Monday, April 19, 2010
I personally detest using a potentially charged question as a title to any article or blog.
More often than not, it is perceived as sensationalist...
Not that I haven't been accused of that before....but in this instance...It would seem to be a valid question.
It's taken me a while to put the data together. I haven't the means or assets to do this any other way than the way it was done and nothing done here could be construed as scientific. I queried 109 people. People who either owned, managed or worked as Executive Assistants to those in small to medium-sized businesses.
And for full disclosure, there were 144 businesses or people I approached that would not take part in this survey.
Of that 109 that did, I asked each of them a few simple questions:
The first one being..."What is Linux?"
The results were less than encouraging.
Of the 109 people asked, 71 did not know. 24 of them responded with the generic equivalent of "It's some sort of computer program". The remaining number were able to accurately describe Linux as an operating system or a server solution. Out of that 109 queried, 7 used Mac exclusively to run their businesses. I did not pre-choose the businesses I spoke to. They were chosen from a three block downtown area of Austin and a large business park located in North Austin.
Obviously, they were also the ones that agreed to talk with me.
They were a diverse group of businesses, ranging from moving companies, caterers, construction and home remodelers to insurance brokers, sign companies and various consulting agencies.. Employee positions ranged from 2 to 713. The businesses were visited between November 2009 and February 2010.
I purposely omitted any of their IT or computer tech people from questioning. We'll discuss the reasons for that shortly.
I am not overly concerned about the 95 people that did not know or were hazy about what Linux is...my concern is for those who knew what Linux is...and how they perceive it.
In our work through The HeliOS Project, our empirical data shows that 3 out of 10 disgruntled Windows users would consider or were willing to try Linux. Those of that thirty percent who were shown or demonstrated Linux on the spot were impressed and asked direct questions about Linux and how difficult or easy the migration to Linux would be. Please note that these people were generally home users.
On the business end of it, we got different results.
Those who were able to accurately describe Linux, generically described it to me as "a technical system that required professional or technical users".
Of the 14 who knew what Linux is, 3 of them identified Red Hat as the "maker" of Linux. The rest did not know where the Linux system originated. However; 8 of those 14 stated that they used either Firefox or Open Office as their primary browser or office suite. 5 of the 14 knew what server systems were used in their company. Two of them were using a Windows server or servers and the remaining 3 used a Linux server or servers. Only one of them identified their server solution as Red Hat. None of the 5 used mixed server solutions in their business.
Here is where we believe things get interesting.
Of the 14 who correctly identified Linux as an operating system or server system, 11 of them were willing to look at a Linux Desktop. 2 of that 11 did not know that Linux offered a Desktop solution.
I carry a Dell D600. For this purpose, I installed a copy of Windows XP. With no internal CD drive, the laptop is easily bootable to a USB device. It was that device I used to boot and demonstrate the Linux system. I did not give them a "guided tour", but instead handed them the laptop and asked them to perform some of the tasks they would normally do on their laptops or work desktop computers.
And for the sake of conversation, it took many of the participants several minutes to grasp the concept of the Live Environment...most could not fathom an entire operating system that could be run from CD or USB device. How it could access Windows files while not directly affecting or altering the existing data on the hard drive escaped most of them.
Even though they were able to do so without any problems.
All of them opened a browser and either checked email or sought out a company website. Three of them emailed themselves an Excel or Word document and opened it successfully, either using the native Open Office application or Google Docs. The ones that opened the document in Google Docs also used Gmail and Google Apps for their email and calendering needs. 9 of them took the time to look through the menus and explore the different applications and system settings Linux offers. Of the 11 that did work in this Linux environment, 5 of them stated that Linux could, in limited OR full application, work for their company or business. All of the 11 who used Linux on my laptop admitted that their preconceived notions about the Linux Desktop were incorrect.
I'm not at all sure what can be concluded here, if anything. None of the people who denied knowing what Linux is were questioned further or given a chance to see it at work. My focus was to identify those who knew what Linux is and seek their opinion about it.
Now, I mentioned that I had excluded IT or technical employees of these companies. My reasons are simple. In our attempt to introduce the Linux Desktop into public schools and larger enterprises, we've found extreme bias. As well, we've also found multiple year contracts with Microsoft that precluded any immediate considerations for switching desktop environments Our experience indicates that while Linux is often used in server applications, the desktop is shunned as either "not cost effective" or "too technically advanced" for the employee. We have had one IT honcho tell the decision-maker that it was illegal to remove Windows from their computers.
Many of those IT professionals happen to be MCSE's.
I'm left to wonder at the correlation.
It would be easy to draw several conclusions from this focus...and maybe they would many times be incorrect. This was no where near scientific, nor was it done within any controlled environment.
It was simply an attempt to see what the enterprise, at least in a limited way, thinks about Linux as opposed to what they currently use. In their mind, does Linux equate to difficult or geeky? Does the mention of Linux conjure images of complex terminal environments and limited scope and scalability? Do these notions poison the Linux brand in the applicable market place?
It would seem...
blather and mumbling provided by Ken Starks at 12:01 PM