needed to accomplish.
Making people psychologically dependent upon Microsoft Windows.
This can be seen clearly in our attempts to proliferate Linux on a Microsoft-dominated desktop. I often equate it to dental crisis. Many of us will put up with a nagging tooth ache for long periods of time, knowing that the cure for that tooth ache is going to be painful. The sufferer will purchase over the counter remedies in an attempt to forstall the inevitable. However, once the pain starts to interfere with the ability to function on a daily basis, we are forced into accepting the fact that we will need to face that painful visit to the dentist.
Windows users have accumulated a magnificent arsenal of over-the-counter cures for their computer problems. Anti-virus programs, registry and spyware cleaners...all in an attempt to fix the problem at hand. Some do it out of ignorance, others do it because they feel they don't have time to explore their options, but inevitably, they end up re-installing the same system that caused them the problem in the first place...fully knowing that the same problems they just "cured" are going to occur again in about 6 months. I know...I did it myself several times before I finally got sick of it and was forced to explore my options.
It is astounding the amount of people who would rather do this than spend the few days it takes to learn a new system such as Linux. Astounding. In 2005, I made it a point to record the behavior of 10 people with new Linux installs. I sat beside them during the initial exploratory foray into the system. All used various releases of KDE on various Linux distributions.
The Windows MindSet Reigns Supreme
Without exception, each user balked at the fact that they were beginning their Linux use without the benefit of anti-virus or anti-spyware applications. Not one of them could immediately grasp the concept that they were imune to windows viruses. Neither could they fathom the fact that Linux had not seen a virus in the wild since 1994. So ingrained into them was the "viral experience", that the idea of operating without "protection" was ludicrous.
Four out of the ten had been attacked by one or more viruses and our visit with them was predicated on that damaged system. I took the time to download the exact same virus instrument that had infected their computer and downloaded it to their desktop. With them sitting next to me, I executed the .exe file (in one case, the wack-a-mole game) and showed them that it had no effect on the machine. It was truly apples and oranges. Still, many proceeded on my word alone, never fully understanding at that time how this could be possible. Simply telling them "you are imune" didn't do a bit of good. They just couldn't get their head around it.
I did explain about Wine and how it set up a faux Windows environment in order for a Windows program to run. I also explained to them that indeed, a Windows virus could exist and damage an application/system running in the Wine environment. For that reason alone, I explained that programs like F-Prot and Clam/KlamAV did exist. For those who thought they may use the Wine program often, I did of course install the anti-virus application for them.
For some, it was like watching a fussy baby being given their security binkie after a prolonged absence of said binkie. Amazing what the placebo effect can accomplish.
Again, the concept of different environments had a confusing effect on new users. It takes a physical demonstration of:
"OK, here we are in KDE and to do "X" we click this and then click that. Now here we are in the gnome environment and in order to do "X" we right click this and THEN click that."
It is only then that people begin to understand the reasons and the advantages over different environments.
In doing so, I create even more soldiers to fight in the KDE vs Gnome vs XFCE vs Flux wars. So be it...it's the nature of the beast we drive forward.
In light of the fact that I will be attending this year's Linux Foundation shindig in Austin this year, I will be silent for the next few days in preparation for the event. We will publish part two of this piece upon my return and will discuss ways to persuade Windows users to switch...or at least give them logical reasons to do so.
All Righty Then...
Saturday, April 05, 2008
blather and mumbling provided by Ken Starks at 7:50 AM