Open Source Software and New Users

Community

Open Source Software CommunityFree/Libre and Open Source software versus closed and proprietary software doesn’t matter.  It’s not the answer to solve all our problems.  It’s not the question we need to ask anyone and everyone either.  It simply doesn’t matter.  Well, it might matter to you and I…but it doesn’t matter to most people out there.

No matter what you say and do.  No matter what ideals you preach to people.  No matter what concepts about freedom you tout to them…it just won’t matter at all.  They want what they want and when they want it.  They turn a power button on and a device powers up giving them the functionality they need.  They open up a piece of software that gives them the features they want.  They don’t care whether they pay for it, if someone can alter it, if someone can distribute it, or if it was free.

It sucks that people don’t care about their own freedom with programs/code, but it’s true.

The Great Debate

The debate that rages on is usually one or two camps that support Free Software, Libre Software, or Open Source Software (or a combination of them) and those folks will lecture the end user who doesn’t care.  Have you ever been lectured about something you don’t care about?  Usually, you won’t remember anything about what is said to you when that happens.  The same is true for end users that couldn’t care less about what software they’re using…as long as it works.

Instead of lecturing these folks and talking down to them about the benefits of FOSS/FLOSS/OSS…I say we try a different approach.  I say we identify with them.  Establish a common ground.  Less like a bull in a ceramics shop.  A common proverb here in the US is that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”.  Being tactful and pleasant instead of overbearing a sharp is a good way to win people over to view things as you do.  Education is key…if you see someone using a locked in device, you could tactfully let them know of alternatives and why they might choose them.  I’ve seen the untactful approach and it does nothing but push the person farther away from free and open source software.  Less is more in these cases…no one wants to come off as a know it all…but that’s exactly what I’ve seen happen many times.

The Importance of Free and Open Source Software

I’m not trying to downplay the importance of Open Source software (Free software or Open Source software) but I am trying to downplay the importance/intensity of the debate between the various beliefs (FLOSS/FOSS/OSS).  I’ve seen people get very livid about the idea that all of their software should be completely open source or that it should be free AND open source or else they won’t use it.  I applaud these people for having a stance and sticking to it and I believe the world would be a much better place if we had more of this type of software that everyone could work on collaboratively.  I think it would spur innovation and bring people together.  But here’s the kicker…the end user DOESN’T CARE about your debate.  While it’s great that it means something to you, 9 times out of 10 it won’t mean anything to the end user.   If they’re completely new to these ideologies try easing them into understanding.  This isn’t sink or swim…everyone starts off in the shallow end first and when they’re ready they move into the deep end.  Don’t expect everyone to care right away.

If you have a user of software who will only use Open Source software…a person who staunchly supports this concept…and that person defends their stance any chance they can get, most people see it as a good thing.  In my opinion, rabid defense of ideology is sometimes not a good thing…because many times people lose the defensive stance and go on the offensive one.  The same is true for those who will only use Free and Open Source software…they become incensed at the idea that anyone would ever use anything else or would want to use.  Both of these camps tout altering the code, collaborative design, vendor lock-in, high prices of upgrades for proprietary software, and other ideological points of contention.  As I said, it’s great that these camps are so invested in their ideals…and there is a point where you do more harm than good.

The Perspective of the Uninformed New User

It’s hard for new users to understand the perspective and ideological camps behind  free and open source software because there is nothing else like it in the world.  Insisting that someone adapt immediately to the ideals put forth by FOSS is, in my opinion, an unrealistic expectation.  When someone is new to a group or community, demanding they adhere to a set of rules they don’t understand can be overwhelming.  In my opinion, a welcoming stance from the community members followed by a path of self discovery is what develops new users into the strongest supporters of free and open source software.

The attitudes and behavior new users face when initially embarking on their open source journey will stick with them and will shape their opinions for years to come.  A few years ago, I wrote an article titled “A New User Guide to Linux Communities“.  Despite being written in 2008, it is still applicable today.  New users need patience, tolerance, understanding, and empowerment when first trying FOSS.  If we can give them a positive and up-building experience, they’ll definitely come back for more and become more avid supporters.  Leave the politics and ideologies to the wayside.  Try helping the new user without trying to indoctrinate them.  Let them come to the discovery that FOSS is where they should be at.  Let them learn things on their own time and pace.  In the end, if they come to the same conclusions we have as FOSS users on their own, they’ll be more likely to stay that way and more productive community members in the future :)

HostGator, Linux and The Dukes of Hazzard

doh

If you’re old, like me…let’s say, over 30 years old…you might remember the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard”.  Waylon Jennings, a popular country music singer during the late 70’s and early 80’s sang the theme song.  The lyrics are:

