...making Linux just a little more fun!

<-- prev | next -->

How to Give Linux Away

By Scott Ruecker

As a community, we would like to see large computer manufacturers sell PCs with Linux already on them. Is this the only option worth considering?

I work as a sales representative for one of the large PC manufacturers, at many different technology retail stores. Three years ago, I heard about Open Source and Linux. My first exposure came in the form of the Firefox browser. When I speak with customers, I talk about my experiences using Linux. I ask them if their computer is running slow, and the answer is always "Yes". They tell me how it is running really slow no matter what they do, or how they can't seem to create any free room on their hard drive.

People often ask me if MS-Office comes with the computer, and I say "No, but have you ever heard of OpenOffice.org?" I tell them how it can read and save the MS formats, and how I have been using it at college even though MS-Office dominates on campus. I tell them what it can do and that it doesn't cost a dime. That usually gets their attention.

I also will often hear the customer say, "As soon as I get home I am going to throw the old computer away". What I say at that point - and what I think we should all be saying - is "You know that old computer that can't run Windows the way you need it to anymore? Give it to me, and I'll fix it up and give it to someone or some family that does not have a computer."

I have had several conversations with customers that have led to them giving me their old computers when buying a new one. I fixed one up and gave it to a friend of mine who lives on a ranch in Colorado, and because of it he has been able to stay in contact with friends and family here in Phoenix. What if we all did that? All of us? What if everyone who used Linux fixed up an old computer, configured it for common uses, and gave it to someone or some family who did not have one? Think about it.

We would not only double the number of people who use Linux, but have a very positive effect on society. We all know that having a computer in the home makes everyone who uses it read better. It is my belief that that the ability to read well does as much or more for that person as going to school. Someone who knows how to read can find what they need to learn the skills and teach themselves anything they want. If a child can be positively affected by having a computer, so can an entire family.

I am not trying to proclaim some kind of "call to arms" to join me in some crusade - not at all. I just want to share some of the things I say, and some of the questions I ask, that have introduced Open Source Software to new people in a positive way. As the saying goes, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression". I hope that what I say in this article will help you make that first impression a good one. Over the last two years, I have gone from not knowing how to pronounce "Linux" correctly to... well, still not knowing how to pronounce SuSE correctly.

You gotta admit, though - fixing up and giving away computers is at least good karma (I hope).

Part 2 - Changing Opinions

If someone has already made up their mind not to give something new a try, then there is no sense in wasting your time trying make them re-think their decision. However, there are plenty of other people around - and some of them are only held back by excuses.

Among those who give such excuses, there are those who are just repeating what they have heard or read and really do not have any of their own information or experience to draw from. They are easy to pick out - once you have heard hundreds of different people say almost the exact same thing like I have. It's not that hard; all you have to do is ask a few questions and you can easily determine if they are just repeating what they have heard or actually have their own reasons for not wanting to give Linux a try.

Here is what I do:

  1. Ask them if they use IE, WMP (Windows Media Player), Quicktime, iTunes, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access... and always ask them how many types of Anti-Virus programs they are using. Make sure that you always end with the Anti-Viruses - trust me, I'll tell you why in a moment.

    You will find that roughly 99% of the people you talk to do not even use all of those programs I listed - and very, very few use any programs that are not on that list. Most people only use IE, Word, WMP, and maybe Quicktime a little - and whatever Anti-Virus software they have installed.

  2. Ask them how many types of Anti-Virus programs they use.
  3. After you ask, most people will repeat it back to you saying, "How many types of Anti-Virus programs do I use?" "Do you have more than one Anti-Virus program on your computer?" Some people do not - but many do use more than one. This is where I tell them,

    "When I ran Windows, I used Ad-Aware, Zone Alarm, AVG, McAfee (the free version), Spybot, Spywareblaster, Spyware-Doctor, Webroot, and Registry Mechanic."

    Which is true: I had all of them on my computer at the same time and between them I could keep my system fairly safe. Fairly.

  4. Ask them if they have ever heard of Firefox.
  5. Some will ask, "What is Firefox?" - "Firefox is a browser." "What is a browser?" - "It is a program that you use to surf the Internet." "You mean like IE?" - "Exactly, only it is a lot safer than IE." This is where I go into the features, how it imports favorites and why it is safer than IE. Something like:

    "Because it is not a part of the operating system, it is a lot harder for spyware to damage your system when using Firefox."

    Again, technically true.

  6. Ask them if they have ever heard of OpenOffice.org.
  7. Then say to them,

    "OpenOffice allows you to view, modify, save, and send the changed document in MS format and it does not cost $500... actually, it does not cost a dime."

    I will tell you that a lot of people are not happy when they buy a new computer and then are told by the store employee that it does not come with Word or Office - and that if they want it, it will cost hundreds of dollars. If you can get people to listen to you about OpenOffice's compatibility features and price, of lack thereof, many will not leave until they get the web address from you.

If I can get most of the way through these steps, then I know I can re-visit the Linux question and stand a chance of success. I can show them that it just might be something that could work for them. When I explain the Root and User separation built into Linux - how it makes the computer safer and that they will not need multiple Anti-Virus programs or have to re-format their hard drive every six months because Windows does not actually delete anything - they start to actually look at the retail Linux box I have already handed them.

Is this system perfect? No. You may talk about one thing before another or skip over something or do it in reverse - every conversation is unique. I want to inform them of choices they may not have known of, open them up to new ways of doing something and not make them feel like they were wrong or stupid. If I do it right, they do not even feel their own shift in opinion or preference.

I could expand on this some more, and I will, but I thought that giving you the basics of what I do might help others in getting past the FUD without alienating the person you are talking to. Changing someone's opinion or stance without making them feel stupid takes practice - and I get a lot of practice.

Talkback: Discuss this article with The Answer Gang


Scott Ruecker a.k.a. "sharkscott" lives in Phoenix, Arizona; he is a Special Education Major at Arizona State University and claims to have taken way too many History Classes. He works as a sales rep for a large OEM, tries to pronounce "Linux" correctly and plays Drums in a rock-n-roll band every Saturday night.

First exposed to OSS when he heard about "This Linux Thing" in 2002. Got his start on the Fedora Cores, Ku-Ubuntu and then to SuSE. Has used SuSE since 9.1 and thinks he likes it.

Copyright © 2006, Scott Ruecker. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 125 of Linux Gazette, April 2006

<-- prev | next -->