[kwlug-disc] Open Source intro handout

Chris Frey cdfrey at foursquare.net
Wed Apr 29 20:22:18 EDT 2009

On Wed, Apr 29, 2009 at 04:26:00PM -0700, Paul Nijjar wrote:
> 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. 

It almost seems like video support is getting worse, but that might just
be my experience.  X seems to be getting bigger and slower, which doesn't
excite me.  Neither does the proprietary nature of popular video

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

I'd add small and Older hardware.  Nobody really cares about such hardware
anymore, at least not enough to work on it, but it's pretty disappointing.
Linux used to be a great option for older, slower hardware, but I wouldn't
dare make that claim to a newbie anymore.  In fact, I've had to reverse
that notion in people who thought they could try Linux on an old machine,
but if I'm going to help them with the learning curve, I want them to
have a good enough experience that they stick with it, and Linux on a PII
with 256megs of RAM just can't compete with Windows on a P4 with a gig
of RAM.  Some may think that's an unreasonable expectation, but I don't.
A new user will expect that the PII would be a bit slower, but it shouldn't
crawl like a dog.

I keep hoping that the drive to handheld machines and netbooks will keep
pushing innovation in the speed and size areas of computing, but it's
slow going.

> 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. 

I'd recommend being frank too.  Unless you have control of the hardware
you install Linux on, you can't oversell, or it may come back to bite
you later.

> 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?

Since you're selling this as a low cost alternative (which is good), I
highly doubt that people will open their wallets for support.

> 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? 

I think you're fine.  I'm of similar mind to you, but the advantages of Free
Software are just a bit too nebulous for the new, non-programming user
to understand... especially on the initial sales pitch.  This is something
to wow them with later, after they've used the system for a while.

> 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 must say, I liked the original very much.  I thought it was balanced
and carefully worded for the cautious new user.

> 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? 

You might consider putting a few bullet points at the beginning, so people
can skim it and get intrigued, and then flesh out those points with your
remaining text.

You probably need a hook to encourage them to sit down later and read it all.

- Chris

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