Just the good ol boys, never meaning no harm

Beats all you ever saw, been in trouble with the law

since the day they was born

Many times in IT job settings, you’ll find that you need to become one of ‘the good ole boys’ in order to accomplish your job.  You have to like the things others’ like (or pretend to), you have to laugh at the things others’ laugh at.  In other words, you may have to become all things to all people.  It’s stupid that things are this way…but if you don’t change, you’ll find yourself on the outside looking in.  I’ve always been one to try and strike the right balance between becoming what my coworkers wanted me to become versus what I want to be.  Through the almost 10 years I’ve been blogging here, I’ve both sponsored and at one time hosted Ken Starks (aka Helios) blogging efforts and even his Lobby4Linux initiative…and I still consider him to be a great friend as well as an uncompromising voice in the world of Linux.  Over at his blog, he gave the anonymous experience of one HostGator employee.  You can read her experience over at his blog but here is an excerpt:

But my friend did have trouble answering a question and she dutifully IM’ed her tier two technician for help…. Twice. Then three times. And finally a fourth. She didn’t even get a response from a tier three tech or a supervisor. And I’ve been a tier three technician…I played a lot of online games. Help requests were infrequent. We mostly helped supervisors keep track of call times. She was a nervous wreck…and the customer wasn’t happy. She had to take down the customer’s number and promise to call them back when she found the answer to their question. A callback counted against her in her call stats and bonuses can be earned or lost on customer callbacks. She was close to tears, but nothing like she was when she found out why she being ignored when she asked for help. It seems that there is a little initiation when you go to work in that particular call center. It’s a game of sorts and it all boils down to this.

I’ve experienced things just like this in my career in the world of IT…not to the level above…but in some form or another, I’ve been hindered at performing my job by someone else who wanted to ‘initiate’ me into working where they do…or someone who just didn’t like that I spoke in an accent.  It’ seems rather stupid that someone would want you to become part of their ‘good ole boys’ network before they give you the help you need.  It’s unprofessional and counterproductive.  The only real permanent damage it does happens to the end user.

One can’t get too mad at companies though…they may not even know it is going on.  It starts at the mid-management level.  Managers who enable and allow this sort of behavior on their teams or ignore this sort of behavior are to blame.  Having a workplace that isn’t fun to work at unless you’re a part of the ‘good ole boys’ or that makes the end user suffer just for a laugh isn’t a good workplace.  Turnover will be high.  Ego’s will be allowed to cultivate and grow.  Cliques will form.  Boundaries will be crossed. In the end, your workplace suffers because it becomes hostile to those who refuse to adapt their behavior to jive with the few who behave in this way.  If you’re an IT Manager, take note of the story I linked to above.  Don’t be that guy.  Don’t let your employees set the tone for the work environment.  Make it your mission to set the tone yourself.  Making your work environment an inviting and supporting place to work isn’t hard to do.

Where Will You Hide the Bodhi?

Bodhi LinuxI had a brief flirtation with Bodhi Linux this past week.  I nuked my CrunchBang Linux install to give it a go.  It seemed pretty solid, but after spending some quality time with the distro, I found the version of Network Manager loved to randomly disconnect me from wireless networks…as in, right in the middle of me transferring files, streaming music, and doing tha IRC thing.  Very irritating.

I did a full update to the most recent released version (released in the past few weeks) and found e17 randomly crashing which wasn’t the best addition to a randomly disconnecting wireless connection…and I know that crashes aren’t a problem in e17 since the handler can just restart all the modules and BOOM you’re back.  Regardless, the Network Manager disconnection problem eventually irritated me enough to jump ship.  I attempted connman, exalt, and wicd but I found myself lost.  Since I haven’t used those tools before and the docs very scarce for uprooting Network Manager from Bodhi, it was a stopping point.  No worries, it’s still a great distribution and e17 is VERY fast and looks very good on this 7 year old laptop. However, CrunchBang called me back.

It just works.  Period.

It’s fast.  It’s openbox.  It smells tasty.  Ok, so I made up that last part…there isn’t a smell per se, but rather an overall polish that makes me want to use it.  So, inside a Starbucks in Eastern North Carolina, I buried a Bodhi and set out for home with a CrunchBang ISO.  I promised a review of CrunchBang anyway and it’s high time I started on it.  Let the distro hopping slow down for a while.

