There are a lot of threads on the Ubuntu forums asking what would it take to get an average Windows user to switch to Linux. A lot of responses center around making Linux easier for the computer-illiterate end-user. See in particular the very enjoyable thread at http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=199744.
It seems to me that these discussions overlook an important practical consideration, that is, the role of the local Windows "power-user" in switching family and friends from Windows to Linux.
Linux, at this point, has a distinct advantage over Windows in the areas of security and 64-bit computing. Vista is giving many Windows power-users second thoughts. Vista needs cutting edge hardware just to get out of its own way and it's crippled with DRM. Now is a golden opportunity to catch the Windows power-users. Or so it seems to me. The power-users, once converted, will in turn lead the illiterate end-users to Linux.
So what do you think it would take to convince the Windows power-user to switch to Linux? All you ex-Windows power-users - why did you switch? What problems have you encountered? And how successful have you been at converting your friends and families when they bring you their malware-laden Windows boxes to fix, yet again?
I offer the following proposed descriptions for consideration:
I. The typical Windows computer-illiterate end-user
II. The typical Windows power-user and why she might want to switch to Linux
III. Why it took this Windows power user so long to switch to Linux
I. A typical Windows computer-illiterate end-user:
1. She doesn't particularly want to learn anything new and unfamiliar. She doesn't want to learn how to install an operating system. She doesn't want to learn how to use new software applications. But she CAN learn how to use new applications pretty easily IF she has an incentive.
2. She DOES want applications to work quickly, rather than leave her sitting staring at an hourglass, waiting for something to happen.
3. She undoubtedly uses one or more programs that can't be replaced by a Linux equivalent. For example, she transport documents back and forth between work or school and home; and work or school ONLY accept Microsoft Office documents. But she doesn't want to dual-boot. She probably won't like using Wine unless the application is "Platinum". She won't be comfortable installing VirtualBox, but she'll find it easy to use if someone else installs it for her.
4. Often she's using older equipment that is now working at a snail's pace. Or she's recently purchased a new computer with the newest operating system, and the whole thing STILL works at a snail's pace because the specs on the new hardware are at best marginal for the new operating system.
5. She may even think that "snail's pace" is normal. But eventually, because of accumulated windows garbage and/or malware, things get too slow or break altogether. At that point she turns to her closest computer-literate "Windows power-user" friend for help.
II. A typical Windows "power-user":
1. She uses (or has used) Windows in a work environment rather than for purely personal goals like surfing the internet and downloading email. She is the resident "go-to" person when things don't work. She may (or may not) have experience reaching back to the days of dos, but today the internet is her best friend when it comes to trouble-shooting computer problems.
2. She is concerned about computer security and efficiency. In the (not so) wonderful world of Windows, security and efficiency go hand-in-hand: hijacked computers don't work very efficiently (some have jokingly proposed that the main benefit of dual-core is to have computing power left over after the resident malware has taken its chunk).
3. Her Windows installation is "lean and mean" because every spec of RAM on her system is needed to run a RAM-hungry application. All unnecessary background services are shut down. Nothing is "pre-loaded." She monitors background processes like a hawk. The only thing bogging down her system is the firewall and antivirus and increasingly necessary rootkit/malware/"first-strike" protection she has running in the background.
4. She is proficient at installing and reinstalling Windows. She's rescued most of her family's and friends' (illiterate end-users all) computers more times than once. She's sick of cleaning up other people's malware-laden computers, but she's too nice to say "no". Sometimes it takes her an entire weekend to rescue a malware-ridden computer. She attempts to educate friends and family on computer safety; and she installs antivirus, firewall, Spybot, Ad-Aware, ad naseum on their computers. But malware evolves, and social engineering persists, and the broken computers just keep coming back.
5. She may even have designed and built her own computer, carefully selecting the "most for the least" to meet her own specific computing needs. She wants a 64-bit operating system to go with her spiffy 64-bit hardware. But Vista looks like it would need cutting edge hardware just to get out of it's own way; that DRM thing that cripples non-compliant hardware looks just awful; and she's tired of worrying about the latest Windows security hole.
6. The constant battle to keep malware at bay has turned her into a control freak, at least where her computer is concerned. She wants to know what every little dll, exe and jar file on her computer is doing. She hasn't achieved that lofty goal, but she tries. Her system has NEVER suffered from malware, probably . . .
