Conversion in progress

Sometimes the things you want don't happen until you stop trying so hard.

For as long as we've had Intel-compatible computers here at home, my parents have been running Windows. At first I didn't care—this was before I had even heard about Linux, let alone install it—but as I became more and more involved in Linux, I wanted more and more for them to make the change, too. Especially given how I'm still supposed to be responsible for making sure their machine keeps running; if I wasn't, I wouldn't care as much.

These are the approaches I've taken to try to convert them, and why they failed:

  • At first, I tried convincing them that Windows sucks and that they should use "something else, something better". This approach utterly failed, simply because Windows did not suck as much as I claimed it was. I was advocating something I believed in, but my arguments weren't fully on target. Whether or not this was intentional isn't something I remember fully (it's been somewhere about nine years), but I do remember it did fail because of that.
  • Next, I made Linux boot up as default. They still could boot up Windows if they so chose, but they had to make a decision at exactly the right time. This approach utterly failed because it caused them to associate Linux with annoyances. Bad idea.
  • The next step was to get annoyed at having to fix Windows every few months because of viruses and spyware and whatnot, and just not doing it. This was not a conscious decision; but having to reinstall a system from scratch is no fun, and eventually I got so fed up with it that I kept postponing it. At some point this turned into a strategy to subvert them into running Linux, by giving them "temporary" replacements for things that broke down. This would start with installing Free Software on Windows; using Thunderbird for e-mail, or as their office suite. Some of these replacements (such as Thunderbird, after I explained the security issues in Outlook Express) would be accepted with ease; others (such as, where my dad was much more used to Microsoft Office) would face initial resistance. They have eventually come to accept all of them, however.
    The approach failed because I was never up-front about my intentions (even if initially there were none, they did eventually surface). As such, they kept seeing some things as "temporary" replacements and never invested any time into trying to learn the system, whereas I was postponing reinstallation as long as I could. Eventually, this led to an argument which resulted in the next strategy.
  • The next attempt was a direct result of the failure of the previous one; I asked them to give the system a chance, and they agreed to seriously try Debian for a few months. After those few months, we would sit together and decide what would be done; I promised to reinstall Windows if they decided that Linux wasn't good enough. Contrary to what I expected, the approach failed. Their main argument was that it was too slow. This was not totally unexpected, since their system at the time was a 133Mhz Pentium I running Windows 98 (I believe); installing Sarge with Gnome on that was a bad idea. I had tried a few things to speed up matters about halfway through the experiment; but unfortunately that didn't cut it. I now realise that the reason the attempt failed was that I was insufficiently prepared, and that I had to cobble together a workable environment for them in just a few days. Had I had a bit more time, I could've looked around for a useful yet not resource-hungry interface that would've made the system useable for them, and they might have accepted it. Oh well.
    Or I could've just bought them a new system and have them use that. Hah.
  • After the failed attempt, I just plain gave up. I didn't remove the Linux partition from their machine, but I did not expect them to boot it anymore, either. A few months passed. I received an SMP box from Osamu, and replaced their aging box with my 650Mhz Pentium III. Eventually, my dad asked me about creating some poster for the theater group where he was directing a piece. What he wanted to do (having an utter mish-mash of letters of all sizes and forms as a backdrop) required a DTP application, or at least a decent graphical application; while I am aware of such applications for the Windows platform, I do not actually have them. So I said "I can help you with that, but it'll have to be under Linux". I rebooted the box, installed scribus (which, through the miracles of synaptic, looked to him like I was just fine-tuning a few things), showed him how it worked, and let him do it.
    A while later, he wanted to print out a picture. Similarly, I know of Windows applications to do this, but I helped him use The Gimp—under Linux.
    Another while later (now a month ago), they wanted to keep better track of their income and their expenses. Again, I know of Windows applications to do this, but gave them gnucash, because I know that best. This actually is the first application in the list that they now use on an almost daily basis. These days, when I get up and take a peek at their system, more often than not it runs Linux. And since I configured it (at their request) to run 'shutdown -h now' by cron at 1:30 AM (to force them to go to bed), this means that they actually choose to run Linux in the morning now, rather than just not bothering to reboot or shut down the machine when they want to. I expect they've finally chosen to use Linux instead of Windows for the things they want to use a computer for, even though they don't know it themselves yet. I can only be happy about that.

All in all, my message is this: if you want to convert people like my parents—who couldn't care less about all this freedom stuff and whatnot, shit just has to work for them—to Linux, then you should make sure that they have a reason to use it. They didn't use it when I tried to push them behind the curtains. They didn't use it when I tried to push them openly. They only decided to use it when, eventually, they had a solid reason to use Linux: there were applications there that weren't available on Windows.

Of course, there's nothing in gnucash, the gimp, or scribus that prevents me from installing it on Windows. But installing software on Windows is such a pain—and, well, I did have a hidden agenda.