Linux is a community environment. Whether it’s the professionals over at RedHat, Canonical, and Suse or the guys who got together and decided to create Hannah Montana Linux, behind every project there’s usually a community. My first attempt at Linux came in the desert in Iraq. We were building a router lab and I had a couple of blade servers lying around but couldn’t get the Microsoft 2003 server key from our IT guys. So the other resident nerd on site and I started downloading Linux Distros to check them out.
OpenSuse was awesome, Ubuntu was in its infancy, and I had no idea what I was doing. At night I’d trudge through forum after forum trying to figure out how the OS could help solve the problems I was creating and experiencing. There were a lot of posts for post-windows users and not all of them were kind. Many of them were written with a rather mocking or haughty tone. There was almost a standard litmus tests on posts where the person would casually mention how long they’ve been running Linux. Anything less than five years was a noob and others on the forum would point it out. There were a lot of good, kind voices, but they were often drowned out by those with a chip on their shoulder.
It’s almost as if these uber users were trying to increase the barrier to entry for new users.
Oh, how things have changed. The barrier to entry for Linux has never been lower and it’s due in large part to the changes in the community that runs Linux. Canonical has played a key role in this. Their ecosystem of forums for advanced questions and noob questions has set a standard for other distributions to follow and a hard one to match. That ecosystem is attractive even if the software itself has rough edges and some arguably poor choices in implementation.
That’s not a dig on Canonical. The same could be said about any distro. And it proves my point about community. Communities have disagreements. The argument about which distro makes the best choices is actually a healthy one for Linux as a whole. Which distro is the most noob friendly? Hard to say when you’ve got some great mentors on the OpenSuse and RedHat teams inviting you to try something they’re passionate about sharing. Then again it’s hard to ignore the power of Arch and the way Antergos lowers the barrier to entry down nothing more than an anthill. There again you find Arch users passionately assisting noobs and helping them get their feet wet.
The overarching narrative for Linux used to be from the perspective of an argument to be won. In many posts, it rarely mattered what the subject was. The general theme was Linux is better than Windows. Linux is better than Windows. Linux is better than Windows. But here’s the problem with that argument. It turns off people who didn’t come to argue.
Winning an argument the moment you present your case isn’t evidence of a good argument. It’s likely evidence of a soft target. You might was well easily lose it when the next person argues your subject to their side. No, the real measure of a good argument is when it presents a challenge you can’t solve. When it presents an idea that you can’t ignore and eventually without being able to resolve it you convert to the idea accepting it as your own. Just saying that Linux is better than Windows (substitute what you believe your best reasons are here) doesn’t convert the masses. Showing them the good behind it does.
The real way to get them to try is letting them see how nice the community is and then sending them an invitation. To most non-Linux people we look like a gated community. If that’s true, then let’s keep telling people we’ve left the gate open and they’re welcome to join us any time. An invitation from a friend is more powerful than an argument from a stranger. Oh, and a sick beard is no longer a requirement for fitting in.