‘My First Time’ Posts and Other Linux Marketing Problems

In our ongoing quest to bring readers all the FOSS news that’s fit to print — with the occasional addition, perhaps, of some that isn’t — we here at LinuxInsider are always suckers for a good contest.

And so we’re delighted to spread the word about a contest that recently made the news on Slashdot — involving US$200,000 in cash prizes, no less! The contest comes from Ubiquiti Networks, and it’s to design “the most impressive User Interface/Firmware for Ubiquiti’s newly released open-source embedded wireless platform, the RouterStation.”

First prize is $160,000, and registration is now open. Start brainstorming!

New Owner for

Along similar lines — though without the cash prizes — comes the news, announced just yesterday, that the Linux Foundation has taken over from SourceForge, and aims to transform the site into a collaborative one that’s “for the community, by the community,” according to its press release.

Much discussion can be found on Slashdot, Digg and the Linux Loop, among other blogs, and an IdeaForge has been created to solicit community input on the redesign. Go give ’em your two cents!

‘My First Experience With Linux’

Speaking of the Linux Loop, the site’s Thomas Teisberg raised an interesting question a few weeks ago that we’ve been mulling over ever since. In a post titled “The problem with ‘My first experience with Linux’ posts,” Teisberg argues that the authors of said articles don’t tend to do enough research, and also that the posts often simply generate a war of comments.

“I like these ‘first experience with linux’ posts,” countered manny in a comment on Teisberg’s post. “For most the first impression is the most important one. So these ‘novice reviews’ not only are interesting to read, but have also shaped or are shaping many things in linux as we speak.”

On the other hand: “I suggest the authors of these first-experience articles also explore the following themes:

  • ‘The first time I made love’ (Conclusion: women are a nightmare, so do without)
  • ‘The first time I drove a car’ (Conclusion: you’d better walk, it’s less dangerous)
  • ‘The first time I read a book’ (Conclusion: it’s very difficult, you have to read, so better stick to writing articles on the Internet),” shot back Niki Kovacs.

‘It’s Never Informative’

In fact, Teisberg’s suggestions sparked something of a commentary skirmish of their own. Combined with the fact that we here at LinuxInsider are guilty of posting such an article or two ourselves, we couldn’t resist asking around for some more insights.

“I personally hate the ‘my first time on Linux’ articles,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider. “It seems every reporter and wannabe blogger has to try one once to feel like they belong on the Net.

“And of course it’s not an interesting read unless something goes comically bad, so it’s never informative,” Mack added. “It’s right up there with ‘third wall’ jokes that every Web comic seems to have to try, even though the only people who think it’s clever are the other web comic writers.”

‘We Should Be Rejoicing!’

Alternatively: “The problem with thinking that there is a problem with ‘my first time with Linux’ stories is that one misses the point entirely,” Slashdot blogger drinkypoo asserted.

“The operating system is the way that the user experiences the computer,” drinkypoo told LinuxInsider. “If the user expects the install to ‘just work’ and it doesn’t, and they actually tell us why, we should be rejoicing! Here is some concrete data on what specifically needs to be done to make the system palatable to that specific user.

“The user’s complaints tell us precisely what areas need to be addressed, if not what to do about them,” he added.

Similarly: In order for a first time experience with Linux to be successful, it must be transparent, Slashdot blogger yagu said. “That is, the user gets what he or she wants and expects, no big learning curve, no kernel compiles before work commences, no config files to tweak, just press the big power button and go!”

‘One Thing Microsoft Gets Right’

“First experience” disasters “invariably relate to Linux and its ‘out-of-the-box’-ness,” yagu told LinuxInsider.

Linux is infinitely configurable, and “usually configured differently enough from each other that users can’t simply sit and use without some confusion,” he explained. “Contrast Linux with XP Windows and the tight control Microsoft maintains over the way it looks and feels; Vista is even more tightly constrained. For the users’ first time experiences, this is one thing Microsoft understands and gets right.”

Of course, “Apple understands this even better and gets it righter :-),” yagu added.

‘Linux: It’s a Marketing Problem’

Indeed, the issue is closely related to the bigger question of how to market Linux, and that’s something Teisberg addressed recently as well in a separate post. Titled “Linux: It’s a Marketing Problem,” Teisberg’s post concludes that word of mouth is ultimately the best hope Linux has to convert new users.

