Over the weekend I came to the conclusion that the reason why more Windows users aren't switching to Linux is the shortage of good information out there on the web for Linux newbies. If there are sites hosting good information out there, they sure aren't appearing on the first couple of Google results pages.
if Google can't find it, other people won't and the information might as well not existLast week I got an email from someone who seemed to be interested in taking a Linux distro for a spin. They sounded genuinely interested in Linux but wanted some information and a chance to pick up a few core skills before playing with Live CDs. My first thought was "Why did you go to the bother of emailing me rather than Googling for the info you needed yourself?" I forgot about the email until the weekend when I was doing something with Linux (Ubuntu) and wanted some information myself. The problem I was having (which, by the way, I fixed), along with the email, got me wondering whether there are any good websites out there targeted specifically at total know-nothing-about-Linux-except-for-the-word-Linux newbies.
I fired up a browser and hit the Google search page to see what I could find.
For well over a decade now I've been in a position where I've come into contact with tens of thousands of average/regular PC users. These are people who own a PC and can use it for things like surfing the web, playing a few games and creating and printing out documents. An interesting thing that I've noticed over the years is that one key skill that separates the average user from power users is the individual's ability to find the information that they are looking for. Power users know their way around search engines, regular users don't. While power users will search until they find what they are looking for, average users try a couple of keywords before giving up.
So, what kind of information is out there for Linux newbies? Well, I'm here to tell you that it's pretty grim.
I carried out a number of searches through Google using the keywords and phrases listed below:
- Linux tutorial
- Linux beginner
- Why choose Linux
- Windows vs Linux
- Learn Linux
- Linux newbie
- Switch to Linux
What amazed me was how little basic Linux information I could find on the first few results pages using these terms. Some terms, such as Linux, bought up some interesting links, the most interesting being the Wikipedia entry for Linux but this was more of a history lesson than any of practical use to a beginner. Even scrolling down to the bottom on the Wikipedia entry (assuming that someone would get to the bottom) didn't result in any success. There were some links that looked interesting to begin with but as soon as I visited the sites I realized that either they weren't aimed at beginners or they were woefully out of date and made no reference to distros such as Ubuntu.
A search using the phrase Linux tutorial again turned up little of interest. Again, there were some links that sounded interesting (The Linux Tutorial and Lowfat Linux were two in particular that caught my eye) but again very little that's accessible to the beginner (and some of the sites were so badly organized I found it hard to find anything of value on them).
Search phrases such as why choose Linux and Linux vs Windows and so on turned up nothing of value.
Next -->Learn Linux was another search term that seemed promising initially but while some of the sites returned by the search sounded promising, the websites themselves were disappointing. Again, either the information wasn't clear enough for Linux newbies or just plain old (any site that says something like "we recommend a Pentium 2 500 MHz computer with 32 MB memory" needs an update). I'm also not seeing reference to popular distros like Ubuntu.
The search phrase Switch to Linux was a bit better and I came across a pretty good resource over on Maximum PC. This article was fresh and well written and offered some decent info for the beginner. Nice break from all the junk I found.
Other search terms I used turned out to be equally dismal. In fact, most of the sites I looked at (and I looked at over 100) fell into one of these three categories:
- Linux users talking to other Linux users
- Microsoft/Linux fanboys ranting on about how the OS they chose is better than all other OSes
- Old, outdated information (stuff that talked about Pentium 2 CPUs, or made no mention of new distros or which referred to all distros)
In fact, I'm appalled by how little information out there aimed specifically at people who don't already know what Linux is and how to get started. Even now, with Dell shipping PCs loaded with Ubuntu, you still can't find a simple, easy-to-follow getting started guides in the Google results pages. Yes, I know that this kind of information exists because I've come across some nuggets of gold as I was learning to use Linux, but this information are hard to find and usually buried in forum posts.
What this exercise showed me is that Linux communities aren't doing enough to cater for those wanting to step onto the Linux ladder. Information that's out there is so buried that Google can't find it, and if Google can't find it, other people won't and the information might as well not exist. If people can't find decent information about Linux distros, how on earth can they be expected to adopt a new OS and a new way of thinking?
Here's the kind of information that I'd like to see:
- Simple, friendly image-based tutorials
- Comparison of different distros
- Useful downloads
Here's the kind of information that should be avoided at all costs:
- The history of Linux - seriously, nobody cares.
- Windows vs Linux fanboy rants - again, most people don't care. An OS is a tool, not a work of art or a religion.
It's time to realize that not everyone with a PC has grown up inside the "Linux Skinner box" (there are plenty of other Skinner boxes to choose) and people need accessible information to come to a decision that suits them. So, the Linux community needs work harder to get more quality information related to Linux into Google. Get that information up onto the web and into the search engines and more users will follow.
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