A few years ago I got my wife to switch to Linux. She is a great computer user, although she would probably be the first to deny this. She has done some pretty impressive things in Windows, whether it be writing her Masters’ thesis in Word (almost 100 pages!) and having it formatted to her professors’ specifications to compositing photos of her family in Corel Photo-paint 8 (which is not a simple program) for the cover of a family cookbook she compiled. She doesn’t like having to use new programs but she adapts pretty well. She is a computer user who is not afraid to use her computer (as long as things are backed up). But she doesn’t mess with her computer. And she doesn’t like me to mess with it either.

Mostly, she does word-processing, e-mail, web-browsing, and adding content to her family’s website. So when her tech support (me) switched the family computers to Linux, there was grumbling but eventually she was using it. Then I switched to Macs (in a big way) and eventually she inherited my iBook. That combined with wi-fi in our house means she uses the computer a lot. Then she started taking over the video editing for our family DVD. The other day I saw a nice little netbook at Wal-mart and thought, “I’ll have to get her one of those someday so I can get her off her Mac.” But then it hit me that she is no longer just using the common set of apps that are easily replaced with Linux equivalents. iMovie alone will be a big factor in getting her to switch.

The best chance Linux has of spreading is for Linux users to convince people and companies immediately around them to switch. In many cases, that will mean learning to do things they like to do, finding apps they can use, and teaching them how to use the new app. They’ll get your personal help in getting used to it, so it won’t be quite as scary for them. If we’re going to try to sell it to the whole world, we should back up that attitude with a willingness to put our time on the line to help some perhaps not-so-technical people to cross into the lands of Linux.

It’s one thing to sacrifice your time to make something really cool. Something that will help you. It becomes much harder when you have to make it cool for someone else too.