The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Saturday, November 29, 2008


I would guess that if Steve Ballmer had his way and he could "un-say" any three public statements he's made, one of them would be this one.

He said that Linux was a Cancer.

Now, there are going to be a handful of people who will want to publicly chide me for carrying the cancer metaphor forward.

If anyone gets a pass for using the analogy in less than apologetic terms, I do. I've wrestled the monster to the ground three times now.

But if we are to understand metastasis, then we know it's the spread of cancer throughout the host. Ballmer had no idea how right he was to use this term.

Unrelenting, untiring, unstoppable and destructive.

Fortunately, the only thing being harmed by this metastasis is Microsoft's business model.

I'm going to share with you bits and pieces of an amazing three day period. Let me show you "metastasis".

It was outside of the parts department of the Austin Lexus Dealership. I was bringing them some equipment and as I stood on the back of the truck, I began a conversation with the person accepting the freight.

I brought the conversation around to Linux.

As I asked him questions, I found that he had pretty much ignored his home computer for two months. It was so laden with viruses and spyware that it wouldn't even load a browser window anymore. I asked him how he would like to have a system that never had those problems. He was of course receptive. I began to tell him about Linux and the different environments and types. I was about twenty seconds into explaining distros when a third person joined the conversation.

" didn't mention Ubuntu."

I looked over at a young man in a manager's jacket. He nodded as I glanced at him.

"I've been using Ubuntu for over a year now and I haven't had to reboot my computer. Try that with Windows."

The original guy looked over to me and I nodded to him.

"Yeah...that's about don't have to reboot even after a normal application install, just open your menu, find the new program and go to work."

That started a 20 minute discussion. Mostly it was the first guy asking questions and me and the Ubuntu user answering them. Sum Total of the effort?

As of the day before Thanksgiving, he's no longer fighting his virus-prone computer. He booted into that computer for the first time that day with a fresh install of Linux.

And the mystery guy that chimed in about Ubuntu? Just a Linux user that happened to be in the area to hear the conversation and add his 2 cents. Now think about that just for a minute.

Another Linux user that happened to be in the area. Used to be, you couldn't find two Linux users in the same zip code. His name is Scott by the way. This was his first stab at advocacy...he just needed someone to show him how. HE got the other guy the disk and HE helped him install it. I didn't have anything to do with it. It's happening all over the world this way.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I was answering an inquiry via HeliOS Solutions. It was in the Outlet Mall in Round Rock, at a store called American Apparel. As I entered through the back door, I was met by two absolutely stunningly pretty young ladies, Jennifer and Theresa. I got the chance to 'splain what I was there for and had the opportunity to visit with them for a while. Although that conversation didn't lead to any real conversions, it did produce a photo op that I will probably never get again.

They too have had their battles with Windows and are plainly sick of fighting things they shouldn't have to fight. Businesses like theirs depend on speed and reliability. When the morning's first boot fails and all the cash registers remain locked while lines of customers form one behind another, it doesn't take long for a business owner or Manager to realize they have to do something different. Linux is quickly becoming that difference. Their Employees are making them aware of it.

I made 17 cold calls that day...just walked into businesses and chatted with them about their computer needs. 4 of them are now evaluating Linux as an alternative to the Windows system they use now. 1 of them is running a server I set up on the spot for them so they could exchange sales data between stores by drag and drop. To my surprise, two of those 17 were already using Linux on at least one desktop.

One eating establishment in particular showed a keen interest in Linux. They had been fighting their current XP system for 6 months. The popups and spyware invasions had become constant to the point that they left their computers off until they needed them. Some employees were bringing their laptops in to do their work because the desktops were all but useless. They are evaluating live cd's now to see which ones meet their needs best.

I've fielded 5 phone calls from them since our meeting, answering questions and explaining things that were not clear to them. The fact that they are calling me asking these questions is encouraging...they aren't rebooting into Windows again just because something is different than what they are used to. They are asking questions because they see the potential in what they are working with. Speaking of difference...and this has absolutely nothing to do with Linux. I had to make sure I was finished laughing so I could take the picture, and that alone took about 5 minutes.

It is said that suggestive advertising works. I guess it does, you be the judge. Can you imagine the conversation of the photographers and ad designers as they sat up this shot for the ad on the restaurant wall?

The pinnacle of the three day period actually came on Thanksgiving.

I was deeply honored to be asked to share Thanksgiving day dinner with some Firemen from a Pflugerville Fire Station. I know one of them well and I will introduce him to you at a later date. This particular person knows that I am a "computer guy." When the conversation turned to laptops, one after another complained about the various ills their machines exhibited.