Overheard at the Water Cooler

icecubedHeard at the water cooler recently in my almost all Windows workplace was something that took me by surprise.  We have a couple of highly trained individuals here in Networking.  We’re a Cisco shop, so if you know how confusing that can be, you know that not everyone can just jump right into one of those networks and know what they’re doing.  These individuals were having a conversation outside of my cube so I didn’t inject myself into the conversation.  But, I did ask myself, is this what Linux and Open Source is up against?  If so, we still have a long way to go.

It seems an external site was attempting VPN access into our corporate network.  The problem the external site was hitting was that they couldn’t initiate a session FROM their network…but someone from our location could initiate a connection TO their network.  They used a Linux box to provide them VPN, Firewall, and proxy services.  Now, any Linux admin worth his or her salt would have immediately known that being able to VPN back into a site but not VPN out of a site means that the firewall doesn’t have the right ports open and/or forwarded.  This should have been an easy fix…but the guys at this external location evidently didn’t posses this knowledge.

Instead of blame falling on the improper configuration, open source was blamed as a whole.  My colleagues stated that those “free tools people use never stack up to paid ones” and that “you get what you pay for…and if you don’t pay for it you don’t get it”.  So according to these guys:

  • Free = poorly designed, less than good software
  • Paid = better designed, wicked awesome software

Which of course, you and I know is a bunch of hooey.  And this is what some of the smartest guys I’ve had a chance to work with state about Linux and open source.  Makes me really wonder if they know their Cisco stuff is often times Linux and open source as well.  I guess maybe I should tell them sometime.  Either way, Linux still has a long way to go to garner the acceptance it should have.

4 Little Known Thunderbird Extensions

I recently searched through the mozilla thunderbird extensions website and found 4 extensions that I didn’t know about that actually prove to be quite useful. I use Thunderbird 2.0.0.12 on Foresight Linux and have tested all of these extensions and verified that they work on that environment. Hopefully, they’ll help someone craft a more enjoyable email experience :)

Search for Sender

If you’re like me, you like to group like items together in your inbox. With this extension, you can group emails from the same sender as quickly as a right click. Really, it’s just a shortcut that places the sender email up into the search box and searches for you. The nice part is, with this extension, you don’t have to type it. Quick, easy, and simple. This has quickly become an extension that I cannot live without.

SyncMab

SyncMab is an extension similar to foxmarks for Firefox. With foxmarks, you keep all your bookmarks on a central server of your choosing so that your bookmarks are the same across all computers you use that have Firefox installed. This is perfect for me since I have a set of work bookmarks and home bookmarks and like to be able to switch back and forth between them. But what about thunderbird? It doesn’t have bookmarks right? Exactly, but it does have contacts in your addressbook! So, you’ll be able to save your contacts to a server of your choosing and then on another computer with thunderbird you can synchronize your contacts by downloading that file using SyncMab. It’s brilliant and allows you to always have the same contacts across operating systems, across computers, and even to maintain multiple addressbooks :)

Display Quota

This extension will display a small graphic in Thunderbird that tells you how much space you have left in your IMAP mail account and can warn you when you get close to filling up. This might not be too useful for those of you that use IMAP with huge quotas (gmail) but for others, it may be. I have heard that some users do not like the popup that displays for warning on this extension. For those users, Thunderbird has a built in function you can enable:

Open your configuration editor in Thunderbird and find the following keys:

  1. mail.quota.mainwindow_threshold.show – % when quota should show up
  2. mail.quota.mainwindow_threshold.warning – % when quota becomes yellow
  3. mail.quota.mainwindow_threshold.critical – % when quota becomes red

Thanks to goddess-gate.com for information on how to do this.

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Why I Choose PCLinuxOS

There’s been quite a few postings and articles on new users and Linux flourishing during the past year. The reason I believe this to be is that desktop Linux is approaching or has arrived at the tipping point where it can gain mainstream adoption. People are seeing Linux as a viable alternative to Microsoft. My wife recently had me nuke the dual boot computer and go with Linux due to Windows Media Player 11 restrictions set to come out when it is released. Her main concern is being told by companies how she should be able to listen to her music after she’s bought it…kinda like buying a car and the dealer tells you where you can drive it and how you can. She’s in the process of converting all her mp3’s to ogg’s to 1) save space and 2) because they sound better and are in a free format. Thus far, she’s not missing Windows.

Many blogs also have taken up this topic and, when determining the best Linux desktop, gushed about Xandros, Freespire, Ubuntu, and MEPIS. The thing I find odd is that they forget the little guy that’s outpacing all the others…and that little guy is PCLinuxOS. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why PCLinuxOS is, IMHO, the best Linux flavor for new users.

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