The key to getting more Windows users to switch to Linux

The key to getting more Windows users to switch to Linux

Summary: 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.


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
  • 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
  • How-tos
  • 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. 

You're welcome!


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Topics: Linux, Open Source, Windows

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  • JFGI

    Learn it and live by it.

    Some also need to learn how to re-word their searches.
    • beautifully obscure...

      ...your post, that is. Kind of like the Linux experience.
      Ironic, no?
      • Yeah

        ... kinda ironic.
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • JFGI.. yeah that's the spirit!

      Yeah.. JFGI is right up there with RTFM. That's cooperative. That's helpfull.. Yeah, right.

      That's the same elitist krap that keeps more folks from even trying. As long as trying to learn and trying to get help is treated like a 'right of passage' or worse, an initiation to some imagined 'fraternity' folks will just decide to stick with what they've got, or find something else that 'just works.'

      The irony is that for all the Linux folks insistence that Linux is ready for 'everyman' and is a viable alternative for Windoz, the absence of readily available information, or of real, organized support *is* a real issue. Some would point to 'forums' as the answer. The first *hurdle* is *finding* them, but I suppose if one had enough drive to find the place to find the distro, it's not too far a reach to find the applicable forum. The second hurdle is finding someone in the forums with experience with the situation that the user is trying to resolve, *and* the time or willingness to answer, and then waiting/wading through that person's sarcasm or elitist attitude to get to a usable answer. If no one reading the forum has a clue about your situation, or the ones that have a clue don't 'feel like' answering, you're still stranded.

      Even hardware companies that try to support Linux are falling down; or perhaps don't know which direction to go. If they furnish drivers in rpm format, that doesn't help a user who needs a .deb format. It's a whole other two-hour effort to find out how to get around that hurdle. New users, working alone probably won't even *know* that's a problem.

      What might help from both sides is some sort of unified pkg manager, or a package format that hardware companies could use to distribute for all the "major" distros, however one might define that, and build the capability into the distro side of the package manager to get the info from the package that it needs to run with it.

      Also, even the industry darling Ubuntu only offers support packages for *corporations.* If they really want to attract everyman, or even pay lip service to the concept that they're trying to support everyman, they, and all major distros for that matter, need to provide some mechanism for paid, single-incident help for everyman. I'd be willing to pay ~$30 for help for something that was kickin' my butt, that I'd spent a couple of hours trying to figure out, and came up empty-handed.

      But as long as the company behind the distro doesn't publicly care about or support individuals, and the forums treat every new user like a clueless, st00pid nubee until/unless they're willing to go through 'initiation hoops' to get an answer, the rewards just aren't worth the 'price of admission'; i.e., effort and time. While Linux is generally both free and 'free,' one's time is certainly worth something, even if only to them. And there's no such thing as free lunch *or* free beer. It always costs someone, somewhere, something.. The real truth is that Linux is not a tool for someone who wants to simply use a computer; it's still a tool for those that like to build and 'tinker' with computers, and evidently will be for some time to come. If the Linux community wants to change that inconvenient truth, then they need to come down off their 'high horse' and help bring 'everyman' up by his bootstraps, the major distro owners need to lower the height of the hurdles keeping everyman at arms length from their distro and put real, functional support channels in place.

      Then, and only then will Linux be something more than a tool for tinkers and builders, and begin to be a viable alternative to the juggernaut from Redmond.
      • Unified support

        is due soon via Linspire's CNR technology which has been spun off into a separate business entity.

        I have used CNR as a Linspire user for a few years and it does work as advertised. One click and the application complete with dependencies is downloaded and installed. CNR stands for Click aNd Run.

        Unfortunately this won't help when the needed application simplly doesn't exist.
        Update victim
        • That will be a good thing

          I like CNR. Unified support would be good.
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
        • Poser Icon

          Looks like they have borrowed e-frontiers Poser launch Icon lol and just turned it around
      • 100% accurate

        I concur completely.

        The angry vitrol and hatred on forum boards pointed towards anyone who ever used Windows is clearly evident.

        I use all OS's, but have to say that humility and graciousness are not welcoming characteristics of either the Apple nor Linux camps. (both running Linux...) The average user couldn't care less about OS zealotry. They just want to turn it on, and have it work. That's one of the reasons OSX has made inroads, but other Linux distros are having less success.

