About two weeks ago, right around the launch of Vista, I had a few conversations with various colleagues here at work about Microsoft's new product. This gave me the opportunity to let them know that I was running "something called Linux" at home. And while they might have heard the term "Linux" before, they sure looked puzzled when I mentioned that the specific system I ran at home was called Ubuntu.
Anyway, nothing much came of it, except that a couple of days later, a colleague of mine asked me about Ubuntu. He said that he'd checked it out online and wondered if it would run on a machine he had at home. It was a PC he had put together himself about 5 years ago.
While no computer expert, he is a very intelligent guy (a structural engineer like myself) and quite enthusiastic in terms of technology for someone probably 35 years my senior.
I asked him about the specs of the machine, and while he couldn't recall much detail he did tell me a few things: he thought it was a P4, it was something like 1.5 GHz, it had a 40GB hard drive and was currently running Windows 98 - poorly.
He also said it wasn't connected to the internet. He wanted to be able to do some basic office and digital photo work on it.
I told him I thought Ubuntu would *probably* work ok for him, and then explained what a live CD was and asked if he wanted me to burn one for him. He agreed and would give it a go.
I gave him the Ubuntu Edgy live CD. I got him to reboot his work machine just to show him the menu system and how to install it at home if he wanted to. I showed him that the CD would give him basic photo management, image manipulation, office productivity apps and other basic things.
Based on my experiences with creating a dual boot setup (and my assumption that he knew nothing about partitioning), I advised him to back up his existing windows 98 data and wipe out the old drive completely if he decided to install it.
He didn't take my advice...
Arriving back at work on the Monday, he told me that he installed Edgy no problem and that it ran great on his system - miles better than Windows 98. To be honest, I was relieved. I asked him if he'd backed up the data or just scrapped it. He told me he'd done neither. I looked puzzled. He told me that when it asked him if he wanted to create a dual boot system, he agreed, confirmed the partition sizes, and it worked like a charm.
He was a bit puzzled by my visible relief. I have been bitten several times before getting dual booting to work on my system (a dual drive configuration with a Sata and IDE drive)
He came to me a day or two later and said it was running great, but asked if he needed to install something special to work with his digital camera (a Nikon D70). I told him to just plug it in and find out. The next day he said he couldn't believe it just worked so simply and correctly.
He really didn't think there was an alternative to Microsoft. A real happy camper.
I know that not all stories of this nature are so positive. And I'm no Linux zealot here at work (I can't afford to be a tech support guy either). But it really isn't that difficult to spread the word about Linux.
And when I say spreading the word, I don't mean touting that it's so much better, not shouting that it's all about the freedom, I just mean making people aware of what Linux is. Making people aware that there are completely viable alternative systems to run on their computers.
Burn a linux ISO of a live CD. Keep it in your desk. You'll never know when it might come in handy. :)