7. She may well bite the bullet and go with Vista, because she wants to take advantage of 64-bit computing and more than 2gb RAM. But she is a prime candidate for making the switch to Linux. And when she does, most of her computer-illiterate friends and family are likely to follow sooner or later. Why? Because the next time Uncle Joe's computer stops working, our computer-literate ex-Windows power-user is going to say, "I'm sorry, Uncle Joe. I don't know anything about Vista. But I could help you set up Linux and your computer will work a lot faster."
III. Oh, OK, I admit it. That typical Windows power-user is me. I didn't bite the bullet and go with Vista. I switched to Ubuntu.
I've been trying to switch to Linux for the last five years. Why it has taken me so long to switch? A major reason has been Linux bloat of all things, coupled with the learning curve it would take to gain control over what is installed on my computer.
Five years ago I installed Redhat on my Inspiron 8100 Dell laptop, dual-booting with Windows 2000. I immediately uninstalled it because the default Redhat installation was more far more "bloated" with applications than my carefully tuned Windows 2000. I tried again with Suse a couple of years later on my brand-spanking new 64-bit-ready workstation, with the same result - bloatware. My attempts at trimming Suse down left me with a non-functioning installation. It seemed like more trouble than it was worth. And 64-bit computing hadn't matured much. So back to Windows, again.
Not too much later I tried FreeBSD - I liked that one a lot, got it going just the way I wanted, but alas nvidia didn't (and still doesn't) supply 64-bit freeBSD drivers and FreeBSD didn't run the linux apps I was most interested in.
In the meantime, 64-bit computing has come a long ways. And so has Linux. And so has virtualization and Wine for those necessary Windows applications.
Recently I took the advice of a Linux guru friend of mine and installed Ubuntu. Too much bloat. So I installed Xubuntu - faster, but how do I get past the gui to do things "my way"? Did I mention that the average Windows power-user is a control freak? We are. We have to be to keep the malware at bay.
Eventually I found a net-install CD from
http://www.psychocats.net/ubuntu/minimal#barebones (the net-install link is nowhere to be found on the Ubuntu home page). I made a minimal command line installation (actually I probably made five or six installations, that learning curve thing), and have worked from there tweaking as I go. The Ubuntu forums have been my best friend for the last two months (my linux guru friend is not around for daily questioning, alas).
So what have been the biggest problems so far, the biggest stumbling blocks for this ex-Windows power-user and newbie "Linux-guru wannabe"?
1. THE major stumbling block, after figuring out how to do a minimal install, was figuring out how to deal with security concerns. I have decided that for now an antivirus is not so important. I eventually ended up using Arno-iptables-firewall to set up my iptables. But I don't understand what the auto-generated iptables is actually doing. I just take it on faith that it is doing something good. Tons of reading on the Debian website about security still leaves me feeling "in the dark." I am thinking about creating a Linux installation in a VirtualBox so I can cruise the internet without fear of picking up malware (yeah, I know, linux is more secure blah blah blah, but part of that "security" stems from not being a particular target, with Windows being such low-hanging fruit). I worry about rootkits. Before trying Ubuntu, I had Etch up and running and managed to break it with Bastille. I've just put the whole security thing kind of to one side.
2. I have Wine (installed from source so I can keep multiple versions of wine running side-by-side) and VirtualBox running to take care of the Windows programs I can't live without. Can we say "learning curve"? Or is it "have your cake and eat it too"?
3. How to partition my hard drives was a major concern.
4. I really, really, really want a firewall like "Zone Alarm" for one reason: I want to know when programs are trying to "phone home." I can't find such a thing in the world of linux.
So that is where things stand at present with this (now ex-) Windows power-user. Other than the security concerns, I am just totally loving this whole Linux thing.
I'm formulating in my mind "how to's" for when the next friend or family member comes to me saying "fix my computer". And when said friend/family member shows up, there will be another Linux convert, an average computer-illiterate ex-Windows end-user, happily using Linux. He or she will never know how much time I spent figuring out how to make things work - they'll just be presented with a working system and as much of an education as they seem to be able to handle.
But I won't be installing full-blown Ubuntu on anyone's computer if they are using older hardware.
In fact, my better half (another Windows power-user; he's far too busy to learn Linux - his main computer is his livelihood) has issued me a challenge:
Get his very old and seldom-used (it has Windows 95 installed on it) Pentium Pro, 64mb ram with two hard drives: 4gb and 7gb respectively, up and running Linux . . .
. . . so he can cruise the internet and download email from it. I suspect he's really curious about this whole Linux thing and wants to play. Suggestions welcome!