Open Source Software and New Users


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 :)

GNU find – A Multidimensional Tool

Beginners are mostly afraid of command prompt.  Whenever they see a command prompt, they immediately say “its very difficult”.  But it’s not true.  The Command prompt is as friendly as GUI (Graphical User Interface), provided if you use it with proper procedure.

Most people use GUI tools to search for files.  They don’t realize that they can use command line tools to search for them as well! GNU ‘find’ is such like a tool which can not only search files but can even copy, move or delete these files on the fly.

So let’s see that how ‘find’ works.

Find Your Lost Files!

Let’s start from a simple example:

Suppose you want to search for a file named ‘master.txt’ in your home directory.

Open the Terminal and issue the following command:

find . -name “master.txt”

‘find’ will immediately show the results.  If ‘find’ does not show any result, this means that the file, in our case, ‘master.txt’, does not exist.  It is not always the case that you want to find something in you home directory.  The lost/desired file may be anywhere in your computer.  Suppose you want to find a file named ‘space-01.jpg’ and you only know that its located somewhere in /usr directory. You can find it by issuing following command in Terminal:

find /usr -name “space-01.jpg”

and ‘find’ will tell you that this is located under /usr/share/backgrounds.

Using Wildcards

Maybe you want to search for a file but you don’t know its exact name?  Don’t worry!  You can still locate the file using ‘GNU find’ and wildcard will help you in this regard. Wildcards are a way of searching files when you don’t know much about your desired file.

One of the commonly used wildcard is asterisk (*).  Lets consider an example to better understand the things.

Suppose you want to search a file named ‘Jumping_Flowers’ but you only remember the ‘Jumping‘ part of the file name.  So issue the following command in Terminal:

find . -name “Jumping*”

And it will display all the files starting with the word ‘Jumping’.  You can use asterisk (*) anywhere with a file name.  For example:

find . -name “*Jumping*”

And it will display all the files which contains the word ‘Jumping’.

Here are some more examples of use of a wildcard:

find . -name “Jumping*Flowers*”
find . -name “*Jumping*Flowres.mp3”

Searching For Different File Types

Sometimes you are not looking for some specific file but you are looking for a group of files.  For example, you may be looking for all the .txt files in your home directory.  To find all the .txt files, you will give the following command in Terminal:

find . -name *.txt

In case of mp3 files, the above command will be:

find . -name *.mp3

When You Want to Search with Respect to Time

If you want to search for files by the last time they were accessed, you can use -amin flag with ‘find’.  In this case you have to put a minus (-) sign before the time.  The time here is in minutes.  In order to search for .doc files which were accessed in last 10 minutes, you will give the following command:

find . -amin -10 -name "*.doc"

Similarly, to search for .doc files which were modified in last 20 minutes, you will use -mmin option as follows:

find . -mmin -20 -name “*.doc”

Search For Files which are Eating Your Hard Disk

There may be files on your system which are not only huge in size but also located obscure places.  You may also may not know when they were last accessed.  You have to use -size option with ‘find’ to locate them.

Let’s see how we can do this:

find . -size +100M

It will list all those files which are greater than 100 Megabytes.  You can replace ‘M’ with ‘G’ (for Gigabyte) or with ‘k’ (for Kilobyte)

Copy, Move, or Delete Unwanted Files on the Fly

Copy – ‘find’ can also be used to copy or backup your files.  You can use ‘find’ to copy certain files from one location to other with one simple command.

Suppose you want copy all of your mp3 songs from your home directory to your Windows Partition.  Enter the following command in Terminal:

find . -name "*.mp3" -exec cp {} /path/to/Windows_Drive \;

And all of your mp3 files will be copied to the desired Drive/Folder.

