Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to convert non-techies to Linux.

Linux has come a long way and today it is ready to be used by non technical users as well. A lot of individuals are not happy with Windows and are looking for an alternative. The problem is that because these users are not very interested in computers, they are not aware of Linux as an alternative. These people are also a little skeptical and nervous when they are going to change their computer OS to something new. They are worried that they will not know how to use it and that it will be too difficult to learn. There are some drawbacks to Linux and it is important that you let the user know. However, Linux is ready for the mass market and for the non technical users.

To start off you need to choose a distribution that is easy to use for a newcomer. If you choose a very difficult one that needs a lot of tweaking and setting up, they will get disappointed. This can lead them to believe that Linux is bad but really they have been exposed to a wrong distribution that is not geared towards their needs. Mint Linux, Fedora and Ubuntu are a good choice for new non technical users. Personally, I prefer Ubuntu but it is up to you to decide what they will benefit from.

The good thing about these distributions is that they already come pre-installed with important software. Openoffice is essential for document creation and GIMP is good for graphics editing. Skype is important too. I know, you are going to say that Skype is proprietary. Most users that I have converted to Linux always want Skype pre-installed. It is important that we do not use our ideology to limit their OS. We need to give new users what they want. If they want proprietary software on Linux then give it to them. Most non technical users do not care about open source software. Sad but true. All they want is an OS that will function as easily as possible and allow them to do the things they are used to. Make sure that all of the important applications are pre-installed and the new user has to tweak as little as possible. The less the better. Ask them what software they were using on Windows and try to give them alternatives for Linux. You can also install Wine so that they can use some Windows applications as well if a viable alternative is not present.

Eyecandy is also very important. Most new and non technical users are not interested in code. What they see is the GUI. Make their distro look very cool and pretty and they will fall in love with it. You can get themes from Lots of people like Apple computers because of aesthetics. This might seem superficial to you but we are talking about the non technical users switching over to Linux. Another great application is Compiz. If their computer is powerful enough you can give them excellent eyecandy with compiz. With themes and cool 3D effects you will be able to make their Linux desktop nicer than Windows or Mac OS. Show them a little razzle dazzle.

The most important thing of all has to be support. You don't just want to install everything for them and then leave them to it. They will have a lot of questions. Some might be ridiculous but it is important to give new users plenty of support. You need to show them where everything is in Linux. How to access applications and how to install and delete them. You will have to tell them about the different way Linux works and also about the open source formats that they might not be familiar with. If you don't give follow up support to a non techy they will be frustrated with Linux and might dislike it for a ridiculous reason. It is important to teach them about the OS and let them know that it works differently than Windows.

So, in conclusion the most important thing is to choose a proper distribution that is geared towards beginners. Make sure they have all the applications pre-installed that they will be using even if they are proprietary. Linux should just work for them. After that, make sure to give them nice eyecandy so that they will be impressed and fall in love with their aesthetically appealing OS. The last but not least is to give them support from start to finish. Do not leave them to figure things out on their own because they will get frustrated and confused. Linux is a great operating system and it is ready for non technical users as well. Just make sure to introduce them to Linux in an appropriate way and they will enjoy the experience. Once they go Linux they don't go back. 8-)


  1. How true, good article. You are right that people are not even aware that they have an alternative. I was helping a friend in April and suggested that he might want to try Linux. I had to start by explaining that it was kind of like a Mac (which he understood) and free (made him smile). I then did very much the same as you, installed a base system - 64-bit Ubuntu. Setup took a little more with Flash and Java, but I wanted it to be the best experience possible. I followed with apps. they would need for how they use the computer and then finished up with some eye candy. He has only come back to me once since the install and that was because he failed to shut it down properly and this was easily fixed with a fsck.

  2. And when possible avoid giving command line help. There's nothing non-techies loathe more than having to do important tasks with the CLI.

  3. Indeed!

    I recently switched from XP to Ubuntu, and for me, the GUI was omnipresent. I did not even consider using the terminal--I would crawl through Synaptic before using apt-get. Only after careful, crafty, and very slow tweaking of my system (and calling my friend at all hours of the night, "How do I [x]?!"), did I feel comfortable enough to begin venturing into the terminal. I'm not nearly what one would call a Linux power user, but I'm getting there.

  4. Well, the most important one is to find out WHY they want to switch OS'es. And check if Linux will provide what they need in detail. Also for future usabilities. (predict the users utilization). E.g. if the person is much into multimedia, then you might run into problems big time. This is because Multimedia is not Linux' shiny horse feature. It's more a little colibri.
    It flies, but not powerfull. E.g. video editing is near feature/stability rich in available software packages, as to Windows and OSX availabilities. Also Hardware comes into play.

    not all non-techies can express it verbally, as we techies can. So try asking clear questions, in synonims instead of tech words. discuss about it indepth. Show them screenshots, let them do their work, and you watch how they do it. Etc..

    If Linux is still a good alternative, then proceed with the posters list.

    One NOTE: eyecandy can be nice for the first few user runs, but watchout to NOT overcandy it.
    Compiz is something is would NOT use/activate for them by default, it's confusing to them (all those anim effects etc..)
    better keep it solid but modern looking. (like apple does)
    Also keep in mind that compiz can make other programs crash or not working properly.

    NOTE 2: ALWAYS test the setup intensively before rolling it out to the enduser. Make documentation (simplified focussed on their tech knowlegde), for them too.

  5. I switched my dad to Linux :-) Yay ! Linux-1 Windows-0!

  6. Thank you for nice post! :D I love linux, I love pinguins ;)

  7. I Hate WINDOWS! So tired of issues. I have restored my hd image so many times do to windows poor management of there services, registor, est. I haqve never used Linix but I am surely going to try it. I am a some what of a ms techie, 30yrs exp. but I hate it. Wish me luck in my new adventure! I Love the article.