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06.14.11

How to Advocate for GNU/Linux to Become Dominant Platform (Across Different Levels of Scale But Especially Desktops)

Posted in GNU/Linux at 2:09 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Preaching

Summary: Personal opinion on what needs to be done in order to make GNU/Linux ever more ubiquitous

Long before writing in this Web site I was a GNU/Linux user and also an advocate whose approach was to make people familiar with practical benefits of the platform. People tend to stick with what they know, so unless there is an idealogical or emotional reason for a change, people tend to repel and reject even friendly advice. Resistance to change is somewhat of a defence mechanism and some companies learned how to exploit this. Let us identify ways in which a massive move to GNU/Linux (especially on the desktop) will become possible.

Put an end to software patents. On at least one occasion in recent years Red Hat planned a move into the desktop market, but multimedia codecs with patents on them stood in Red Hat’s way, according to reports. Apple and Microsoft have been using MPEG-LA as a barrier to entry — a menacing barrier facing low-cost competition. Without software patents, this barrier will be gone. Right now, especially with Android, we see a lot more of these familiar strategies. Software patents are inherently conflicting with GNU/Linux as a free platform one can distribute.

“Software patents are inherently conflicting with GNU/Linux as a free platform one can distribute.”Highlight ethical factors. Telling people only about pragmatic benefits of GNU/Linux — while they do truly exist — may fall on deaf ears. it would take a leap in terms of benefits and marketing for a lot of people to appreciate and embark on a long migration path. To a large degree and to grossly generalise, Apple tries to sell people a dream (status, quality, etc.), Microsoft advocates being uniform and docile by just accepting what OEMs preinstall (Microsoft spins lack of choice as a case of customers choosing Windows), whereas GNU/Linux and BSD are all about control (versatility, access to code, many choices, and so on). Those last bits concentrate mostly on technical benefits and unless one views it as the “GNU system”, freedom is rarely mentioned; in fact, cost is more likely to come up as a selling point. Fortunately in a way, now that kill switches, DRM and other limitations become commonplace, it becomes easier to take a complaint and then explain computer freedom to people, using real-world examples that affect everyone. To tell people that they would be in control of their data, devices, and computer can persuade some people to at least give GNU/Linux a chance.

Security. GNU/Linux is inherently more secure because it uses the well-researched and mature UNIX model and it typically embraces repositories to limit access to untrusted software. While security is probably not the main factor when choosing an operating system, the trick seems to come most handy when someone’s Windows computer gets walware and does something really nasty like data loss, considerable slowdown, and/or bank account breach. There is a window of opportunity opening when one suffers the consequences of these ordeals and promises himself or herself that a move away from the failed software is now justified.

“GNU/Linux is inherently more secure because it uses the well-researched and mature UNIX model and it typically embraces repositories to limit access to untrusted software.”Uniqueness.. To be unique is sometimes to be silly, but often it is to overcome marketing and delusion. People wish to be unique for all sorts of reasons, including specialties that help employment, merits of individuality that increase self esteem, and generally a sense of identity. As GNU/Linux has so much preinstalled software that varies across desktop environments and distributions, almost every user of GNU/Linux finds some way to customise things on a platform of choice to the point where the desktop can almost uniquely identity the person (or group of persons). This is a good thing. Taking this perspective further, GNU/Linux treats people like people, whereas Mac OS X and Windows treat people like Soviet Russia did. Being treated like a mere number discourages and demoralises. Finding one’s community and identity in a group of GNU/Linux users (there are many such groups with overlap and also distinctive features) can open a whole new door to a social world. A lot of people are in it for the sense of belonging, and there is nothing wrong with that. At the lower level there is a good deal of POSIX, so operation of key components across platforms is not a real peril. GNU/Linux is very standards-adherent because it had to be so. Lock-in is rarely a commercial consideration.

Growth. People like to be early adopters of what they know is going to become the “next best thing”. By joining early they can improve their relevance in what would become a dominant hub (e.g. social networks, political party), so to point out to people that GNU/Linux is already conquering nearly 100% of the world’s top computers and has grown to the point of dominance in phones can help persuade them that “Linux” is indeed the future, i.e. learning how to cope with it is inevitable. A lot of companies these days also recruit based on UNIX/Linux skills; that too can show people that by being early adopters they improve their prospects of wealth.

