Every few months, new articles roll out proclaiming "this year" to be the year of the Linux Desktop. A wide selection of reasons are cited, explanations given, and various acts of patting we Linux users on the backs takes place.
I'd be first to admit that it's worth celebrating each time something is made more secure or easier. But we're still a long ways off from the average person trying out any Linux distributions on their own.
In this article, I'll discuss an untapped resource that can be used to get desktop Linux into the homes of casual users and finally jump start Linux adoption outside schools, governments and geek circles.
Local efforts, not Social Media
Promoting Linux distributions online is only half the battle. Desktop friendly distributions need to be promoted locally and in person. This means we need boots on the ground providing demonstrations, setup assistance and yes, some hands on help when it's needed.
The obvious challenge here is in getting Linux into the hands of the masses in the first place. This translates into finding capable individuals to demonstrate Linux on the desktop. The second piece to this puzzle is to find the right audience for these demonstrations. After all, demonstrating Linux to hardcore Photoshop users or to folks who are heads first into Windows gaming might not be the best approach.
After a lot of soul searching, I firmly believe that the best person to make the Linux introduction is the typical PC repair tech. I personally know a number of techs who actively use Linux and should be promoting it within their own customer bases. Sadly, only a few of them do. Their reasons vary, but generally they circle around the idea that they're just giving their clients what they want.
Not supporting Linux frankly hurts the bottom line for these repair techs. The fact is, the "Windows world" is shrinking fast thanks to mobile devices and OS X. There is no reason why Linux on the desktop could not also play a big part of that.
If a PC repair tech finds they have the same client coming back with the same malware issues over and over, doesn't it make sense to suggest an alternative solution? Unfortunately this isn't happening and no one is telling that user that Windows isn't the best platform for them.
This is where the Linux desktop comes in. Imagine presenting an operating system that is seemingly "immune" to common malware threats! For clients who rely heavily on their web browser, Linux can make a lot of sense. There is also the ability to earn a reliable source of income from these clients as well. This includes updates and basic troubleshooting issues, most of which can be done easily using remote software such as Splashtop.
What's in it for the tech
It's fairly obvious what the end user gets out of using Linux over Windows. But what about the techs? What's in it for them? In a word – relevance. I subscribe to a number of mailing lists for computer techs. The one thing I've found over the past few years is that the enterprise clients are harder to come by and home-based clients are not as prevalent as they once were.
Offering these home-based clients a reason to keep their existing computer means this frees up money for other things in their family. It also means this family has money to spend on a tech's PC maintenance offering. This offering can range from running updates, managing backups, or even handling networking issues. Additionally, this could even open the door for other opportunities like tutoring.
So if the argument made by PC techs remains that switching their clients to Linux costs them revenue, I'd point out that this is already happening. By adding the option to provide Linux on the desktop as a solution, the tech actually provides additional value that might not be found elsewhere.
Imagine being the person who "makes computers virus proof" using existing PC hardware. I've done this before and let me tell you, if done right, you come away looking like a rock star.
Linux adoption end game
Assuming techs were to "get it" and realize the importance of diversifying their available options among their home user clients, what is the next step? Honestly, it's at this point we'd begin to see a natural ground swell that benefits both involved PC techs and Linux adoption on the home front. The techs begin to see new referrals as they're “the person that makes Windows headaches disappear.” This means the Linux desktop would begin to become less of a "geeky" thing that only the most hardcore among us are using on a daily basis.
Let me be clear – supported by a professional, the Linux desktop is absolutely ready for prime time. I've successfully switched folks over to it and so long as a basic maintenance schedule is provided by folks like us, the end user couldn't be happier. The secret to keeping the end user happy is to make the entire process seem as easy as using a Chromebook. From their perspective, their data is just safe, their applications just work and if there is a problem, the tech is on-site to remedy the issue straight away.
Trading Windows problems for Linux challenges
One of the objections I've heard from die-hard Windows/OS X techs in the past is that offering Linux support is simply exchanging one set of problems for a new set. My comment back to them is if this is a problem, they need to reconsider this attitude about offering Linux support. The reality is, if you keep the data backed up and mirror the partitions, there really isn't anything deal-breaking that is going to crop up.
The only possible exception to that last statement would be laptop compatibility. My response to this concern is that not every machine is cut out for the Linux desktop. Even though 99.9% of the computing hardware out there can successfully run one Linux distro or another, sometimes a PC simply isn't going to cut it. Perhaps it's some oddball video issue or something isn't cooperating at the UFI level.
Once presented with a PC that isn't compatible, the obvious solution is to explain that the computer isn't going to work with Linux. Thankfully with desktops, this is rarely an issue.
Final thoughts and review
Let's take a moment to review, shall we? We want Linux to see a greater adoption on the desktop. The obvious promoter in this arena is the existing network of PC repair techs out there; the mom and pop shops. Monetarily, offering a third platform to support on the desktop makes these shops stand out from their competition, especially if they're offering Linux to home users. And finally, offering Linux on the desktop to home users means new clients for a tech that might otherwise be looking at losing their business, as the competition is severe these days.
Remember, at no time did I suggest forgoing support for Windows or OS X. Rather, I'm suggesting techs include a third platform in their virtual toolbox of client solutions. On the enterprise front, this is nothing new. But for the tech who might be pushed out of the marketplace or simply needs to bolster up their home user client base, offering Linux is a no-brainer. Linux+support=ongoing income and new client referrals.