Converting Joe Windows

You know Linux is easy to run and is as stable as houses. I know that, too. But does your friend Joe Windows know it? Chances are he doesn't.

You know Linux is easy to run and is as stable as houses. I know that, too. But does your friend Joe Windows know it? Chances are he doesn’t.

Oh, you’ve talked to Joe about Linux, I’m sure, but he remains unconvinced. Joe may have read a Linux story or two, but he still hasn’t changed his mind. He may know that penguins and Linux go together, but that’s about it.

So how do you get a hard case like that to try Linux? Well, for starters, the next time a Windows virus disaster comes along, you might remind him, as he tweaks his firewall settings and downloads a new virus protection file, that you’re not doing a darn thing except deleting more mail messages than usual.


Nobody, I’m sorry to say, really worries about security until their system becomes a spam mail-generating zombie or their hard drive dematerializes into random bits. But people do get annoyed at wasted time, and if there’s one thing that insecure Windows has proven to be good at recently, it’s wasting users’ time. So, wait until your friend is fed up with the latest Windows security problem, and mention that you’d be happy to install Linux for him.

Or, maybe Joe has an older machine and he’s just realized that he wants to put something better on his box, but XP is no more going to fit on his system than an elephant will on a bus. And, come the day, you can pull out not a full out distribution, but a CD with one of the many “Linux on a disc” distributions. You can find these at DistroWatch, where there’s a section devoted to nothing but CD-based Linux distributions and “live” Linux CDs (http://www.distrowatch.com/dwres.php?resource=cd).

Knoppix (http://www.knoppix.org) was the first of these, but there are now more than two dozen of them, including such popular distributions as LindowsOS, Slackware, and SuSE. Considering how popular these lightweight distributions have become, I won’t be surprised if, by the time you read this, every Linux distributor offers one. No matter the vendor, the name of the game is always the same: you download a single ISO image of the file, burn it to CD, pop it into a computer, and reboot. A minute later you’re setting up your network and you have a working Linux. That’s it. No fuss, no muss.

And, best of all, for your buddy Joe, there’s no need with live Linux distros for him to do a thing with his computer. You burn the CD — all he does is drop it in the drive. his Windows system is still there, still intact, and usually still accessible from the Linux system.

If there’s a better way to introduce someone to Linux without tears, I don’t know what it is.

So long as you’re at it, I recommend that you use a user-friendly distribution that can be set to look as much like Windows as possible. Right now, my personal favorites for this are Xandros and LindowsOS.

You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether they’re the best desktop distribution, but that’s not the point. The point isn’t that real Linux men run command lines. The point is that you want Joe to feel comfortable from the minute he sits down in front of his computer. That’s exactly what Xandros and LindowsOS gives him. You can preach to him about the virtues of ksh and bash some other day. In the first days, it’s all about getting him to try Linux and like it.

As part of that process, you should proffer other open source software like Mozilla and OpenOffice on Windows. 99% of all users can get all the features they need from those alternates, and the look and feel of both are close enough to Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office that Joe won’t be discouraged from using them. Then, when he’s ready to try Linux, he’ll already have his most familiar applications at his fingertips.

Of course, there may be applications that don’t (yet) have close Linux equivalents. For example, while GIMP is a fine photo manipulation program, its image editing tools aren’t as easy to use as, say, Adobe Photoshop Elements or Photoshop Album. In those cases, you’re going to need to use WINE, its commercial big brother CrossOver Office, or if Joe is using Windows 98 or ME, Win4Lin.

The former two provide enough support for some but not all Windows programs to run on Linux. Win4Lin actually runs a Windows 98/ME family operating system as a virtual machine on top of Linux, so anything that can run on those Windows versions will run on it.

Get my drift? I think the key is not to try to talk them into switching right now to Linux. It’s waiting for them to be open to Linux and then making the process as pain-free as possible. If you do this, I think you’ll find that Joe Windows will change his name to Joe Linux faster than you might ever have thought possible.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is a long-time Unix guru and technology writer. He can be reached at sjvn@vna1.com.

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