“GNU/Linux is very standards-adherent because it had to be so. Lock-in is rarely a commercial consideration.”Pace of expansion. As Linux does not really have much/any marketing, few people can appreciate the amount of innovation coming from “Linux” (and GNU). Moreover, unlike Microsoft and Apple which merely copied the work of others, the Free software movement was typically a trailblazer because technical excellence and leadership — not number of sales based on superficial jingles/jargon — were typically a priority. In less than 20 years Linux turned from a dormitory project into the best kernel out there, bar none (it is arguably, but with heaps of drivers and excellent filesystem features, counter arguments would be uncompelling and weak). In less than 10 years a crude desktop environments turned into what we now know as KDE4, which by my own judgment is the best environment one can get on any platform (not just GNU/Linux and BSD). You can usually spot a winner when you see who is growing the fastest and enjoys steady expansion/inertia. Linux is the very fast stallion in a race of old horses and little by little it overtakes the older generation (going back to the 1970s). The Linux Foundation has so many corporate backers now. People wish to embrace something which keeps being developed and actively maintained. By showing people that Linux is growing faster than its competition (compare KDE2 to Windows XP or Linux 1.x to Windows 95/98) people will accept the fact that GNU/Linux not only caught up with the competition a while ago but is also increasing the gap over it. This fact would be reassuring to many, including of course businesses (volatility matters to them).

“The Linux Foundation has so many corporate backers now.”Support. When something goes wrong in proprietary operating systems people often resort to asking a friend, a member of the family or a neighbour for help. By contrast, for many years GNU/Linux thrived in LUGs and in online communities which are eager to help other users of the same operating system. Since many of them did not have to pay for it and are not merely volunteers helping some billionaire/s, they feel almost obliged to give something back. Increasing userbase like theirs is not just a way of making one’s own choice safer and more resistant to collapse; it is also a way of justifying one’s own preference. This is generally fine because we speak about technology and not ancient scripture. This dedication to GNU/Linux worldwide helps ensure support will be there for a long, long time to come.

The list could go further, but to name some strategies that prove to be less effective at evangelising, telling people about the criminal nature of companies like Microsoft is not always productive; the education system teaches people to shy away from talking about crime as though it is somewhat of a taboo and even poor ethics are seen as commendable sometimes (some PR techniques for example); talking about Apple over-hyping its products is fine, but saying that Apple products hurt the user is sometimes an insult to their users (who paid for these products), so in both cases the communication suffers and the two sides drift apart.Techrights does cover those issues for reasons other than advocacy. The target audience is different, too. On the whole, telling people they can choose one of 10 browsers would not work because other platforms have that too and they also boast many more games (including free ones). Telling people about filesystem snapshots functionality would work only with a tech-savvy audience. Something different is needed. It is generally good to show people 3-D effects because this can be done quickly and it is memorable; it is also somewhat of a vanity/rave feature. It does, however, entice people to at least explore what’s underneath the skin. When demonstrating a desktop, provided someone is willing to give it a glance, it is good to show virtual workspaces along with some powerful applications and nice themes. To many people, a powerful package which is not neatly packaged will be seen as inherently inferior, especially if it is free of charge.

“Android has great brand recognition — probably better than Red Hat’s and Ubuntu’s by now.”Lastly, in some cases it may help to demonstrate the promise of GNU/Linux merely by association or comparison. For instance, saying that the Web mostly runs Free software like Apache and that Google is predominantly based on GNU/Linux (even is the crown jewels are Google’s proprietary software) lends enormous credibility to the platform. It goes without saying that reminding people that Android is Linux at the core can work magic. Android has great brand recognition — probably better than Red Hat’s and Ubuntu’s by now.

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4 Comments

  1. NotZed said,

    June 14, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Gravatar

    It wont become dominant in the public sector or education simply because it can’t dole out tickets to the rugby for the gormless middle-management who make the purchasing decisions.

    It’s going to have a hard time in business in general much for the same reason – although businesses will certainly have a competitive edge if they embrace free software, it probably wont be enough to overcome the status quo for a very long time – given it is supported by self-serving laws of it’s own creation and pan-national organisations with rights and privileges well above those of any citizen (or nation for that matter).

    Business middle-management always like the excuse having ‘one throat to choke’ – although that is a complete furphy since the same service contracts are available for free software.

    As to the general public – personally I don’t think the ‘community’ can work as a general support base for neophyte users. It is only able to help those who are able help themselves – which rules out a vast swathe of lazy people who simply refuse to and then blame others for their shortcomings.

    Needs Sunlight Reply:

    I see the barrier in business not as status quo. M$ did have to break status quo to get in.

    I see it often as one or two belluzzos in a position to abuse the trust placed in them to roll out an ongoing s of aga of M$ purchases, keeping the business on the treadmill. Without the presence and action from at least one belluzzo, people start looking around for software that works better or, in some cases, works at all.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    sometimes it takes a company like IBM or Google to use its own power for change;

    NotZed Reply:

    M$ had to break laws to get into their position as well. Using at best very unscrupulous and sometimes criminal behaviour.

    IBM, Google, Oracle, even Sun while they were around, all support(ed) microsoft platforms and products either exclusively or well infront of free platforms and products.

    It’s so consistent from these organisations and all others who on the surface very much dislike microsoft, that one wonders how many secret out of court settlements and undisclosed licensing agreements are involved keeping it that way.

    (e.g. apple, intel, amd, the list just goes on and on).

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