David mentioned to them that I "fixed" his computer and the computers that run his personal business. It wasn't long before I had a stack of laptops in front of me. For two hours, these heroes gathered around and watched as their data was saved and their buggy, hacked and virus-ridden machines morphed into functional and beautiful systems.

So Mr. Ballmer, there is your "Cancer". Being what it does what it spreads. In this case, and for the betterment of the world, that's a good thing. Even if you are able to buy your way into some places, there isn't enough money or advertising genius to stop what is happening world wide.

The metastasis is raging at a furious pace now Mr. Ballmer, but in place of destructive cells, there is hope for a computing world that is awakening to that hope.

One car mechanic or four Blessed heroes at a time.

All-Righty Then...


Amenditman said...

Now that is how Linux "Advocacy" really works.



Unknown said...

I'm lately carrying a pendrive with Kubuntu 8.10 instaled as a live distro. I've already helped one windows machine to recover from a virus infection, and in the process, showed the person a live distribution at work, and how quickly it recognized another pendrive that was used to pass the data needed through dolphin.

I was extremelly pleased to hear him say "It looks beautifull" and watched him as he managed the programs himself to recover his own machine.

Now, that machine won't change, as it's used to program SAP and the linux version of the SAPGUI (SAPGUI for java) doens't support all the toolset yet.

But I know he's trying some live CDs at home on his computers. This was done in my workplace, and admired by a lot. It's not as nice or final as your stories, but the virus is already there, spreading slowly.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! Ken
It would seem that Linux is approaching critical mass.
A type of metastasis!!

kozmcrae said...

Critical Mass. They can't argue with physics. Thanks Ken.

Anonymous said...

"Used to be, you couldn't find two Linux users in the same zip code."

If you didn't make any other points in your blog, that one stands out strongly. You are right, it is through efforts such as yours that the word is getting out. Still, it isn't going to be enough. Wasn't it you that pushed so hard for mass media marketing for so long. Shame "the community" can't see past their own empathy to get this done. There are a few that want this but not enough to sustain a community effort.

You've written an inspiring article helios. Thank you for the work you do with kids. I hope you have inspired others as you have me. I have started an effort like yours in Canada.

einfeldt said...


Do you have a list of the people that you have converted? I am starting to think that I might have to make a trip down to Austin for the Digital Tipping Point. This is simply an astounding story. I would simply love it if you could get video interviews with these people. It would not have to be fancy. Just please be sure not to shoot them up against a while background, please make sure there is good light on their faces, please make sure that you are close enough to them that we can see their facial expressions well, and please make sure that they don't wear white or vibrating patterns.

When you frame someone for an interview a good general rule of thumb is that you put their nose on the left third of the frame (your left) if they are looking from your left to your right, and vice versa (put their nose on the right third if they are looking from your right to your left). Make sure that they have some airspace above their heads (just the amount of a skinny pencil in the frame) and make sure that you cut across their mid pectorals or just below their breast line. If you frame them that way, the audience will be able to see their faces as they speak, and it won't be too close or too far.

Also, make sure there are no shiny reflective surfaces behind them.

This was an awesome story, brother! Thx!

Anyone who have video that they would like to have included in the Internet Archive's Digital Tipping Point Video Collection, please email me at .

Remember, we only go this way once. We will forget everything that we are talking about here on this blog and our email lists if we don't _document_ it. Think of Linux as a child. You would want to document your child's childhood, wouldn't you?

Christian Einfeldt,
Producer, the Digital Tipping Point

Anonymous said...

Helios is the only person I know that can take a phallic cucumber and tomato picture and work it into a linux blog.

That is a scream.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever read:

The bamboo forest?

It is rather old (2000)

A much better analogy for Linux than cancer.


Anonymous said...

Did you read the post? Helios stated that the reason he used Cancer as a vehicle is to shove Steve Ballmer's words down his gullet. He didn't use Cancer as an analogy because it is apt, he did it to further Microsoft's bad choice of language.

I personally thought it was well done. And yes, I have read the article you posted...but it doesn't tie in to what the author is saying.


Betty Rodgers
Nicefville, Florida

Anonymous said...

Are you The "Ken Starks" that owned a towing company about 7 years ago? If not, excuse the post. If you are. I am the first responder that put your face out on Anderson and Mopac that Friday night. Lots of people wanted to thank you.

r_a_trip said...

Now, there are going to be a handful of people who will want to publicly chide me for carrying the cancer metaphor forward.

Yep, accurate prediction.

But if we are to understand metastasis, then we know it's the spread of cancer throughout the host. Ballmer had no idea how right he was to use this term.

The problem is that FOSS is not a disease inherent in the proprietary model, but , if we stay with faulty analogies ;), the emergence of a new, more efficient species. GNU/Linux is not closed source software gone wrong (which is what cancer is; healthy cells gone wrong). GNU/Linux doesn't need a host either. If Microsoft or Windows exist or not, GNU/Linux can flourish on it's own. It is not bound to a sickly, parasitic existence.

