Rocky Road to the Greener Grass

Feb-15th-2009

open_quoteWanting to convert a non-Linux user to the green green grass of home??

Then read on…..

open_quote Why we want to Convert….

Despite the fast uptake of the Linux operating, with many people giving up hope on Windows, following the big disappointment that was Vista, it seems that it continues to be the big “secret”. For those that use it, it is something they know a fair amount about, and something they appreciate. For those that don’t know use it, they’ve very unlikely to have heard about it. I use Linux, but have heard of Windows. Person B uses Windows, but hasn’t heard of Windows. There are so many advantages in using Linux, it’s frustrating that the message is not spoken loudly enough. It’s a bit like the common experience on primary school. The teach will ask a question you know the answer to. Your hand will shoot up, but instead the teacher chooses to ignore you, in favor of getting the children involved who’d rather play naughts and crosses against themselves with a permanent pen on the table. Eventually the whole class will have had their chance, and you can give the correct answer. To you, the answer was so straight forward, but you’re surrounded by people who a) Don’t know that answer, and b) Don’t want to know the answer. Apply that theory to the teachers question being “What is the best operating system for PC’S”, and you’re close to understanding my [poor] metaphor.

open_quote How we sell our beloved Linux…

OK. So you have a targeted person in mind. Possibly a friend, or a family member. Your mission, to have them on their knees begging you to help them install Linux onto their machine. The first thing to think about is – what they require from their PC. This is such an important step. If you’re into Linux in a big way, then your use for a PC probably does not align with theirs. So do not show off the coolness of your customized terminal window, and do not show off your keyboard shortcuts (not straight away, at least – this will only confuse). OK, so the typical software to show off in my opinion.
Firefox – I would predict that 80% daily usage for the average Joe requires an internet connection and a web browser. Whether it be social networking, checking the national news, or just for email. Once you’ve shown them Firefox, you’re 80% of the way there. But Here’s the 80/20 rule… 80% of your time, goes on 20% of the work. So now for the remaining 20%.
Depending on desktop environment, show them Dolphin (KDE4+) or Nautilus (Gnome). Desktop environments are not something I want to discuss, it worthy of its own blog, because KDE4.2 is so darn impressive. Gnome is so tried and tested for years and years. KDE4.2 on the other hand was the first KDE4.* release for the average Joe. It was only released in January 2009, so I not as much testing has taken place. Enough already. It’s important to show them a file manager, perhaps with “bookmarks” for pictures and music. As you know, the file system is quite different from Windows, although as long as the user is presented with just a viewing window into their “My documents” (documents, music, video etc…), then they won’t notice any difference.
A music player – Most people from time to time use their PC for listening to music. Depending on the hardware capabilities, I would set them up with either Amarok (my personal favorite), or Banshee, which is slightly less straining on system load.
If the user is to choose wireless, please, please make sure that the wireless device is 100% compatible with the Linux distro you’ve chosen.  See below for details
Photo editing – Install Picasa, and GIMP. Picasa for being a very good photo album viewer, and some very neat one click tools to photo editing. GIMP as the sort of equivalent to Photoshop, for the more pedantic artists.

open_quote What problems do we encounter in our mission?…

As stated, check wireless hardware compatibility - This normally means  just to check the kernel version you’ll be installing. I had problems like this, see for yourself here “Wireless Issues”. If the user has initial problems with wireless connection, you’ll have a job on your hands to hold their interest for any more than a few minutes. If you’re setting up a system from scratch, it is very much worth your time to research compatibility with the Linux kernel against the wireless device.
Multimedia playback – For legal reasons, Linux distro packagers, always choose not to have mp3, DVD etc… playback enabled by default. In the last 2 years, access to playback of an mp3 file has become far easier (e.g. pop-up – “unsupported package needed to be installed to play mp3 files, do you want to install”). However, some distro’s are better at this than others, and there is no guarantee that all “non free” file types will be handled in this efficient way.
Hardware support – This is an interesting one. There are many good arguments to say “plug and play” support in Linux is far better than that in Windows. Plug in a printer, and it will know, plug in a webcam, and it will know (check your webcam’s USB ID to see if it is supported in gspca), plugin a USB audio headset in, and it will know etc etc…. However, depending on the hardward, from time to time, there are situations where plugging in a device is not enough. I have a USB DVB TV device. I needed to obtain the firmware, and put it in /lib/firmware. Very straight forward, but there’s not chance of a noobie knowing about that folder. Plug in a wireless device that isn’t supported natively, then you’ll need ndiswrapper to help you out (to install the Windows driver to be used in Linux). I think there’s a GTK application to plug a GUI on top the process of installing the Windows driver into ndiswrapper, but again, they need knowledge of that tool.
Choice – It’s one of the biggest strengths in open source software. For every task we want to action, we have many choices in how to do it. I want to listen to music [banshee, amarok, VLC, mplayer]. I want to browse my files [Nautilus, Dolphin, Konqueror], I want to browse the internet [Firefox, Konqueror, Opera, Epiphany], I want to… etc etc… Oddly enough, however, this is one of the big drawbacks from Windows to Linux adoption. On any of the Windows platforms, if you want to browse files, your handed Windows Explorer, for internet browsing, it’s Windows Internet Explorer, to view pictures, it’s Windows Image Viewer etc…

