When Friends Tell Friends to Use Linux

It’s a natural human tendency to want to share a good thing with the people you care about, and Linux is certainly no exception. It can be downright painful, in fact, for FOSS fans to sit by and watch their friends and loved ones suffer in the clutches of other operating systems.

Even so, is it always a good idea to recommend Linux to others? At least one longtime Linux aficionado and blogger isn’t so sure, and he recently laid out his thinking.

“Arm yourself with the information needed before telling someone to install such and such distro because it’s great,” warned blogger Ken Starks in his recent FOSS Force post. “It might be great for you, but maybe not so much with my hardware choices.

Linux Girl

“It all comes down to this: know the needs before offering the solution,” Starks advised. “The fanboy is dead… long live the wise advisor.”

The virtual ink had barely dried on Starks’ post before the comments began to pour in. Luckily, Linux Girl and her Quick Quotes Quill were at the ready.

‘I Would Go Even Further’

Starks’ post “absolutely rings true, but I would go even further,” began Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. “Not only is it important to know the needs before making the offer, but it is also important to provide personal mentoring (including an early session at the computer) to help the individual get started.”

There is “nothing more important than listening and helping the newbie get started,” Travers concurred. “As the article says, it is important to know the needs before getting started, but the listening process can’t end there.”

It’s also good “not to be tied to a single distro,” he suggested. “For example, I do my LedgerSMB development on Fedora, but the hosting business I helped found (Efficito) runs our servers on Debian.

“One important aspect of branching out and learning enough other distros to help friends running a wide variety of distros is that it helps expand one’s own knowledge,” Travers concluded. “This is not so much a burden as an opportunity.”

‘You Need to Know in Advance’

Indeed, “there is a linux distro for every need, there is a linux for a special kind of server, a linux for a kind of laptop, a linux for a kind of desktop, a linux for graphic design, a linux for an ultra-secure environment, and there is even a linux for attacking or hacking systems,” Google+ blogger Rodolfo Saenz pointed out.

“You need to know in advance what the need of the user is before recommending a distro,” Saenz agreed. Once that distro is installed, however, “you can bet that user will be completely satisfied and will never go back to non-FOSS software — not only because of the money, but for the stability and resources of linux.”

The difficulty of choosing a distribution is what put Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza off of recommending Linux, he told Linux Girl.

“I kept going back and forth between using Ubuntu and not because I found some releases to be very flaky,” Espinoza explained. “Now that there’s Mint I feel more confident, as they seem to be able to more or less track Ubuntu without breaking everything.”

‘I’ll Recommend It in a Heartbeat’

It’s true that “the needs of the individual always need to take precedence over your own personal preferences,” Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone concurred.

“Speaking for myself, I haven’t needed anything other than Linux for years — but despite that, I’ll recommend other OSes to friends if I think that’s what they need,” Stone explained. “Hardware and software needs are always a consideration.

“I would love to see more people move to Linux, and if I think their particular situation is conducive to a positive experience, I’ll recommend it in a heartbeat,” he concluded. “If I think it’s going to work out negatively, I won’t. Simple as that.”

‘I Am Not Out to Convert People’

Google+ blogger Brett Legree has recommended Linux to friends “with mixed results,” but he doesn’t rule out the idea of doing it again, he told Linux Girl.

“People — normal people (geeks are not normal!) — use applications,” he explained. “They want to get their work done, and most really don’t care about the operating system underneath. They don’t care about ‘free software.’ They just want to get the job done and take the kids to hockey or soccer or baseball.”

So, when Legree is asked to make recommendations, “I ask a lot of questions in return,” he said. “What software do they need to do their work? What hardware do they have now? How much money are they willing to spend?”

Legree’s resulting recommendation is accompanied by “plenty of honest information regarding any issues they may encounter with the chosen operating system, be it Linux, OS X or Windows,” he said. “I am not out to convert people — I am out to solve people’s problems. If Linux will do that, then great — if it will cause more problems than it solves, then it isn’t the right solution.”

‘There Is No Reason for Fear’

Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. enthusiastically recommends Linux to friends, he told Linux Girl.

“You have just to remember and make clear for the user that there are many distributions and many desktop environments, but Linux is all the same,” he explained. “There is no reason for fear.”

At the same time, “I learned not to trust nor recommend newer distros until they reach adolescence,” he added.

‘This Is Why Linux Is a Mess’

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took a different view.

The situation described in Starks’ article “is EXACTLY why Linux is a mess,” hairyfeet told Linux Girl. “Having to try multiple operating systems just to get a printer to work? Really? And geeks wonder why the masses don’t want their OS?

