(Note: This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, at Opensource.com and appears here via a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license.)
In 2016, I took down the shingle of my technology coaching business. Permanently. Or so I thought.
Over the last year or three, more than a few friends and acquaintances have pulled me back (in small ways) into the realm of coaching. How? With their desire to dump That Other Operating SystemTM and move to Linux.
This has been an interesting experience, in no small part because most of the people aren't at all technical. They know how to use a computer to do what they need to do. And they're interested in using Linux. Beyond that, they're not interested in delving deeper. They're not interested in becoming experts.
While bringing them to the Linux side of the computing world, I learned a few things about helping non-techies move to Linux. If someone asks you to help them make the jump to Linux, these eight tips can help you.
It's been fascinating, and at times scary, to watch how much of our computing has moved into the so-called cloud. Everything from spreadsheets to word processors, note taking tools and todo list managers, even our music now lives on someone else's computer.
What's so scary about all that? It can be a privacy nightmare, and we don't know what the people behind those online apps are doing with our personal information.
Open source makes it possible to find alternatives to many of those applications, to gain more control of your data, of what you use and how you use it. All that's possible through the miracle and magic of self hosting
Notice that I used the word possible a pair of times in the last paragraph. Not easy or even easier, but possible. Despite what what some people say, and more than a few have said it to me, self hosting open source web apps isn't all that easy.
Like many people who live and work in the free and open source software world, I keep hearing that every year is the year of Linux on the desktop. I've been hearing that for longer than I can remember. And each year, Linux doesn't come close to encroaching on the market share or mindshare of Mac OS or Windows.
That doesn't matter. At least not to me. For me, 1999 was the year of Linux on the desktop. My desktop. That was the was year I finally had it with Wind)ows. That was the year I first installed Linux, specifically Caldera OpenLinux, on a Pentium 300 I inherited from my wife. You can read the story about that in my interview with My Linux Rig if you're interested.
Linux worked well for me then, and only got better as the years passed. I've used over a dozen distributions and have test driven many, many more more. Linux has been running on every desktop and laptop computer I've owned since 1999, and I've doing all of my work in Linux since then. Contrary to what some people might say (and have said), I'm not missing anything.
Linux is ready for my desktop. It has been for over 20 years. In fact, Linux is my desktop. Period.
Whether or not Linux becomes mainstream isn't important to me. Linux just works for me. That's all that matters.
I know Shaun, and I know how passionate he is about free and open source software. And I agree with his stance.
That said, when it comes to using open source software on closed platforms, I'm of two minds. As you might guess, those seemingly opposed and contradictory ideas are difficult for me to reconcile.
On one hand, I believe that if you intend to embrace open source you should do it wholeheartedly. That means running open source software on open source operating systems. That means taking the time to adapt to both. That means learning what you need and what you don't need. That means adapting to new user interfaces and to shortcuts and commands. All of that takes time, but the results are worth it.
On the other hand, I understand that open source can be intimidating for some people. They need to ease into it. That means gradually replacing their proprietary software with open source alternatives on Windows and MacOS. Later, they may want to move to Linux in the form of Ubuntu (or one of its variants), elementary OS, or Linux Mint. Or not.
While I'd love more people to fully embrace using open source software on open platforms, I also realize that it's not an option for everyone. At least, not in the short term. As wrote in another post in this space:
Getting more people using open source, and embracing the ideas and values behind it, is the right thing to do. It’s not easy, but it can be done with very little pain. Who knows: by showing people the open source way, we might get some of them to spread the word.
Over the years, I've read a lot about how Linux on the desktop is dead or dying. About how Linux hasn't been gaining any traction on computers used ... well, used everywhere and by everyone. I've even heard more than a few people muse whether or not Linux is ready for the desktop.
To be honest, I don't care about all those gloom and doom prognostications.
As I've been saying for a long time, Linux is ready for my desktop. It has been since the turn of the century. Using Linux and various pieces of free and open source software, I can do everything that I want and need to do on a computer. Write and publish? Definitely. Work with graphics? No problem. Play music and video? As long as there's no DRM, all is better than good. Use the web? Obviously ...
And, no, I only have to use the command line if I want to. I do every so often, but that's another story.
For me, Linux just works. More to the point, it lets me work. It's that simple. The experiences of others, the utterances of journalists and pundits, and the disbelief of people around me using Windows and Apple products don't matter to me. What matters are my experiences and how Linux works for me.
The humble (and often, not-so-humble) text editor. It can be a wonderful thing. I know more than a few people who are zealous about their editors, and view them in the same way that they view their toothbrushes. Yes, they’re that hardcore.
Having said that, I know more than a few people who actually shy away from text editors. Why? Because they view editors as strictly a programmer’s tool. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even though I’m not a coder of any stripe, I find a text editor to be a valuable tool. More than that actually. For me, a good text editor is indispensable.
You might be writing an article, either in straight text or with a markup language like Markdown. You might be editing the HTML of your web site. You might be peeking at a shell script. Or you might just be taking a peek at a README file or change log for some software that you’re about to install. Pulling those kinds of files into a word processor is overkill.
Those are situations in which text editors are very handy. But with so many editors out there for the Linux desktop, how do you choose the one that’s for you? And by you, I mean someone who isn’t a software developer or (too much of) a techie. Someone who thinks that C is the third letter in the alphabet, for whom regular expressions are an ordinary way of speaking.
Everyone has their own favourite editor. Here’s some advice I give people who are looking for the right one for them.
When I mention that I contribute to free/open source projects, and that I do it for free, the question that I invariably hear is If you're doing it for free, then what do you get out of it?
That's the wrong question. Why? Because I've already gotten something from the projects that I support. That might be the software I'm using, a community I can turn to for help or take part in, or ideas that intrigue me.
Admittedly, I don't contribute as much as I want to or think I should. But I try to do as much as I can, not matter how little that actually is.
(Note: This post is based on a presentation I gave at the Opensource.com Lightning Talks on October 22, 2014)
There are many people out there who are interested in, and even eager to use, open source. Not just for one or two tasks, but for their entire computing experience. But, for a variety of reasons, they aren’t able or willing to make the leap from the closed, proprietary world to a more free and open one.
Even the more resolute ones hesitate. Why? A big part of it is change, which no one really likes. And they might not know a lot about open source.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned that can help you ease people into open source.