So what makes you so qualified to talk about this?
Well, in my eyes at least, the fact that I have converted 2 of my buddies and the fact that I use Linux on all my machines (desktop, laptop and my dedicated server) is more than enough. I would like to present you with the reasons why I believe these conversions worked and why I believe that we should convert more people.
So here is my concise little list of 7 points you should keep in the back of your mind when you get itchy looking at that WinXP desktop of your best friend.
1. Treat them to the best of your human ability
Above all else, remember that it is people that you are working with. Changes in people, especially changes that require a lot or routine alterations, come gradually. First you slightly open the doors by BEING NORMAL and presenting Open Source software in a manner that is appealing and enticing.
Talk about the Open Source software that they already use and like. Tell them that that is what Linux is all about and that they can contribute to Open Source movement by using their products even more. Perhaps you can show them your favourite Open Source mail reader or any other gadget that you like.
It is important that you are gradual in this process. Open Source software on their Windows machine is the first step. Live CDs and Virtualization is the next step.
2. Recognize who you are talking to
As shallow as it sounds, showing off your Compiz eye candy is a great way to attract new converts that pay attention to such things. In the mind of the uninformed, average PC user, Linux is still a black and white shell environment for hackers who can look at the code of Matrix and see a busty blonde. Once they realize that Linux can be just as flashy and polished as Windows, if not more, they start to think of Linux as a competing product that might be worth taking a look at. Always keep in mind that they don't have to switch right away and never come back. There are Live CDs and virtualization options too.
For the security savy you will have plenty of opportunity to present them with information that will make them wonder weather it might actually be worth it to switch to the other side. Always keep in mind that they don't have to switch right away and never come back. There are Live CDs and virtualization options too.
There are plenty of categories of users that are good candidates for Linux users. People who are just getting into programming and web development are excellent candidates. Linux as a development environment is a pure joy for me and I would always try to get my fellow devs to switch over. The problem is that devs spend soooo much time on their machines that switching an OS is a hughe change for them.
This is where Live CDs and virtualization come into play. You can always try to get your dev friends to join up on an Open Source project that you are contributing to. It will give them a chance to get some frinds from the other side of the fence and get a hand of things in the OS world.
There are people who do not want to have illegal software on their machines. This is actually how I got my first Linux convert. He was unhappy with having to steal his OS. So I said: "You don't have to. You can have a perfectly legal OS free of charge that can do everything your Windows machine does." He switched and never came back, in part due to the fact that his ancient laptop was a lot faster with Ubuntu on it.
3. First installation is critical
One of the critical phases of the switch is the first hard drive install. For this I would recommend Linux distros with great install record such as Ubuntu. Always remember that you need to be around when this actually happens. Remind your candidate that he will keep his Windows installation and that he can choose which OS to use as he/she pleases.
It is critically important that you allow them to try things on their own. They must become self sufficient in order to remain a permanent user. In this phase it is critical that you provide assistance during these first few critical hours but alow them to experiment and attempt their basic activities with the new OS. You might have to help them try out a different browser, mail reader or office package. Keep your cool and let them try these out and get familiarized with the new system.
Try to make sure that the very basic setup is functional and that their hardware is all functioning and is accesible. This is a good point to check that CDs/DVDs, floppies, digital cameras, scanners and printers all work as intended. Make sure you understand what is their most important usage of the machine so you can ensure that at least that functionality is air tight and that they know how to use it.
4. First couple days there will be some sticking points for sure
Throughout the first week there will be a regular sticking point here and there. Try to be reasonably available for them but don't let them hold you on a leash. You don't want to get into a situation where you lose your desire to bring people to Linux because they exhaust you too much.
5. Some weeks into the ordeal
This is a good point to try to make the user more independent. The best way is to show them how to find solutions to their problems online. IRC, News groups, forums, article directories are all good solutions, but an essential skill is, of course, using search engines in an efficient way.
Make sure that you convey in a good way that it pays off to spend some time to setup their Linux system because they are most likely not going to reinstall it for several years at least. Windows users have a nasty tendency to reinstall all over every so often due to the corruptive nature of Windows systems. My desktop machine was installed with Linux once some 6 years ago. Since then I changed every peace of hardware but never reinstalled my system.
For an average Windows user this is unthinkable and this is one of the reasons they are unwilling to spend time to get the system tuned just right. You need to convey to them, in a way that is easy for them to understand, that Linux is a different beast and that they can freely invest their time to configure it properly. It's not going to be lost due to the next big virus. NOTE: this is not an excuse for not doing regular backups!
6. Success! Motivate them to give back
If you've reached this point it is probably safe to declare your first success. You have converted a person to a free operating system. You helped the entire movement so cudos to you! There are some ways to proceede from this point on. In my opinion freedom comes at a price. And we all have to pay that price together. New Linux users are even more precious if they actively contribute back to the community.
All sorts of help are more than welcome and there is plenty of projects that could use a few minutes of a users time. Instruct them how to submit bug reports, translate, suggest and give feedback. Open Source strives and depends on these activities. Make sure you do your best not to produce one of those 'take, take, take' type of users.
7. Rewind and repeat. And motivate newbies to do the same!
If you've been lucky enough to succeed at your vicious little conspiracy you're more than likely energized by the fact that there is one more Linux user thanks to you. Remember that one of the most important things that will keep you motivated to convert more people is not to let them drain you. They must become self sustaining. You also need to realize that this proces takes time. If you convert a few people in 5 years you've done a massive job. If every third Linux user commited to that goal we would have an incredible result within a decade.
Remember that the new user that you brought more than likely has friends and relatives that use computers. You need to convey to them that they are free to suggest Linux to their friends and family as well. Make sure that they do not try to zealously. It is easy to repel people by being too aggressive and that is not what Linux needs. What we need is a nice, steady and clean progress towards a free software world.