Move – There may be situations that you quickly want to move all of your document files from your Hard Disk to your USB to keep them safe.  To move all of your documents from your home directory to your USB, you will issue the following command:

find . -name "*.doc" -exec cp {} /path/to/USB \;

Delete – Suppose there are a lot of .tmp files and you want to get rid of them at once.  Again ‘GNU find’ is at your service and does the work for you.  Issue the following in Terminal and all of the .tmp files are gone…

find . -name '*.tmp' -exec rm {} \;

Which Files are Owned by You and Which Are Not?

There may be a situation when you want to know that which files in some other directories (or even in your home directory) are owned by some other user of your computer.

Suppose there is another user named ‘blackstar’ with whom you are sharing your PC.  Now you want to know that which .doc files in Windows Directory is owned by this user ‘blackstar’.  You can do this by issuing the following command:

find /path/to/Windows_Drive -user blackstar -name “*.doc”

Just replace ‘blackstar’ with your username to search on your system.

Direct the Output of ‘find’ to a File

You can save the results of your ‘find’ command to a text file which will allow you to examine the results in detail at some later time (or to create playlist of your songs).  For this purpose a greater than (>) sign is used (referred to as “piping the command”).

Suppose you want to save the list of all the mp3 songs in your home directory to a text file (which you can later share with your friend), you can do this by:

find . -name "*.mp3" > mp3.txt

It will save the complete path to all of your mp3 songs in the file named mp3.txt.

Find, a Handy Command Line Tool

This article is basically directed towards new users of Linux which are not much familiar with command prompt. This is a small but comprehensive article about ‘GNU find’ . The man pages of ‘find’ list a huge number of options which are difficult to explain in detail in one small article. I tried to cover those option which are commonly used. Obviously, to know more about such a powerful tool , one has to visit its man pages again and again and spend a lot time with ‘find’ :)

A New User Guide to Linux Communities


Featured image credit:  Leonardo Leporte

Are you a new Linux user? Fantastic! Welcome to the world of freedom. Freedom of choice, freedom of expression, freedom from vendor lockin. You’ve made an excellent choice. Now that you’ve chosen, installed, and are using Linux there are a few things you should keep in mind as you learn the ropes of your new system.

1. Not all Communities are the Same

Each Linux distribution has its own distinct community with their own ideas. Think of owning a vehicle or a certain brand of appliance…along with the ownership of this comes the lifestyle that is reflected by users/owners of the product. The same is true with Linux. Each community will have a different idea on what is important. What is important to you may not be even on the radar of those users and developers of that community. Find one that suits you.

Keeping this in mind, be patient. Ask questions the smart way. Be explicit and tactful. Be precise and direct. Provide more information than you think is necessary…no one will become upset if you provide too much information but they may not answer your question if you have too little.

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How to Become a Cool Blogger and/or Hip Journalist

First…get yourself a blog and get it running. It doesn’t matter if it is from wordpress, google, or the media company you work for…just get a blog up and running.

To get maximum exposure in the past, you had to use keywords. Now is no different. The keyword we’ll focus the most on is one that can get you thousands of hits in a few minutes if submitted to the right news outlet. That keyword is Ubuntu. Add this keyword to EVERY post you make. Name your blog with Ubuntu in the title to make sure that it is vaulted up the rankings. Just remember, you must use the word Ubuntu in everything you post.

For your first post, announce that you’re going to stop using Windows XP and use Ubuntu instead. Do a lousy job of documenting your installation procedure and make sure you don’t talk about anything of worth to someone who might be making the same change…just talk about how cool it is to be running Ubuntu and go over all the pluses. Don’t focus on anything negative…afterall, you don’t want any of the fanbois to come in and flame you now do you? Best to avoid confrontation…you know that someone else will fix that nasty problem you ran across during install right? Why should you report it? You’re just a blogger trying to amass hits and/or a journalist trying to become hip right?

Ok, so now that you’ve announced to the world that you’re switching and you’ve blogged about installing and setting things up…you have to follow it up with a “this is the best thing since sliced bread” post. Make sure you talk about how Ubuntu has completely replaced everything you’ve ever done…talk ferverently about how it does your laundry, makes you breakfast, and changes the linen on your bed.