“Am I supposed to tell my customers to blow away their OS because ubuntu crapped on their wireless?” he asked. “Or spend time with an unsupported and vulnerable OS without security updates? Say what you want, but at least with Windows, even Windows 8, you get TEN YEARS of solid driver functionality. No linux distro comes even close to that.”

‘I Recommend Android’

Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol doesn’t recommend Linux to anyone — “only if someone asks me what’s my opinion,” he told Linux Girl. “Quite often folks just want a replacement for winblows XP.

“GNU/Linux is not for the average person,” Ebersol explained. “Not that it’s difficult, but one must be persistent if he/she wants to succeed with GNU/Linux.”

Ebersol’s favorite?

“I recommend Android, which is a sure bet and will overtake winblow$ even in the desktop,” he predicted. “It’s the future of computing, and it will be the domination of Linux that no one of us saw coming.”

‘You Have to Get Your Priorities Straight’

Last but not least, Starks’ article is “wrong a bunch of ways,” blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl.

In fact, “the Linux kernel is very similar on every distro,” he explained. “If there is no driver for some hardware in a particular distro, build a kernel from or change hardware.

“You have to get your priorities straight,” he added. “Because some manufacturer may not have provided a driver for Linux is no reason not to use Linux. On the other hand, there are dozens of benefits of using GNU/Linux.”

In all of Pogson’s years of using Linux, “I have only seen a very few pieces of hardware I could not use: two printers, a wireless thingy and that’s it,” he recounted. “I used to use the Vesa driver if I could not get a driver for some video card. Along the way I have had more than a decade of excellent use of GNU/Linux.”

In short, “I would recommend it to a friend,” he concluded. “I would recommend Debian GNU/Linux even for a newbie. I would never recommend that other OS for any purpose. It’s just too burdensome.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • I use Linux at work, but I decided to try it at home for a while. The problem is, Linux is great, but it’s a proprietary world. Getting my Nook to sync up with the computer was quite the IT project, and I didn’t like getting stressed every time I wanted to buy a movie on iTunes. And it annoys me to no end that Libre/OpenOffice save files in an odt format by default. It’s basically saying "we don’t care if someone can read your resume or not". As more and more devices and media move to the cloud, it’ll be less of a big deal, as I’d just watch movies on the iPad and all Nook tasks will just sync with the cloud.

    But I don’t know what the answer is. I hate Windows – it’s a virus cesspool and the constant updating makes me want to pull my hair out. I have a Macbook myself, but it’s not always an option based on the price; $1000 minimum is a lot for basic tasks.

    Someone needs to do for the desktop what Android did for phones, where someone sells a computer with Linux, but with proprietary packages. I’m willing to fork over a little extra cash if it means I can play mp3s out of the box and have some Exchange functionality.

  • hi linuxGirl…

    Katherine, another great article… and some good advice. There is a high responsibility on *us* gnu/linux gurus to make sure, like other professionals, that we "cause no harm". This is no place for fanboy-ism or "my Dodger’s ball cap is better than yours".

    The main thing that has been propelling my advocacy locally (and in my extended family) is that they have purchased a new laptop or touch-screen Windows box because (like always before) it was pre-loaded. Most of these people have ‘hated,’ and that’s putting it mildly, the W(8) experience as exasperating and even debilitating. My father, for instance, told me he had to upgrade almost every component in the box… most of the box is simply geared to expensive marketing ploys, and the pop-ups are completely exasperating. He called me and said wipe this thing clean and put what-ever you think is best! Wow… and coming from my pop, that means something, believe me.

    But, we need to be careful. Listening carefully to what the user needs their system for… and how they use it day-to-day is critical. Matching the system to the user’s expectations is so important, and then making sure that *all* (and I do mean all) caveats have been explained. All engineering is about trade-offs, and certainly software engineering is no different.

    Keep up the good work…

    Go Gnu/Linux


  • They would have installed linux on their own if they had half a brain. So save yourself future grief and stick on what they had before and tell them you’ll have to charge them.

  • I have been using Linux for twelve years.

    I do not recommend Linux to a newbie, (or newbie to Linux) nor do I recommend a Chromebook to anyone, for any reason.

    What I do recommend to a newbie is any of the myriad notebooks still out there which come loaded with Windows 7, which is what my wife is getting.

    I have an MS in EE and Computer Architecture and Programming. I don’t fix computers, and I DON’T provide consultation, except for:

    Go get a WinMachine.

    Then call someone else.

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