Big Deal of a Big Challenge
Mark Shuttleworth has been laying out the challenges that we , the community called open, need to overcome to make a ubiquitous desktop of Linux. I first listened to this, or a variation of it, talk at Lugradio Live 2006. It was an inspiring presentation because it crystallised many of the core themes which I have been tackling with Small and Medium sized business owners over the last 10 years. Ive been promoting and discussing free and open source software at every small business expo and meeting I can attend in that time. From the Federation of Small Business to the new Microbiz fairs I have taken the opportunity to just people informed about open source alternatives to the closed and costly lack of choices people feel they have. Whilst the Server environment has been a “no brainer” to quote Eddie Bleasdale the desktop has always proven more intangible in defining how to gain traction in the hearts and minds of potential users. Ubuntu is now changing that landscape one desktop at a time, however there still remain barriers to acceptance and a few of them are more to do with the community than the software they represent. In talking to many computer users at business breakfast, lunch or dinners it is clear that the perception of operating systems is that there is no choice. Outside of the lack of support discussed by qualified IT managers the real concern for lack of support is the support of end users for non brand systems. End users dont want to feel they are using something other than the established brand they have come to expect. Managing the emotional attachment that people have to the Windows brand is one of the hurdles in pervasive support. I have seen users dismiss and negatively react to open source software simply because its not the “expected” or “wanted” product. Their frustration is similar to that of a individual who feels that they are unable to access the fashionably acceptable choices of their peers. In their minds there is one choice because its all they have seen and the only thing that everyone uses. Every user is convinced that things only work well and they will feel happiness if everything is the same and similar and associated with one brand. A stunning piece of marketing by Microsoft which we need to reverse if we are to encourage people to feel that open source can be a pervasive and positive experience. There needs to be a way of getting the Open Source brand as clearly into the minds of possible consumers in the same was that Dominos does for Pizza and Screwfix manages for DIY. Window stickers that clearly say “Ubuntu , Linux for Human Beings” and LiveCDs in every hotel room and foyer along with letters written to local news papers asking where the Open Source alternatives in Councils. This in turn should make more people ask their own support network about Linux. As new users , especially those who could provide support or enthusiasm , arrive its becoming more important to be forgiving of their etiquette faux pauxs. To reduce our own expectations of their abilities to enable them to contribute and get involved without requiring a skill level by which they become accepted within the community. Many of those arriving are likely to be the support personnel , the Nephews, Cousins and Man across the road whom others will turn to. Their experiences of open source and its community will be communicated to potential Linux Desktop users. I write this particular post because I realised that I have been discussing and promoting open source software for 10 years now and I still feel like its the scene from the Life of Brian where we are all trying to decide if we are the “Peoples Front of Judea” or the “Judean Peoples Front”. I love how Ubuntu has mobilised and driven so many people to just get up and do or simply get things done. Lets find new ways to get in peoples heads over the next few months and put some grit into the smooth running Microsoft marketing machine and build the support of all users for open source choices and a open source brand.
Thanks for reading.
UPDATE: so after writting this article I got up this morning to discover that I am not the only one commenting on how the community is both a strenght and a weakness to the acceptance of Free and Open Source Software, so itsa case of great minds think alike and fools seldom differ. Inside the mind of the enemy