GNU/Linux (and FOSS in general) is a more agile and efficient species of software competing with CSS for the same limited resources (your computer). Since software has a symbiotic relationship with humans, the spreading is dependent on successfully establishing trust with the human in order to get the computing resource. It seems that GNU/Linux is in the position to earn that trust better, by making better use of the computing resource in comparison with the dinosaur Windows.

Cancer is a nasty disease and we should distance ourselves from the stupid remarks of Mr. Ballmer. Of course it is fun to turn words on somebody, but in this instance the cancer remark was a case of projection from Ballmer. It is MS who aggressively pushed its cells into Novell, Xandros, Linspire, LG Electronics, ECMA, ISO. MS metastasizes ordinary computers with .doc(x), .xls(x), .ppt(x), MS-HTML, DOTNET, and Silverlight. MS is the cancer destroying the healthy computing market, not GNU/Linux.

alinuxfan said...

One of my friends and I have converted 8 people out of the 35ish at our FOB. Our internet is slow, so I created 2 aptOnCd discs (x86 and x86_64) and have most of them running Ubuntu.

We had one special case where the guy was running a really old dell laptop and his video was choppy in Windows so we tried Xubuntu first, but it was still choppy. I think that my counterpart installed Puppy on it for him. He has 2 external HDs that are formatted in NTFS and he hasn't had any issues so far.

Most of guys guys are spending their free time going through add/remove and just testing out different applications. I am getting recommendations daily on what the cool programs are that I should try.

Most of the guys have kept their Windows partitions (the Puppy guy and one other being the exceptions). These guys are eating Linux up and loving it. No more connectivity issues and no more viruses.

One other thing--if Windows is so great, why can't I set static IP addresses just for specific connections. We are using a Linksys home router and DHCP was giving us issues. I set up Static IPs and on Windows, the IP settings are system wide, in Ubuntu, or any Linux for that matter, the guys are able to set the Static IP for our connection here and if they go to some other place, they will default to DHCP. These Windows guys are going to have a heck of a time figuring that out when they get back home.

I know that our situation is unique. Being away from family and with not much else to do in the evening besides go to the gym and watch some movies, but still, 10 out of 35 people running Linux--and we aren't done yet. We hope to convert a couple more. A couple guys are running MacOSX, so in total, M$ barely has a 50% marketshare here.


Anonymous said...

Good job with this one. The dripping sentimentality aside, although it's always nice to interweave, this article should probably enjoy a nice fat viral-email marketing IT managers at every school currently pissing away needed funds on perpetual heartache and numbing machines/platforms.

"That pretty birdie cost us updated textbooks - you had better click it!!"

It's always tough to be an advocate without being seen as an obnoxious preacher. People simply love to turn their heads. The trick is to allow it to be their idea or present it in such a way as they can imagine that it was all their idea.

The paradox of the ID.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed it too. I recently converted my sisters boyfriend, who has his own business and use his laptop for billing, to linux after his vista was destroyed by windows update for the second time.
I installed ubuntu for him, using arch myself but that would be a bit much for a beginning user, he was playing with firefox and evolution as well as openoffice right away.
He uses a canon printer that has really bad support under vista, but under ubuntu he just plugged it in and got the message that the gdriver was found. He could print right away and is already convinced that he doesn't ever want to go back to windows on his laptop ever again.

So as long as you stress that linux isn't a free version of windows and explain the pros and cons of this converting people is really possible.

Anonymous said...

"I am the first responder that put your face out..."

uh, ken? Is this supposed to make any sense? Put your fact out?

Mike Saylor

Anonymous said...

He cut a lady out of her seatbelt in an overturned Ford Explorer. The gas tank had ruptured and caught fire when he was bringing her out. His beard caught fire and I hit him in the face with a powder extinguisher. That caused more injury than the fire, LOL.

We've been looking for this guy since 1994. Someone wants to thank him.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate that transformation, but I shudder to think of all the clueless people now wondering why they can't double click the tar.gz they found on The Interwebs to install their program, etc, etc.

Anonymous said...

Someone else uses the term "Interwebs"? Awesome!
I'm not the only one!
By the way, GNU/Linux is awesome. I'm in the process of converting someone to Fedora.

Anonymous said...

Now if only I could get it to work on my laptop.I've tried over a dozen distros and none will even boot up from the livecd. And none of the forums has knowing contributors that are willing to part with simple answer when they can vituperate and flame you instead.

Anonymous said...

Hi your blog really is an inspiration, I wish I had come across it before, keep up the good work dude.