The HeliOS Project is now.....

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

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

The new faces of Linux - Feeling the Power

GNU/Linux is too hard for the regular user... It doesn't give me the applications I need... Linux won't allow me to network with my Windows machines...
These are all things repeated to me in the last month. Sure, we've all heard them in different ways and at different times. I think we all have. I believe what troubled me the most about these statements is that they came out of the mouths of "technology professionals"...not one of them making less than 150K a year, guessing from their positions.

One of them was a systems administrator for a global shipping and receiving hub right here in Austin. It took me one Mint Linux live cd and about 5 minutes to prove him wrong.

So while some of the" professionals" insist on repeating the party line, everyday people are discovering the choices they have in how they operate their computer. I find it just a bit amusing that people who wouldn't know a parser from a parsnip are doing the precise things their tech brethren say cannot be done. To be fair, most people making their living in the tech industry are agnostic and will use the tool that works and won't make a religious issue out of it.

Some are outright just protecting their jobs and justifying their certs.

We thought this would be a good time to take a snapshot of what's going on "out there" and show that handful of pro's that Linux on the desktop isn't the boat anchor they believe it to be....or maybe secretly want it to be.

New York Calling...Can You Hear Me?

She is a medical professional, working for Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, NY. She had a nasty case of viral infection to deal with but it didn't have anything to do with the human was viruses of the computer type. When Mark Van Kingsley answered her call for help, he did the regular diagnosing and delivered the bad news. Sure, he could stave off the blue screen of death, the memory core dumps and the machine-gun pop ups once the computer booted, but it would be just a matter of time before he was back fixing it again.

And don't be fooled for a moment...

When a tech comes out to the house or business to "fix" virus issues, the customer expects it to stay fixed. When they come back in 4-6 months, in the back of their minds, you didn't do your job right.

Mark knows that and is honest in his report to us:

"I'd rather deal with a customer one time and get her referrals than deal with her three or four times a year and have her think I'm incompetent. After a while, it's inevitable that they think that."

And there it is still again...the public idea that a computer is an appliance, not a maintainable machine.

So Mark pitched her on Linux and demonstrated a live cd. She was excited about the prospect of not having to deal with these viruses and malware issues again. She fell in love with the smooth, clean lines of the system and the snappy response of the mouse and keyboard.

There was one stipulation though...she needed to use her Linux machine to connect to her server and login page at the hospital.

With the tools at his disposal, it was a no brainer and Mark told her that with all liklihood, he could do that. It was a good thing he left himself a little room to work here. It wasn't pretty.

After Wine and virtualiztion failed, the closest he came to success was IE4Linux. Here's the deal. She had to log in, but once she did, there was a proprietary bit of software that demanded to be executed to finish the procedure. Try as he could, the very best he could achieve was a blank page where the patients names should have been. He could almost get her there but Wine or Windows under virtualization just would not make the connection. It installed correctly but something just didn't quite work.

We failed.

Yeah I said we. "We" spend so much time amidst and among ourselves, telling ourselves how much progress we've made that we are blind to our failures. Now, the failures are not in the code, the code is brilliant. It's in the social aspect of what we do and who we are. In the aspect of what we don't do and who we are not.

We don't do anything to market ourselves on a grand scale to the general public. Where are the validating TV and Radio commercials? Where are the ads in mainstream publications? These are the things that make what we offer "real" to a consuming public. Having the neighbor kid down the street install GNU/Linux on a machine or two isn't exactly shouting our success from the rooftops. We need tens of thousands knowing about us in a day's time...not a decade. We have the answer to most of the computing problems known at this time, yet we remain a "secret".

And while we're talking weakness here, let's talk about the gee-whiz factor. Walk into any big box store and buzz the computer section. You will see LCD after LCD with the Windows bubbles know, the colored bubbles that float around the desktop, the translucent ones that almost look 3d?

Can you imagine a line of computers with the Linux 3D desktop set on autopilot, running a cube and all the compiz effects via script? It would gather crowds not before seen...Even people seeing Linux think it's a new "Windows Feature". But it's, don't get up...someone else will fix this.


Yeah, I know...when there is no measurable return on investment, no one is going to spend the money to do this. That's understood.

Having an apathetic user base that won't take on the responsibility of doing it themselves doesn't help matters any. We could do it...this forum has developed strategies to do just that. We spend months planning it out. But instead of fine tuning it, we spent more time arguing minutia and distros instead of forging ahead. Like most else that takes more than a few hours of effort, we lose interest and just don't do anything.

That's why the tech admin at the hospital told the Medical Professional to just relax and go back to Windows. Linux just wasn't ready for mainstream use.

It's in that statement alone that we must claim responsibility for failure...had we done what we know needs to be done, he could never make that statement aloud.

In this case, it didn't matter. She told him to go PUAR.

