theveech at gmail.com
Fri May 4 16:14:27 BST 2007
Personally, I think there's something that everyone needs to do before
they start talking up Linux.
MS has a huge marketing warchest and it's marketing has been highly
influential. We can talk to people till we're orange and brown in the
face but, once they leave the conversation, they're vulnerable to blind
Linux critics who know little but influence a lot. To most people,
Linux is a world away from where they are, but we can't bridge the gap
if the people and organisations who thrive on it aren't thought of in
context - substantially - but without the excesses of zealotry.
Even though we might be aware of the situation, to cope with MS's
misinformation on others, I think we need to educate people about it,
make them feel like they've been maltreated, and why MS has felt it has
had to do this. I.e., no talk of 'evil empires' (doesn't everyone
eventually grow out of that?), but a calm consideration of MS's business
model, along with plenty of talk about origins, aims and necessity.
What gave birth to MS? Why did Microsoft target, and think it needed to
target, users for misinformation? When people pronounce that Linux is
crap, they need to be tackled in a way that makes them realise that
they've been treated as a pretty minor element in the food chain, with
scant regard for their credibility in the company of those who are
better informed. If you then need to address the specifics, how many
specific facts do we need that our software's better?
The problem with these people isn't that they're any more stupid that
anyone else - I don't think anyone could seriously say that they've
never been influenced by propaganda. It's that they're not aware enough
of it to see that it's a trick that restricts them that they don't have
to put up with.
Like pretty much anything, I think we've got to be prepared for
irrationality, especially with people who see no compelling reason to
look at alternatives they have little knowledge of to start with. Most
people are 'stuck' with Windows 'because'.
But irrationality isn't something we're immune to. I agree with Mark's
scepticism about 'free'. I'd be interested - and this applies to
everyone - in research into what British people really think about such
concepts, beyond what we hope we think (we might be better at adapting
our messages if we knew this).
Even though I'm not anti-marketing, it's a bit ironic that we're talking
about enlightening people through the very discipline that sought to
establish an irrational link between quality and cost, so that in a
superficial cost argument 'free' can still too easily be associated with
inferiority or secrecy ('no such thing as a free lunch'). I'm not
anti-marketing because I think it can help with the antidote.
With 'freedom', though, there's just as much irrationality. Some people
who make substantial claims to favour it aren't even aware that such
claims run counter to what they're really like as people, suggesting
that their passion for OSS isn't as reliable as it seems. A Linux-using
guy I know is paranoid that his girlfriend is always having oral sex
with just about everyone (and I've had to endure the 'evidence'), so he
gets over-protective when there's a male around. I sat in his house the
other day, with his girlfriend there, and he was getting increasingly
insecure (especially when I started flirting with her because he was
just getting on my nerves). Then the conversation got to installing a
different version of Linux on her laptop.
Nothing I could do in terms of a logical argument, though, without
getting kicked out of the house. The choice is between Ubuntu and
Slackware. Logically, Ubuntu 7.04 is the better choice for her because
she's a novice and could do with, IMHO, the most usable release there's
been, backed up with a brilliant community that's all too willing to
help people like her make the most of the experience. Psychologically,
though, Slackware is the solution to flashbacks that never were, and
mustn't be. Result: Slackware.
In the past, I'd easily persuaded them to install a previous version of
Ubuntu, primarily for usability. But, now the paranoia's crept in to
become a big part of the relationship, this isn't any longer a rational
decision - it's a power one. I couldn't ask her what she wanted because
of the position this would have put her in and I don't think she really
gives a toss. He couldn't ask her, because he's trying to be a man. No
matter what the technical arguments are, it's got nothing to do with the
distro, so arguing about this was a waste of time. The choice is merely
a means by which he can position himself as the provider by using
information and power to sustain and increase dependence. Remember
those cavemen clubbing women? It's a bit like that.
This guy uses Linux because of its geek chic - the quality of the OS is
incidental. If geeks were singing Windows, it's back to Bill.
Regardless of the arguments he's put about 'free' this and that, he's
full of it. Few of us are purists, but he believes in freedoms as much
as I believe in fairies at the bottom of my garden. His behaviour is no
different to companies like MS who, we know from the debates on freedom
and marketing, try to use their knowledge and the public's general lack
of it, to position consumers, businesses and governments in a dependent
role, with a multitude of methods in place to sustain and protect that
Telling this Linux-user about the mistakes he's making - and I have -
won't change much because they're so fundamental to his way of life.
Informing this girlfriend of what's going on might hasten the ending of
the relationship as disastrously as his previous one ended because
change is unlikely and because he's making the same mistakes of trying
to be ever more controlling as the relationship becomes ever more
predictable and self-centred. Sound familiar?
Sooner or later she's more likely to recognise a theme running through
pretty much every aspect of their relationship, just like her
predecessor did, and realise that there's a better life on offer. My
guess is that this will happen after a few years because she'll
eventually question the direction of her life and decide that she wants
to live a better one with less headaches, not one where someone else is
trying to limit it to compensate for their own inadequacies.
It's possible she might want to stay with him, but who wants to be Bill
Gates' Mom? If anyone does, the chances are they wouldn't for long. In
other words, awareness chips away at the foundations of any faulty
relationship. More BS loses its power once that process is in place.
MS can't change fundamentally, but users need to appreciate that they
only feel dependent irrationally. And that they're even paying for the
But can people do this without being aware of the underlying situation
in a context where we aren't hardwired to reassess? I can't see how.
How, also, can we get the message across without preaching and boring
people to death? I don't know. But if we can pull it off, are we going
to be effective enough to get them to reject misinformation in a
productive way, even if it isn't exactly what we want?
People have got some responsibility for sure, but I ignore the fact that
the info's out there, because you can't expect people to know everything
about everything they do - even though I think I've made a good choice,
I'm certainly no Linux or Windows expert. Their media's at fault, for
sure. How many people make heavy use of the BBC in this country? How
much has the BBC spent over the years 'persuading' people of the
legitimacy of the license fee by lauding the 'quality' of its
journalism? But it isn't just the media. It's also a lot to do with MS
and the methods it lives by. But, when even MS's file systems are
f*****, what aren't we doing right?
I've been more successful with people when I've got them to appreciate
how this relationship works before promoting the virtues of OSS and
Linux (obviously introducing them to OSS within Windows helps, and I'm
much more concise offline!). Getting people to the stage where they're
better able to assess information should mean that they remain highly
sceptical of the quality of MS systems and marketing when they go online
and listen to other people with other ways of doing things.
When someone walks away from an effective conversation with one of us,
they should be better able to appreciate information about operating
systems and software, about Linux and the Open Source model. Then
they'll be better able to adapt to it, without misinformation getting in
the way. Give people the wherewithal to be more alert to the reasons
for and the tricks of persuasion in IT, that have established the
prominence of a set of bogus arguments, and the job's half done.
Or so I reckon, because this is just based on my experience of speaking
with people in an informal setting. Other contexts might give me some
pointers to improve this, but I can't benefit if only Mark's posting his
detailed experiences. The good thing, though, is that there's so many
people trying different things.
If you've read all this, fair play to you! Enjoy the Bank Hols ;)
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