June 08, 2007
Growing the open source footprint organically

Lately I've been getting numerous leaflets in my mailbox:

  • Has your computer's stability become an absolute nightmare?
  • Is your system moving at a snail's pace?
  • Does your computer keep crashing without warning?
  • Do you keep getting mysterious error messages that seem to appear out of nowhere?
  • ... and variations over similar themes.

    Those of us running a well-maintained computer with any operating system will not recognize this, of course, but in the hands of a novice, Microsoft Windows tends to display the above characteristics after some time. If there is no virus/adware protection installed, or if the licence came with the computer when it was new 4 years ago and it has become part of the cacaphony of warning messages at boot time requesting you to pay this or that, many basic users simply give up and head for dell.com to buy a replacement PC.

    The solutions are many. The leaflets coming in the post advertise small helpdesk/support companies that offer in-your-home or over-the-phone support. They explicitly do only support Windows, and might fix the problem short term, but here is an open opportunity for the GNU/Linux / Ubuntu community:

    If mom&pop users migrate to Ubuntu, a lot of their hassles will go away: viruses, adware, pressure to pay for upgrades and licenses of this and that.

    Show them Open Office instead of MS Office, show them Firefox instead of Internet Explorer. Most users needs will be covered right there (exceptions for hardcore gamers, of course, but hopefully they know what they need to know anyway). Hell, even show them spinning cubes! Soon you'll have grown the user base of Ubuntu across a larger population. The support techies can still charge for support, the home users will have legal software for free. It's a win-win!

    As far as I can see it, the initial investment and motivation is the key: Provide free training and certification to employees in these support shops. Incentivize them by finding ways to help them do their job more efficiently. Give them packs of CDs they can leave behind a customers' house.

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