        I have found several, albeit not all, of my questions
        answered by trolling through the forums there. I didn't see
        much flaming and most also run win9x-nt. Most of my app needs
        are cured by using aptitude or apt, all available dependencies
        included. I found that using alien to handle rpm-deb
        conversions worked rather well. While linux does need to
        incorporate a more click and drool attitude, my two girls are
        handling debian etch rather well. Both are not very computer
        savvy, and if I remember correctly debian has a Jr setup for
        little ones just starting their computer experiences. The
        largest problem that linux has with the main-stream user is in
        gaming. There is no denying that, but there is hope and is a very good resource,
        and they tend not to insult the user, they will insist that you
        take the time to read through before you ask, though. No sense
        having 50 million questions all the same.
      • For all your talk of support ...

        I have found the various Linux User Groups (DAGS) to be populated by many genuinely knowledgeable and helpful individuals. Possibly it was YOUR tone that stirred the hornets nest?

        I know that it will be a long cold day in a hot place before I will venture into ANY of the MSFT-centric newsgroups again. I got zapped like a lonely moth last month in all three of them that I tried. I can slap-down with the best of 'em so the 'tude wasn't the problem ... the problem was that after dealing with the flame-fest I still didn't get any useful information. In other words, the arrogant snots were ignorant, too.

        YMMV ... but I can get technically correct Linux support (with a smile, not a snarl) anytime I need it without paying for it and I can't say the same for Windows.
        Jambalaya Breath
      • Linux newbee learning linux

        Ifind that it is like if you use the Toilett you would not want to learn how to be a Plumber. This is the feeling one gets with all and i mean all Linux Distros, You drive your car too wihout knowing
        more than how to drive it, if that does not work you get an Emergency Road Service. And if he talk like the thingemebob is all garbled up, you only want to get back on the road. With Linux and other OS neardnes is the only thing one gets Hotline or Friends, I
        find it fine that some people will get into the nitigrity and enjoy it, I dont so just help me and thanks loads. I am a Plumber by trade, so maybe i can advise you without Neardyness.
        The thrown away Distros from all Linux fill a big storage the startup ok, but than it says you must have such an addon but where you get it is left to you, and thats just what i do and than i start up my Windos again it sort of work allways.
    • all i have to say nucrash is WHAT (NT)

      SO.CAL Guy
    • So at 251 messages

      Is anyone going to decipher this jargon?
      WTF is JFGI?
      Just ForGet It?
      • I think it is

        just f**king google it (again, i think, not sure).
        • Ironically...

          I used Google to find out - and indeed, that would be the most popular definition.

          Also listed as hits:

          Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis
          Jacobs Finl Group Inc

          However, neither of these seem to fit the context. Though, there was one "alternative" for those who want to use it in polite company - "Just Freakin' Google It"...
        • f++google it

          If you dont know the question, you wont get an anwer. I you know the Question you wont need an answer.
    • Linux fans and newbies...

      Come on guys Linux users may pay lip service to popularity but they don't REALLY want it! If everyone had Linux they wouldn't be able to sniff and posture and call themselves superior to everyone else!

      Heh! Heh!
      • The Linux barrel has too many bad apples

        All one has to do is to read through some newbie issues on the Linux support boards to see regular amounts of arrogance and over-caffinated angst at work. I'd say that 85% of Linux posters on the boards are kind, smart, helpful folks who want to make the world a better, more efficient place.

        The other 15% however are asshats, and the reason that most laypeople hate computers, and fear the people that work on them. They are one of the obstacles to the timid ever switching. They obviously enjoy hurting and belittling people that know less than they do, and seem to feel that you should have to "earn" the right to run your linux box by knowing everything about it - as opposed to seeing it like the layperson; as a tool to get work done with. Really, that's all most non-technical people want. They want to spend as LITTLE time on the computer as they possibly can while getting their work done.

        The angry Linux religious zealots are the worst of all, and give every IT person a bad name. They ARE the bad apples, and in just about the small-minded zero-tolerance attitude as the religious right or islamic extremists... *g*
        • Good to know....

          Your post makes me feel better about the community. I will bear this in mind next time I'm directing a newbie to the help resources.
        • If one really wants to learn linux you need nobody.

          I read your article and it implies that one needs others to learn linux which is really not true. If you really want to learn linux, there are many places that teach, instruct and courses that anyone can take. To imply that one has to go to forums or has to relate to obnoxious or rude geeks or linux gurus is a total crock of misleading commentary. If I had to do the same thing to learn DOS, I would have never learned, it took time, patience and understanding that it's a new computer operating system which has differences and some appear quite lengthly, complicated and unlearnable but it's all about how you perceive linux. I believe I can learn, use and manage anything that may come my way but it's a question of how much do you want to learn, how fast do you have to learn it and why. Let's leave the religious extemists out of this as they haven't anything to do with how or what you want to do or learn.