She told him that she refused to go back to a buggy, insecure system that enslaved her to maintenance and worry. She had been a GNU/Linux user for a week and refused to "downgrade to Windows". They would indeed GIVE her a laptop with the required wireless and closed software she needed to connect for work. She refused to put Windows back on her computer at home. Mint Linux had spoiled her. But it gets better.

It's Fluxbox.

When she discovered that she could have a pristine desktop and everything she needed with a right click, she fell in love. No more icons to shove around and out of the way, no more confusing menus...just straight computing the way it was meant to be.

Here we KDE and Gnome users are, slugging it out on the side and the new user walks away with Fluxbox. Go figure. And yes, she feels it is straight computing the way it is supposed to be.

A way to get things done.

So Bassett capitulated and gave her a laptop. When she does need to connect to the network, she uses that. Mark Van Kingsley did a great job with her and others like her. He did the job that we all could be doing...but we're busy. We don't have time. Even in what we thought was a small victory for us, we get this shoved in our face.

It's our own fault. Don't for the briefest of moments blame it on anyone else but ourselves.

But despite our best efforts to just lay in the quicksand and be absorbed, there are efforts being made out there that are making a difference. A huge difference.

We are going to look at the next victory on Thursday. It'll make you just wanna go hug someone.

All-Righty Then...


NoobixCube said...

I gave my doctor a copy of Mint 3.0, back when it was the latest version, and he loved it. He says, since he's also the one in charge of such decisions at his clinic, he's going to try and get the whole clinic (five doctors, four receptionists) switched over to Linux. The server is already running some version of Fedora. The only misgiving I have is the Medicare and Centerlink software (Medicare is public health care in Australia, and Centerlink is the welfare department here) might not work, even in Wine.

techpain said...

LeBlanc: "Because users simply expect the Windows experience. When they realize their Linux-based netbook PC doesn’t deliver that same quality of experience, they get frustrated and take it back."
Take note on the first two sentences. The "Windows experience" and "same quality of experience" comparison makes me dizzy. NO, it's NOT the same. But we're not talking about quality. What he means is that when they realize their Linux-based netbook PC doesn’t deliver that same EXACT experience, they get frustrated and take it back, regardless of quality. People don't want their computers to be efficient and reliable, they just want them to work the way that they are familiar with.
Thanks for this post, and thank you, thank you, thank you for your amazing ongoing contributions.

merkaartor said...

it's allways good to hear stories like this. But I would say these stories a so rare that you barrely find another case like this (especially with fluxbox :-D ).

From my experience most poeple are askingmy to unistall Linux or they get rid of it them selfs the next time they reinstall their system.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong by installing Linux or most of the people just don't like the idea of changing their habits and how they work with their computer.

But for me it doesn't matter. And now it came to this that I don't install anymore Linux desktops at all except if people are bagging me very hard. But in most cases I recomend using windows for the Desktop (even though it hurts saying it).

Unknown said...

But I would say these stories a so rare that you barrely find another case like this (especially with fluxbox :-D ).

And you would be wrong. We've installed over a thousand Linux systems in the time we've been doing this and you would be surprised at the number of people that like icewm, fluxbox and Xfce. I would hazard an educated guess at about 25 percent. It's not rare at all.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong by installing Linux or most of the people just don't like the idea of changing their habits and how they work with their computer.

Let's go with choice one here. We do trackbacks on our installs and the highest incident of Windows WipeOvers has been at it's highest, 18 percent.

You need to spend some time with these folks. You can't just install it and walk away wishing them luck. There's a difference between advocacy and doing good deeds. Walking an old lady half way across the street will do nothing but get her run over...but at least you tried to make an effort right? You are wise not to "help" people like this anymore. Good choice.

Done right, people will stick with Linux.

Amanda Rieshoff - Bamberg said...

You can't just install it and walk away wishing them luck. There's a difference between advocacy and doing good deeds. Walking an old lady half way across the street will do nothing but get her run over...

And in one statement, I think you have summed up a main reason people do go back to Windows after being exposed to Linux by another user. This is a new experience for most folks and helios I believe that not everyone who tries Linux will stay with it. It's damn few Linux users who have the patience and kindness to work with someone who runs into problems.

People are unbelievably lazy. They have been "trained" on cue as to what icon to click, what buttons to push and when that gets changed, they get frustrated. Let's face it, some people just are not motivated to change if things are working for them. When viruses or machine crashes occur, they would as soon put the garbage that caused the problem back on the computer than something that works. I know you have said the same thing over and over but it's the main enemy we fight in getting people to switch.

We need to seek out the percentages of people like the one in this story and concentrate our efforts there, not on the crybaby that bitches about their panel not looking the same as it did before. Those people are a horrible drain on your talents as well as ours. To be honest, they are not worth our time and they deserve the hell they choose for themselves. I hope you have already come to that conclusion.


