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10 Steps to Convert a Windows User to Linux

Mon, Mar 2, 2009

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Introduction

With Linux becoming more popular and easier to use, more and more people are adopting it as their primary operating system. But the transformation from Windows user to Linux user can be a tough road to take. Most new users become long-term users because they have friends that introduce Linux to them, and help them through the first few weeks of rough-patches. Here are ten steps to help you introduce Linux to a would-be convert.

1. Select your mark

Let’s face it – Linux isn’t for everyone. Your grandmas, your uber-gamers, your technophobes; all of these are bad candidates for Linux conversion. You want someone that’s interested in computing, and someone that is decently tech-literate. The ideal candidate is one that has heard of Linux, but for whatever reason believes it would be too complex for him or her to use. Another important quality in a mark is someone who’s willing to take some time and work through the initial phase of changing to a new operating system. If a candidate doesn’t have these qualities, it might be best to look somewhere else.

2. Introduce the mark to free software on Windows

Once you’ve selected your potential convert, introduce him or her to free software on the Windows platform. It’s likely that he or she is already using Firefox (if it’s an IE user, you might want to pick someone else to convert), but there’s a chance that he or she doesn’t realize that it’s free software. Drop a hint about how Firefox was written the same way Linux is written; by a community of developers, rather than by a giant corporation. Explain why you think this is better: more eyeballs equals fewer bugs, more features, and more developers. For a full list of free software that runs on Windows, check out this page.

3. Show off your Linux desktop

One of the reasons that people get the “gotta have it” syndrome over Linux is the eye-candy of the Compiz-enabled desktop. Sure, it’s superficial, and we all know that there’s more to Linux than just a rotating cube and windows that minimize in a ball of fire, but it’s a great way to quickly grab someone’s attention and get them asking questions. “What is that?” “How did you do that?” “How can I get that?” Your answers for all of these questions will be points towards Linux.

4. Give your mark a LiveCD

You don’t want your to-be-convert to rush into things and get frustrated. This is a quick and easy way for them to go running back to Windows. Instead, give them a LiveCD; it’s a great way for them to become familiar with the Linux desktop, the interface, and the features included in the installation. Think of it as a toy that they can play with in their spare time. Don’t push it on them, just say “if you want to check it out, you can boot off this CD without making any modifications to your hard drive.” It’s a great way for the mark to get their feet wet.

5. The initial install

Hopefully, your mark has been impressed with what he’s seen on the LiveCD, and is ready to take the initial plunge. Great for him! Encourage him that it’s really no big deal. Walk him through the installation, and explain that he can keep his Windows partition and duel-boot with Linux, picking whichever he prefers to use at the moment. This is a great way for people to slowly become accustomed a new operating system. It’s imperative that you be around to help out the new user. The most important thing about Linux is that it has great community support – by sticking around and being a helpful hand, you’re encouraging your mark to use community channels to find solutions to problems.

6. The first boot

Again, you must, must, must remain helpful even after the operating system is installed, but let the new-convert try to figure things out on her own. Let her find her way around the desktop, check out the included programs, browse the web, and do the things she wants to do with her computer. Your job now is to sit back and just remain available when she has questions. Show her how to add and remove software; recommend programs when she asks, “what program do I use to do ?” But throughout all of this, let the new user do her own thing.

7. The first few days

If all goes well, the newly-converted user will be enjoying her first Linux experience. But of course, there will be problems. Remain available to help work her through the tough times and the initial shock of a completely new desktop experience, but don’t force your advice when you aren’t asked.

8. Week two

This is a good time to start explaining other ways of getting help with Linux. The idea here is to make the user self-sufficient in trouble-shooting and problem solving, but still try to be the most valuable resource you can possibly be.

9. The first month and beyond

If your convert is still using her new Linux desktop at this point, it’s probably safe to declare success! Congratulations! You’ve turned someone on to a free-software operating system. By this time, her desktop should probably be well-configured, and all the programs she needs should be installed and working properly. By this time, you’ll probably be starting to get more advanced questions than before; things like, “How do I customize function [x]?” or “What does it mean when the update manager does [something]?” If you’re lucky, you’ll know all the answers; otherwise, use these valuable resources to find out some solutions! It’s always important to learn more yourself, so that you can proceed to step 10:

10. Repeat step 1 through 9

If you’ve been lucky enough to successfully convert a Windows user to Linux, you should definitely try it again with someone else! Use what you’ve learned with your previous experience and adapt it to fit your style and your mark. If all goes well, you should have your own personal army of Linux converts in no time at all!

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9 Responses to “10 Steps to Convert a Windows User to Linux”

  1. pimapen says:

    If all goes well, you should have your own personal army of Linux converts in no time at all!

  2. morri says:

    Hi under step two you say “check out this site” but you don’t have a link provided…

    • Jonathan DePrizio says:

      Hi Morri, thanks a bunch for pointing that out! There was a syntax error in the HTML; it’s fixed now.

  3. Russ Button says:

    I’ve converted a number of people to Ubuntu Linux. It wasn’t hard because they just don’t use much beyond the web browser. One couple I know had both of their Windows machines laid to waste by a virus they caught. The second time this happened I converted them to Ubuntu Linux. All they do is use their web browser for e-mail and such. The wife sometimes uses f-spot to work with image files. That’s it.

    You’d surprised at how many people never do anything other than e-mail and web browsing work. My friends love the fact that their machine performance never degrades the way their Windows machines did, nor are they now concerned about being hit with a virus.

    I agree that Linux isn’t for everyone, but the needs of many users are so simple that the basic application set in a stock Linux install is sufficient.

  4. Steve says:

    Linux IS for your grandma! As Russ Button says, many people only use a web browser and word processor. I’ve set up Linux for people in their seventies who are very happy with it. I’ve often used pcs that would otherwise be thrown away because the hardware can’t manage Windows 7. It’s great way to reuse hardware and keep an older person in contact with others when they become less able to get out and about.

    I like to use this as an example when someone thinks Linux is too “techie” for them. I just tell them about someone who started using a computer when they were seventy and get along fine with Linux.

    I use Ubuntu because I am most familiar with it but there is plenty of choice with Linux.

  5. alfred says:

    I agree with the two previous posts. I recently installed debian squeeze on my mother’s laptop (and totally removed windows 7). The core of her computer usage is web based, so outside of learning that in debian firefox is called iceweasel (she was using firefox in windows), the learning curve is almost flat. Given that she no longer has to put up with constant Windows Update reminders, nor payment reminders from anti-virus software companies, I think she is happy with the change.

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