How to win friends and influence users–a rant

Note:  This is a modified version of a post I made on the Linux Mint forums.

Most of those with ties to GNU/Linux want to see usage expand. Many are the reasons that folks make the switch, and rarely is it easy–folks must give up the familiar and take a step into the unknown to make the switch. This is never comfortable and boards such as this one exist to give these new (or potential) users a hand.

Choosing an OS is not just about choosing an OS–there is an entirely different ecosystem that is built around each OS and the entire ecosystem may have to be changed. Hardware peripherals may or may not work with the new ecosystem, familiar applications may have to be replaced with unfamiliar ones, procedures for getting stuff done may have to be replaced with new ones, in general switching OS’s is rarely as easy as inserting a CD and rebooting.

Many in the Windows world have outdated views of Linux–how often do we hear “it is too hard”, or “Linux is only for geeks”, or other such views that may have been true 5 years ago but are not true now. (Many in the GNU/Linux world promote these outdated stereotypes in an attempt to maintain their own [self-perceived] elite status–but that is another rant…)

Windows users have major investments in their computing ecosystem, monetary, temporal, emotional, etc… Rarely can you get them to give up this investment and embark on a new journey by running them down. Using terms like Windoze, Microshaft, M$, etc…is not the way to win converts. This sort of attitude only makes the Windows user more entrenched in their world, these attacks may not be meant as personal, the user of such terminology may not even be aware that they are attacks, but they do nothing to win over users and may even do harm.

Earlier I mentioned that many Windows users have outdated views of Linux, in the same way, many Linux users have outdated views of Windows. You can see this when they use terms like MICROS~1 (how long has it been since Windows used Dos naming conventions?) and talk of BSOD’s as if they are still common. The average Windows user is probably no less intelligent than the average Linux user, running down these users with outdated stereotypes that the user knows to be untrue is not doing anything to help win them over.

Some may say that they do not want to win over new users, they fear that if the masses adopt Linux it will become just like Windows or they fear that they may lose their (self-perceived) elite status. As for me, I want new users. When I switched to Linux I had to give up the Amazon MP3 store, Amazon movie rentals, and Movielink rentals. I would like access to these things, but I know it won’t happen until Linux reaches some critical mass. I don’t know what that critical mass is…if I had to make a guess, I would put it at 10% or better.

So I titled this rant, “How to win friends and influence users”, so I should give my take on how to make that happen. Respect. Nothing more, nothing less. People can be enabled to make different choices without running them down. Search any Linux forum for terms like “windoze” or “Microsoft Sucks” and you will see what I mean.  I have no way of knowing what motivates people to such behavior, but as a recent convert myself, I can guarantee you that this only serves to entrench Windows users with a bunker mentality. If you really want to win friends and influence users, try a little respect.

Addendum: I am also guilty of this lack of respect, whether referring to Apple Fanboy or FOSS Zealot…I will try to do better this year…


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