Anonymous said...

People are also sheeple. Once you show them what those buttons and icons are, they have absolutely no drive or curiosity to go outside of that learned behaviour. Not all people but more than I like to admit openly. I work here in the UK as a trainer for a large magazine printing company and instruct people on the use of OpenOffice and Mepis Linux. We use Open Source exclusively here. It's one of the reasons I accepted this position.

The first thing out of most sheeple's mouths is "This isn't anything like what I like to use". I grow weary of dealing with them so I just tell them it's this or the dole for you.

Funny how if you colour things like that, they come around to your way of thinking.

Anonymous said...

The problem really was the hospital. They cemented their system to just work on Windows, it should be designed with inter-operability with other OS in mind.

Michelle Minkin - Austin said...

Maybe it was the "fault" of the hospital but I believe the author intended to clarify the further point. If GNU/Linux was more widely known and used, the hospital would not fall back on the "not enough users" crap. I think helios may have a point here. We really do need to do more for ourselves. The big Linux shops already told us they won't advertise for us. It is up to the community.

Chelle Minkin

Dulwithe said...

Interesting story, but in the middle it gets rambling, and it doesn't really offer closure on what she does to access the medical system. Does she use a windows box at the hospital and have no access from linux? Did the hospital system admin help enable linux compatibility for the system??

Really disappointing, the article that is, all in all.

Randy Meyers said...

"it doesn't really offer closure on what she does to access the medical system. Does she use a windows box at the hospital and have no access from linux? Did the hospital system admin help enable linux compatibility for the system?"

Dude I don't mean to be rude but you really need to slow down and is clearly and plainly stated in one sentence.

"So Bassett capitulated and gave her a laptop. When she does need to connect to the network, she uses that."

Sheesh...I would be more disappointed in your reading comprehension than a blogger's "rambling".


zelrik said...

I think it's nobody's fault, "we" didnt fail, we are just impatient. Sure people dont like change, but did that avoid change to happen? If it did then we'd still be at the stone-age. Resistance/Opposition is just part of the process.

What I feel is that there will be some market pressure in favor of Linux soon. There may be already some looking at how much hardware support improved.

“There is no good in arguing with the inevitable The only argument available with an east wind is to put on your overcoat”. James Russell Lowell

Anonymous said...

I also hear the same thing....It's not windows. No kidding. On my recent job, I was given a laptop from work which had their proprietary software on it. Dis not like using it because it crashes ( Windows anyone ? ). SO, I used my laptop with Linux installed, created a remote desktop connection, entered in the login parameters and voila, I am on the Windows server at work. I had access to all my drives and to the proprietary software. On several occasions when I had to travel to clients and train them on the medical software, I would take my laptop with Linux on it, remote in to their server and access their software to train. I always get questions about Linux and after the training sessions, I got to talk to several IT people and show them what Linux is and what it can do. "just happen to have a few Live CD's here for you to try. Have received emails from them saying how much more enjoyable it is to use than being pressed down by Windows. So people, it helps to have your laptop / PC with your favorite Linux distro on it and some extra Live CD's. You never know who will ask about Linux. it's been a pleasure.

Anonymous said...

I for one am stunned. Not that there is someone working at Basset that uses Linux but there is someone else working at Basset that uses Linux.

I am a "Medical Professional" as well working in the same place and have been fighting with these people over logins and access to the network for two years. Their response? "Just use Windows and stop fighting it."

It makes me sick to think that there are people so lazy and/or indoctrinated to utter such garbage. I only wish I could know who this person is so we can get together and talk...maybe there is something we can do.

Tucanae Services said...

Well since folks like that story, I'll pass on mine. My Dad is 74yo and has been using Windows of some sort for about 10 years. Of course I hear the same complaints of him having to take his PC down to the local repair place about every quarter to get it flushed of the malware. Finally told him he needs to get on the Linux band wagon. He had reservations of course.

So on my next trip to see them I set up Xubuntu, his favorite wallpaper and a dock along the bottom with the typical programs he uses (Thunderbird, OOOfice, Dia). Any stuff that could only be run in Windows I set up as an instance of VirtualBox and a scripted icons to lauch and close the guest XP OS.

I also set up a cron job that kicks off every Friday to upload a copy of his primary folders to the family server in Texas as an automated backup routine. Set up my Mom a separate account with mail only. Then finished it off with a backend so I can remote control the PC if need be.

In nearly 3 years he has used the PC not a problem. He likes not having to go the PC repair place other than to buy stuff. (The repair tech misses him...) Not only that but he has convinced about a 1/3rd of the folks on their block to convert as well. He just does a little dog and pony in his office and if they want to try he burns them a disk. Yep he figured out how to use K3B on his own.

