While I believe the organizers of such fests have their hearts in the right place, more often than not I am finding these events cater to those who are merely looking for help getting something to work with the OS.
I see this as limiting. Not because theres anything wrong with it, rather because there is so much more these same knowledgeable individuals could be doing with the general public.
Why not begin exploring other more public, socially accepted forums for promoting the Linux alternative? Mall kiosks for example. Considering how successful these mobile ventures can be, wouldnt this be an ideal platform to promote a freely available OS such as Linux to anyone who will listen?
After all, people feel a need to associate their operating system with some designated business or organization, not a faceless community of people who are adept technically. By providing a "face" to the experience, participants will feel comfortable enough with trying the new OS and do so without the disservice of others putting down the idea of using something other than Windows.
Perhaps even more important, theyll try an alternative that does not refer to a Windows box as "PC."
Apple is not the only alternative show in town.
When it comes to having an operating system that just "works," Apple's OS X is hardly the only show in town. Today's OEM Linux solutions provide more software out of the box than any other desktop operating system sold today period.
Even more amazing is the fact that there are more software applications to try and explore than most people realize. And all of them are available to those who are willing to download and try them.
Take that same pitch above, tie in some knowledgeable sales people and a sweet venue with fairly heavy foot traffic, and the results will likely be favorable for you. Right away, youll have those passing by asking questions about software availability, using existing applications and perhaps most importantly how much does it cost in comparison to Windows?
The mall kiosk customer what to expect.
In my experience, the mall kiosk is a great marketplace where potential customers can stop by to make a new discovery with a product that could very well change the way they look at computers forever.
Considering the financial savings on software, the fact that the user ends up with a PC free from malware and the entire package is less in cost than a comparable Mac pre-installed Linux boxes might very well sell themselves.
But not without fully understanding the mindset of the typical mall customer. The likely kiosk customer is generally:
At the mall to make a purchase, potentially in a buying mood.
Likely using Windows, possibly open to exploring OS alternatives.
Open to being impressed with overall value, not clever marketing gimmicks.
Possible approach to initiating an OS switch with a typical mall customer:
Give away a CD with your preferred distribution ready to roll. So long as you make it clear that laptop wireless is "hit or miss" with made-for-Windows equipment, you might see individuals contacting you for an OS installation or PC purchase.
Ensure the mall buyer is told why they should care immediately as you have only seconds to capture their attention. Signs such as "Zero computer viruses" and "Microsoft Office alternative for free" are good places to start from as well. Remember, its not how it benefits you, rather how Linux benefits the end user you are speaking with.
Brutal honesty. Regardless whether you represent a for-profit or non-profit club working to promote Linux, you need to be totally frank when asked the tough questions. The truth about support for select all-in-ones and wireless devices must be made clear in conversation. After the brutal honesty, provide a simple solution, such as compatible USB wireless dongles.
What can you expect from presenting your Linux wares at a mall kiosk:
Mac users showing little interest. Not because OS X is better per se, rather Mac users are generally already quite content with their own operating system. Short of putting off a new equipment purchase, I would not expect a lot of success here.
Windows users expressing concern about support for this OS and the ability to compute as they always have. Will their printer work, how does one go about getting new software installed and so on. These are important items of interest for many Windows users looking to switch.
Who supports the interested individual when they find themselves in a bind? This one is key if youre not willing to support the OS in this venue, do not bother promote it.
Trade Shows: Yielding more Windows-to-Linux conversions.
Despite the ongoing success youll see with a mall kiosk as a point of contact/sale, it is safe to say that a booth at a trade fair might be preferred overall. This is especially true if the end goal is aimed at Linux advocacy and possible OS conversion for those you speak with. There is something about a trade show audience that provides you with a captive mindset not seen with the typical mall crowd.
Yet regardless of the venue you choose, presenting your Linux advocacy efforts as a business providing solutions will demonstrate more results than the typical non-profit doing little more than simply passing out Linux CDs and talking about how great their favorite distribution happens to be.
Here is why:
Users want a means of computing safely, not a new software religion. So the usual "software freedom" routine is not going to convert most people where as demonstrated value will.
Support without compromise. End users do not want to be handed a CD from some event, told how wonderful it is and then find themselves unable to reconnect to the Internet after some mysterious update. These individuals need local, in-home assistance. Provide it or forget it.
Mainstream motive. The fact remains that most people identify more with the business trying to make a sale than a group of hackers looking to change the world. All this means is that sometimes it helps to nudge the hackers out of the public relations/sales department. We need those hackers to keep cooking up the code, but they also need some front people to help get the word out in a less geeky fashion.
Install 'fests are fun, but...
As previously stated , Linux install fests are a lot of fun for all involved. However if adoption is the end goal for those passionate about the Linux community at large, then more focus needs to be put on follow-thru solutions that meet the needs of the casual computer user. Support, ease of use and availability.
My perspective on this remains with a smarter venue for distribution and a stronger support system than the local Linux user group. Because it is not just the enterprise user looking for world class support from their operating system, its also the casual user looking to find the best value possible for the best possible price.