open_quoteThe common questions we’re asked…

How do I connect my laptop to a wireless connection? For this reason, I would choose installing Network Manager applet over wicd. As long as it works, it offers one-click functionality to choose a wireless connection, and is integrated better into desktop environments than wicd.
How do I add a printer? The answer is normally just to plug it in! There are additional packages available. For instance, if it is a Hewlett Packard printer, there are “hplibs” available on most distro releases.
Can I open Word documents? We of course know that this means “Can I open word processor documents in the proprietary Windows ‘.doc’ format”. The answer is again, yes. I would strongly suggest you ensure that the PC has OpenOffice 3 installed, as this offers .docx integration also. I have a bug report open with the OpenOffice team about “comments” integration with .docx files. A fix will be included in OpenOffice 3.1
Can I connect my digital camera? You sure can. Your options are to let an application (gThumb, picasa etc..) handle the hardware connection, or you can use your favorite file browser to copy your photo’s to your hard drive before doing any editing.
Where is [Enter Windows application here]? For example… Where’s MSN? Where Internet Explorer? Where’s Windows Media Player? Etc.. etc… The key point is that , in Linux, there is an alternative to almost anything you want to do in Windows (in fact, there are probably many choices! See above). It would be very easy to write up a table with two columns: “Windows Application”, “Linux Equivalent” without too much effort.

open_quote General Guidelines….

Always use the distro package manager for any software installs. If you want kaffeine, or Firefox, or anything else, do it via the GUI package manager. If you’re showing the Windows convert, the last thing they want to see you do is: “yum install [app]” or “sudo apt-get install [app]”. You may be more comfortable at the command line, but for demonstration purposes, use the GUI! That’ll normally be Synaptic Package Manager, or PackageKit.
If you can help it, do not open a terminal window. It might just be easier to open the terminal window, but should a Windows user see that little black box, the nose will turn northwards, and they’ll be a reluctance to adopt. It might teach you a thing or two. Is there a way to do a task completely using the mouse and keyboard, with no terminal? It might even reveal a hole in the UI model in your chosen desktop environment.
Demonstrate the obvious stuff. Plug in a USB memory stick, copy a file, then un-mount. Plug in a digital camera. Print off a photo. Open openOffice and save a document. Show a YouTube video. Listen to an online radio program. Adjust the volume. Open the file browser. Change the desktop wallpaper. This is stuff a Linux user takes for granted, they’re more interested in color schemes in their favourite terminal emulator, and changing the “nice” values of user-space processes.
When asked a question, Be clear. Don’t reply with “you could do this, but this is cooler, but this is quicker, but this can even do that”. The answer to many questions is really just pointing out an appropriate software package to do the required job. Think of one, then tell them about it.
Mention the package manager. Ultimately, every Linux user will find their way to the near infinite amount of open source applications in the distro repositories. Point out PackageKit or Synaptic, and mention you can search for keywords for software, and it will point out suggestions for software.
Never, ever enable test repositories, or install from svn. I have made that mistake in the past, to enable a feature not yet in a stable release. You can never guarantee the quality of software at any given time in the SVN repositories, nor can you in test distro repo’s. Windows converts just want stable software, that never breaks. All this software is new to them, the last thing we want is for it to crash on them.
Set package manager updates to the maximum period. i.e. two weeks, not daily. Most users are not as concerned as some others to have software that is newer than two weeks old.
Before you officially hand over the finished setup, make sure you’re absolutely sure everything is setup. Here’s a quick list: Web browser, music player, photo album browser, image editor, proprietary hardware drivers (e.g. nvidia), flash player, non-free media codecs, openOffice (3+).

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