My feeling is Linux does not need the flash and glitz of TV and print ads. It would be counter productive. Successful marketing is a pull strategy not push. You force someone to use Linux they end up hating it. Not because it was Linux but because it was pushed on them. But we have not even begun to tap into the 1/3rd of the world's population that is inquisitive enough to try Linux. If you can get 1/4 of the populace to use Linux then other adoptions follow from that.

Call it desktop envy.

John McGinnis

Andrew Magnus - Austin said...

@John Mc

Not to pick an argument, it's not my intent; especially in the face of such a great success story. That is fantastic and yes, this is the guerrilla marketing that scares the bewhompers out of MS. You are both incorrect and flawed in you advertisement thinking here.

First, no one is going to resent a Linux commercial any more than they are going to resent a Chevrolet commercial, a Southwest Airlines commercial or a Tums commerical. It is a product to be offered to the public and a unique product as it comes with a price tag of zero.

You force someone to use Linux they end up hating it.

How does marketing something force anyone to use Linux? Did the last Tums commercial force you to buy Tums? Do you hate Tums because they advertise? The premise you raise gets lowered by first tier logic. If you do not en mass let a consuming public know that your product or commodity exists, then you have no one but yourself to blame for the product or commodity's slow adaptation. I believe up until now the fact that we have not marketed is a blessing. It is only the last year or so that the Linux Desktop has come into its own.

I did almost a full year of volunteer work with Ken's HeliOS Project organization and you are absolutely correct about the massive untapped market we have to educate. I saw first-hand the excitement and interest that Linux generates within the uninitiated...doing it by onesies and twosies isn't going to spread the word with the efficiency needed to get the job done.


Jose_X said...

Adding to the theme of working through with less computer savvy users instead of leaving them alone..

Create a setup the user wants (or invite them to call you later to get this). Put all things they like at their fingertips. Giving out a vanilla distro does not achieve this.

I can't wait until we have a video library for learning how to do tens of thousands of things.

Jose_X said...

Drew I agree with a lot of what you said, but don't underestimate exponential growth. Eventually, things move fast. The key is in a recipe (including a motivation) that people can use to help others out. Ken's blogging is an example that works towards this end. It's just that at the point when you are dealing with relative small numbers doubling is not impressive.

More useful than mass advertizing would be a step program people could follow to gain converts and gain themselves in some way. People to people is very powerful if you spread the propagation instructions.

Of course, mass marketing is great just as you mentioned. It's just that it is an expensive ongoing process (but we can use youtube). We can work to improve the odds of seeing wide-scale ads by doing the sort of thing that was done (ask Ken for details) where the community helps build the ads and licenses the material in a FOSS fashion.

Bob Robertson said...

I have a Korraga liveCD 3-D desktop default, but it doesn't have a "sampler" script. That would be really, really great to have.

I'm no programmer, but would it be really difficult to launch a bunch of apps on different virtual desktops, then start turning and spinning? To then stop if someone hits the keys or moves the mouse, letting the user take over, so they know it's not just a movie playing they can fiddle with it themselves?

It's a great idea, Helios. If I had the money I'd pay someone to put up such a script on a liveCD like Korraga. But I don't.

Neither, sad to say, do you.

r_a_trip said...

Back on advertising again. I like the idea, but the question is what kind of advertising do we get with community backed efforts?

Traditionally, advertising is done by a business X telling the consumer that they sell product Y with feature(s) Z. The message is clear. X sells Y. If Y does deliver Z, you praise Y and X. If Y is a sham, you avoid X and tell others why.

Since the big Linux shops are not going to do the "X sells Linux with features Z" commercials, what is the community going to tell in an advertising campaign? The community isn't selling Linux. So are we just going to say: "Linux exists and it can do this and that"?

Nice, but where do you get this Linux? It is not available in the local computer shop. The big Linux shops don't even mention it themselves, so how "legit" is Linux as a viable consumer product? Who will help me when the proverbial manure hits the rotary cooling device?

If the answer to this one is that the community will form a big voluntary industry, supporting thousands of users from the bottom of their hearts, I think Linux would be better off without advertising.

AAM said...

I am much the same, I run Ubuntu at work inside a hospital and have for 3 years.

The current multicore (>6!) box has multiple VMs running - Vista & XP VMs running for use of the specific software, and I use them or more frequently RDP to get that winworld portal to get on the PACS (IE6 is mandated believe it or not) and other software (which is actually faster than using it natively on the XP boxes!!).

I just don't ask anymore! I don't ask for their service support and I don't receive their disservice.

Any hospital workers called HelpDesk?

"Have you tried to reboot the PC, sir?"
"Yes, 5 times!"
"Why don't you try again?"
"Because we have a diagnosis for people who repeat tasks frequently & continually expecting a different outcome!"