Make sure that you make claims about how Ubuntu is THE best Linux available despite not trying another distribution of Linux or having anything other than Windows XP to compare it to. Remember, always use the word Ubuntu!! When you go to install and compile a program that can install and compile on ANY DISTRIBUTION, make sure that you title it “Installing SoftwareX on Ubuntu” so that everyone will know that you are cool and hip by using Ubuntu…plus, it’s good to confuse people into thinking that SoftwareX can only be installed on Ubuntu and no other distributions out there.

Finally, always speak as though you are a complete subject matter expert on Ubuntu. Don’t worry! You won’t have to be. Countless people will flock to your aid in comments on your blog. You won’t have to defend yourself at all…even when people bring up actual problems or maybe discuss the shortcomings of Ubuntu there will be many people that will completely thwart these idiotic attempts to actually improve Ubuntu. And how dare people even think they can improve Ubuntu! They don’t work for Canonical and everyone knows that the best distros out there are from companies and people who get paid to develop for said company.

Follow this how-to and you’ll be raking in the readers! Plus you’ll be considered one of the coolest and hippest bloggers/journalists around! You don’t need talent…you don’t need knowledge…you don’t even need experience…you just need to remember the magic word Say it with me now…Ubuntu!

This blog post has been brought to you by the letter U and our word of the year Ubuntu. Remember, Ubuntu is not a four letter word…it has 6 letters in it. Claims of this bloultg about Ubuntu doing laundry may not work for you as results may vary.  If you start to believe that this post is from someone who is ignorant and that it is a serious blog post, hit yourself on the head numerous times with a tack hammer and point into the sky shouting “airpane!! airpane!!”.  Someone will get you the help you need :)

ITWire in Australia on the Desktop

The point of all this is that from the standpoint of a new Linux user, having a snazzy looking interface is all well and good but it means nothing if users have to revert to the command line to perform what should be simple tasks. Installing new downloaded software is one of the most common tasks performed by desktop users at home and in small offices. Until the Linux suppliers can make this task trivial, they will continue to miss out on a whole world of users beyond the command line geeks.

NOTE: I normally don’t re-publish news like many of the “blogs” you see out there but in this case the article was pretty good and hits home with a theme I’ve been stating a bit lately.

The article above was taken from ITWire…IT News in Austrailia.

This article was a good read and I believe it to be true. Until Linux can come up with ways to make the user oblivious to what is going on underneath the GUI, it won’t make inrroads to the desktop.

UPDATE: 3/2007

Penguin Pete, the not famous blogger over at penguinpetes blog flagged this post as being the main reason that he no longer posts links to my blog. Interesting in that if anyone were to read this post out of context, they might not know what I was driving at for this post. The main intention of the post is to show that new users need to first feel comfortable in their OS before they drop down and get dirty with the shell. That’s a fact jack. Nothing is going to sway that…I’ve had many users I’ve switched over DESPISE dropping to the shell and cite that as the main reason they go back to Windows. This is what I was agreeing with in this instance…that New Linux users need to be semi oblivious to what is going on underneath and not have to worry about it in their beginnings…not to ‘dumb down’ Linux or remove functionality underneath it.

Why Ubuntu isn’t for New Linux Users

I was getting a bit tired of saying the same things over and over to friends on the net. I was getting tired of repetitiously posting in forums the same sentiment over and over. Yet, just like getting a second wind in a long and tiring race…my tiredness melts away and I find myself feeling refreshed and anew. What the subject of this rant has to say and what I have to say in the paragraphs below are NOT written to start a flame war. I am a user of Ubuntu and a strong supporter of all Debian based distros. This article is written to allow insight into where I believe Linux needs to go to succeed. I’m not out to win any popularity contests…I’m not out to garner a bunch of page hits to generate ad revenue. I’m just out to help the Linux community and rant a bit when I find a subject that strikes a nerve. The subject at hand is Why Ubuntu is NOT New Linux Users.

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