“The way to market GNU/Linux is to show it to people,” blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider.

“The netbooks are a great ambassador,” he added. “People can see they work. I just attended a conference where I showed GNU/Linux on thin clients to people who had not seen it before. No one had any objection; some children had to be pried off of GCompris.”

In short, “compared to the commonly used OS, GNU/Linux is a breath of fresh air, and all can appreciate it,” Pogson said.

‘Linux: It’s a Microsoft Problem’

Similarly: “Linux: It’s a Microsoft problem,” drinkypoo said. “People think that the computer is Windows, and Windows is the computer. That big box on their desk? It’s the hard drive. And when they run out of space, they need more ‘memory.'”

Teisberg’s point that Linux aficionados should not assume technical expertise in those they’re trying to persuade is “well-taken, but I think a more real problem is that when you walk into a store, you get a bunch of [Windows],” he added. “Netbooks are starting to change that; they seem more like they should be an ‘appliance’ than a ‘real’ laptop.”

The problem with marketing Linux for home users is a multifaceted one, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told LinuxInsider.

‘What Is Needed’

“I have tried to sit down and discuss with Linux users and developers what is needed to expand in the home and SOHO/SMB markets, only to be ridiculed time and time again,” he said. What will it take? Several things, hairyfeet said:

  1. Support for Lexmark printers. “They are the most popular with home users, and do not work at all in Linux,” hairyfeet asserted. “You simply can’t tell a customer they are going to have to throw out a printer they are quite happy with just to use an OS they’ve never heard of.”
  2. An easy and seamless way to support VB6 apps. “There is a good reason why nearly five years after MSFT tried to kill VB6, it is STILL the #3 business language; it is the engine that the small business runs on,” he explained.
  3. A replacement for GPO/AD/Exchange. “While I know there are alternatives in Linux, they are simply clunky and feel like a hodgepodge of thrown-together programs,” he said.
  4. An easy-to-use GUI for Wine that will allow home users to play their games and SMBs to run their office apps. “I know there is Crossover, but even that is too complex for home users,” he asserted.
  5. Trolls With Attitude

    Unfortunately, “when I bring such things up I inevitably get answers such as, ‘VB6? It is for the luzerz! LOL!’ and ‘Lexbark! luzerz get another printer! LOL Windblowz!’,” hairyfeet said.

    “While I know every Linux advocate doesn’t feel this way, the vocal minority make the rest look like basement-dwelling trolls with their attitude,” he added.

    In short, hairyfeet concluded, “until one can accept that there is a REASON why MSFT Windows is #1 — and it is NOT due to trickery or a conspiracy, but due to a lack of some critical driver or program for the users — and then address those deficiencies, things will never get any better.”

1 Comment

  • Regarding: "An easy-to-use GUI for Wine that will allow home users to play their games and SMBs to run their office apps. ‘I know there is Crossover, but even that is too complex for home users,’ he asserted." We totally agree. Frankly, the ideal UI for Wine would be *no* UI at all–you’d just pop in your CD and/or invoke an executable and Wine would simply install and/or run it behind the scenes with no intervention whatsoever, transparently, automagically. Sadly, while I think we can *see* the promised land in that regard, we’re nowhere near reaching it yet from a technical perspective.

    Yes, Wine has made great strides recently–a *lot* more applications install cleanly and run "right out of the box" than did even two years ago. But there’s still a ton of work to do, and until the basics of installing and running get covered, there’s really no sense in trying to "hide" Wine any more than we currently do. For the foreseeable future, you’re going to have to have an installer. For the foreseeable future, you’re going to have to have *some* sort of configuration utilities to customize which flavor of Wine you’re using to run a given program.

    Lastly, there’s a general lack of understanding in the marketplace as to just how terribly difficult Wine development is. It is quite probably *the* hardest programming gig on the planet, bar none. We’re trying to reimplement the API of the world’s most powerful software company, using a team of a few dozen developers. That we’ve gotten as far as we have is nothing short of miraculous. But we, like many endusers, get frustrated by Wine’s limitations. We can *all* see the promised land. We *all* know what we want Wine to be–a magic silver bullet. And we’re getting there. But it’s gonna take a lot longer to get there than many people are willing to admit, and during that time period you’re simply going to have to suffer with UIs like CrossOver, I’m afraid.

    Thanks for the comment.


    -jon parshall-


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