22 ways to convert your friend to Linux

24th Dec 2010 | 13:00

22 ways to convert your friend to Linux

How to persuade Windows users to go the open source route

Are your friends convinced that they should be paying for their operating systems because Linux sounds too complicated or because they think it won't do what they want it to?

Fear not, here's your guide to brining your friends over to the light side...

1. First you need a non-geek friend

If your idea of getting out is a monthly trip to the local LUG, you need to cultivate some more mainstream friends before you can start to convert them. Getting a Fedora fan to use Ubuntu does not count.

2. Don't evangelise

Pushing Linux like it's the greatest thing since sliced bread, or that it's at least 10 times better than Windows, will have one of two effects. It will either cause your friends to push back, making it harder to convince them; or they'll agree to try it but have such high expectations that they'll feel deceived the first time something doesn't work as they expect. Be subtle – use Jedi mind tricks instead.

3. Drop hints

Instead of pushing, just mention it from time to time – especially when the issue of online security, viruses and malware comes up. Let your friends' curiosity get the better of them, let them ask you about it, then they'll want you to show them Linux.

4. One app at a time

Get your friends used to the idea of open source and free software. A complete change of OS is scary – trying a different browser, office suite or mail client isn't. OpenOffice.org and Firefox can do a great deal to open people's minds to open source.

5. Don't push freebies too much

Be careful how you use the word "free". The "you get what you pay for, if it's free it can't be any good" attitude is both prevalent and entirely understandable. Instead, concentrate on concepts such as freedom, community and openness – or just tell them how damn good Linux is.

6. Eye candy

True geeks hate eye candy because it just gets in the way – but it's still a great advertisement. Even if you don't normally use it, install Compiz and turn it on when your Windows-using friends are looking over your shoulder. A few spinning cubes and watery window effects can do far more than a lecture about software freedom.

7. Security

This one is a bit obvious to us, but most Windows users have no idea that it's possible to live without the constant fear of viruses, trojans and phone-home malware. And don't let them think this is because Linux is unpopular – it's because it's open, meaning malware has nowhere to hide. Linux users don't need to suck the life out of their computers by running virus scanners and firewalls with separate rules for every installed program.

8. Use live CDs

Live cds

Live CDs are not only a great way of trying out Linux without installing, they're also unheard of in Windows circles. The very idea of running directly from the CD without affecting their computer will impress many of your friends, as well as removing some of the fear of trying a completely new OS.

9. Make sure they can handle it

Pick your target: only try to convert someone who is reasonably tech-savvy. You aren't training them to be a sysadmin, but they do need to be able to pick up new concepts reasonably well.

10. If they're Mac users – don't bother

The typical Mac fanboy can out-zeal even Richard Stallman. Trying to convince a Mac fanboy of the benefits of Linux is like banging your head against a wall – it's good when you stop.

11. Find out what they need

Linux isn't the right choice for everyone. What does your friend use a computer for? If it's mainly gaming, then let them stick with Windows. If it's a mixture of web browsing, email, managing their digital photos and writing the odd letter, Linux is perfect for them.

12. Make sure they understand that Linux isn't a Windows product

Linux isn't just a free version of Windows, some things are very different. Otherwise, what would be the point? Explain this to your friend, and also that many aspects aren't better or worse, just different.

13. Pick a suitable distro

The distro you recommend should be easy for your friend to use and easy for you to help with. Unless you use Gentoo or Slackware, this usually means recommending the same as you use – for both distro and desktop.

14. Install and set up for them

Don't just give them a CD, or even install the basic system, and walk away. You recommended Linux, so make it work for them. Install everything they may need, and set it all up. Then show them how to use it.

15. Install Wine

Be ready for the time your friend needs to run a particular Windows program. Install Wine but don't tell them about it unless they absolutely need it. Let them try the native options first.

16. Install multimedia codecs

"It won't play DVDs" is a common cry from new Linux users, so when you install it for a friend, add any extra repositories needed and install things such as libdvdcss, and the popular audio and video codecs.

17. Move the buttons

If you install Ubuntu for them, move the buttons back to the right of the window. Many people like the left-handed buttons, but it's an unnecessary jump too far for someone trying Linux for the first time.

18. Your friend isn't a sysadmin

You are probably a sysadmin (even if you don't think you are) because you administer your own computer. Most Windows users are just users, so show your friend how to use Linux, not how to administer it.

19. Underline Linux community support

Once you've helped your friend overcome the first few hurdles, show them how they can help themselves. Introduce them to some of the friendly and helpful communities of Linux users, let them interact with others of a similar level and get help from more experienced users. They're in safe hands there.

20. Avoid the command line

We all know how powerful the command line can be, but it can be scary for new users. When showing them how to use Linux, stick to the GUI for any administrative tasks. If something does need the command line, do it yourself, preferably while they aren't looking.

21. Explain software repositories

Windows users are used to having to trawl the web for software to do a job, and taking the risk of downloading an EXE file from a website, hoping it does the job without installing anything unpleasant. Show them how a centralised software manager makes finding software easier, quicker and safer – and that the programs don't have to phone home to check for updates.

22. Set up SSH access

If your friend lives more than a few minutes away from you, do yourself a favour and set up secure SSH access (preferably key authenticated). They'll be really impressed when you fix their next problem while they're describing it on the phone.


First published in Linux Format Issue 139

Liked this? Then check out 25 Linux tips for Windows switchers

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