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The StartX Files: Word to the Wise: Writer 638C

Testify, Brother

October 16, 2001

I think I may have won over a new convert to the Linux cause this weekend, ironically from a discussion about Windows XP.

This all happened at a local restaurant where I was having lunch with my family and my pastor's family Sunday after church. My pastor is a likable fellow, and shares with me a passion for all things Star Trek. (And how about, by the way, that decontamination scene in the pilot episode of Enterprise? Sweet mama...) Anyway, my pastor's teenage son asked me what I had seen of Windows XP. I have him the usual spiel: based on NT/2000, more stable than Windows 9x, kind of expensive on the wallet and system resources.

The boy then said that he had seen XP pre-loaded on some store demo models, and he thought the interface looked "dorky." I told him that was the new Luna interface theme, which a colleague of mine refers to as the Playskool theme. Basically, I said, XP was just a prettier version of Windows 2000.

"Would you buy it?" he asked. I told him I already had it the gold copy, since I had done some publishing work with it. I then asked him what he primarily used his computer, and when he gave me the predictable answer of surfing the Web and playing games, I said that yeah, he should probably stick with Windows for now, but there wouldn't be a great need to jump up to XP.

Whereupon my pastor, Wayne, jumped into the conversation across the table, having noted the distinction of type of use versus operating system. "Are you saying that Windows is not the only thing out there for people who don't want to play games?"

This is where things took a better turn. I told them both that yes, while there were some games available for Linux, I would not qualify it as a gaming platform--yet. But, if general surfing and office work needed to be done, then I thought Linux would be a better choice. It was certainly cheaper and certainly less of a resource hog than Windows. I knew, by the way, that Wayne had his own, older system and really did not do much more than writing and surfing on his machine.

The teenage son was not so easily charmed. He immediately chimed in with the major objections to Linux: nothing runs on it, nothing opens with it. Whereupon I smiled and gave him the essence of last week's StartX Files column. "StarOffice 6," I concluded, "not only opens Word, AmiPro, and many other formats, it also saves in those formats and keeps track of all of the revisions and annotations."

And when I mentioned it was free, boy, you should have seen their eyes light up.

Admittedly, this was not a hard sell to do. These are midrange techies--people who use computers slightly more than enough to get by and have picked up a few tricks along the way. I knew the audience, and knew what they needed.

This approach, I think, is key to winning over converts. Admit that Linux is not for everyone. Admit that Windows isn't, either. This is not blasphemy, this is honesty.

Know what the person really needs and make a genuine assessment of how Linux can help them. Don't sell Linux to people who cannot or do not want to understand it. If they are on the fence either motivationally or technically, be ready to stand by and assist them over the real and imagined hurdles. And (the hardest thing of all), don't try to oversell Linux. All you'll do is create some frustrated users who will gladly dump Linux and flee to the perceived safety of Windows or MacOS.

Linux is getting better everyday, so it is getting easier and easier to bring people over from the world of proprietary operating systems. One great example of this betterment is the subject of this week's column, OpenOffice.

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