[kwlug-disc] Open Source intro handout

Paul Nijjar paul_nijjar at yahoo.ca
Wed Apr 29 19:26:00 EDT 2009

As usual, lots of people offered good feedback and insight on the
unedited first draft of my handout. To show my gratitude I'll start
some flamewars. 

0. Raul claims that MP3 and DVD playing/recording software is
not a legal grey area in Canada. Is this actually the case? Why?

Regardless of Canada's legal situation, it remains true that you can't
play DVDs on Ubuntu without enabling additional repositories, so I
feel compelled to mention it. 

1. Lori suggests that hardware support in Linux is not such a big deal
any more. Certainly this has not been my personal experience -- last
month I had a terrible time getting PCMCIA wireless cards to work, and
I found the support for a Laserjet 1100 (an old but fairly common
printer) to be pretty bad. I could get the drivers to work but the
print quality was much worse than the standard Windows driver. I would
claim that this is exactly the kind of experience that turns new users
off of Linux -- even if 90% of stuff works the way you want it, the
10% turns people off Linux and back to their Windows boxes (which are
much less than 90% working sometimes.) 

To turn this into a question: how good is video card support under
Linux these days? I had heard that Nvidia support still requires the
proprietary drivers to do reasonable hardware acceleration. I don't
know the state of AMD/ATI stuff. Enlighten me. 

On that note, are there other classes of hardware for which Linux
support tends to be spotty?

2. Richard offered some counterarguments to the open source
aggravations. This was exactly what I was trying to avoid. I have
experienced each of the aggravations I listed personally, and boy can
they be aggravating. 

Having said that I don't really know the best way to approach the
issue. I want to be frank about the most common things people find
aggravating, so that they don't get all pumped up about open source
only to be disappointed. But if you're an Eeyore like me then you tend
to undersell the product, and nobody gets excited enough to use it. 

3. Lori brought up the issue of support. In my experience most
non-geeks who are home users don't purchase commercial support. Most
don't even contact Dell or Microsoft on their help channels unless
there is a hardware problem. Most people really do turn to geeky
friends and family (as some of you may know -- hands up if you are the
unpaid tech support for your loved ones). This was one of the factors
that sunk the late and unlamented Working Centre Linux Project
-- we would install Linux for people, and then their friends would
wipe out Linux and install pirated copies of Windows instead. 

I could be wrong about this, however. Give me some experiences and/or
data. Do you find that most of your friends turn to official channels
for support? Do they cough up the money to go to their local tech
shop? Do they solve their own problems with Google and coffee? Or are
they turning to their informal networks?

4. Both Raul and Bob Jonkman encouraged me to use the term Free
Software instead of Open Source. Flamewar! My own perspective is that
I am not going to waste the energy disambiguating freedom versus free
as in price. That ambiguity of wording ticks me off to no end, so even
though I lean towards the FSF side philosophically, linguistically I
am using the term Open Source. 

Is this a great mistake? How many Hail Marys will it cost me? 

5. I was trying to identify good resources for people to use at the
end of the handout. I don't know if I got the list right. 
There is a long list of resources on the KWLUG website:


Maybe I should just put that URL on the handout? What other resources
would you consider crucial for people (home users and small business
users, neither of whom have much money) who are getting started with
free software?

6. Raul and others made lots of good suggestions about wordiness and
wishy-washiness and better wording. I won't promise to implement it
all, but some of this stuff is definitely helpful. 

I guess I have two sets of questions coming out of this round of feedback: 

- To what degree does this give a good overview of open source to
  somebody largely unfamiliar with it? To what degree would this be
  helpful to somebody who has relatively little computer experience?

- Assuming the document is formatted for better readability (shorter
  line lengths, some clip art, etc) to what degree is the document too
  long? What should be cut out? What should be added? 

- Paul

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