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Tales from the Dorkside
In May 7 Issue
By Jeff Smith, Columnist

Ubuntu's new user interface is making waves among die-hard fans.  Some claim that it is just what is needed to entice new users to make the switch, while others complain about having to learn a new interface.

The interface in question, dubbed "Unity" is a leap ahead from the classic Gnome-desktop that Ubuntu has sported since its inception.  Following and, arguably, improving upon the recent design changes in Windows 7's user interface, old hands at using Ubuntu are having a little trouble navigating the new system.  But new users are finding it to be very easy to get around it and get things done.  Fortunately for the legacy users, the old interface is just a couple clicks away, so really they're just grumbling to be grumbling.  The pure and simple truth to the matter is that people generally don't like change.  And while being a Linux user often signifies that you embraced change at one point, it doesn't mean that you're ready for a constant flow of change and having to constantly relearn how to do things in new ways.  Even Linux users can get comfortably entrenched with a specific user interface.  For you Windows users reading this, just think about how alien and intimidating Windows Vista looked the first time you saw it.

Strangely enough, though, Vista is mostly responsible for breaking users out of this stick-in-the-mud mentality. Mostly because it is so horrible and people don't really want to believe Microsoft's promises about Windows 7 after their promises about Vista proved so false.

On average, I convert one to three Windows users over to Ubuntu each week.  Just me.  And it is getting easier and easier.  Where I used to have to explain the benefits until I was blue in the face, nowadays I just mention it, tell them it's better and more secure, and they're ready for me to hook it up for them, and looking forward to trying something new and worry-free.  Honestly, I think the ability to convince someone to switch is more reliant on the confidence of the person doing the recommending, rather than the UI of the desktop itself.  This is said after switching over 200 people, personally, from all walks of life, so my confidence in what I am saying is very high, and perhaps that comes across when I talk about it.

The average users are ready for change, many of them just don't have a clue what their real options are.

 Every year some Linux nerd declares on a blog that this will finally be the "Year of the Linux Desktop"... that Linux will finally take its place as the most widely used operating system on the planet.  And while I think that Linux itself is ready for this to happen, I really don't think it will happen any time soon.

The biggest thing that Ubuntu users can do to get people to switch is just to tell more people about it and explain that its more secure than Windows.  Making a better UI, while the efforts are appreciated, is not gonna do anything to bring in new people if those new people never hear about it.  

The problem hampering Linux adoption is that the majority of Linux users have been wanting to celebrate the "Year of the Linux Desktop" for so long that all the old hands and die-hard fans are tired of talking, but the true "Year of the Linux Desktop" is not dependent on how great we make Linux... Linux is already great.  It depends on how sick people are with what they're using now.  And right now, the Windows users are all fairly disgusted.

People won't be switching because they are enticed by a prettier desktop, they'll come because the promise of a computer that won't take a crap on them every time a new virus comes out, won't lock up every time they open an email, and won't betray them and their personal information to the first instance of spyware that comes along.  All these things are true of Ubuntu.  It is more secure than Windows, and loads more stable, but when I first mention it to people, all I usually get back is a blank stare.  Hardly anyone has heard about it, which is a shame.  You'd have thought that some of the people that I personally converted would be taking up the banner and spreading the word as well, but I guess not everyone shares my evangelistic nature.  You know how many people I've had who decided to switch back to Windows?  two.

Today's average computer users couldn't care less about the interface, so long as they can do email, spreadsheets, and word processing, browse the net without mishap, edit and post photos to the net, and get to their Facebook page to take care of their virtual potatoes.  The average user has simple needs, just wants a computer that works, and works reliably.  Ubuntu accomplishes these things without a steep learning curve.  Its geeks that complain about UI progression, and want things to never change.

The average Windows user is much more flexible, at least right now.  They got Vista forced down their throats, and they realized it was a piece of junk that didn't live up to the hype.  This transformed their "no-change" mantra to a "whatever gets the job done" mantra.  Now with Windows 7, their suspension of disbelief with Microsoft is at an all time low.  And honestly, I'm seeing as many infected Windows 7 computers in my repair shop as any other version of Windows, so their doubt in Windows 7 is justified

Mac?  The average person doesn't have enough money to pay their mortgage, let alone get a mac.  Its like having a vaccum hose in your pocketbook.

You want to get a Windows user to switch?  Just ask them, and don't be apprehensive about it.  You'd be surprised.  

Explain to them that there are 2 million windows viruses versus 40 or so obsolete linux viruses.  

Explain to them that on Linux, viruses can't even execute without permission to do so, so new Linux viruses just aren't really able to spread like Windows viruses.  

Explain to them that the internet is still the internet and they'll be able to Facebook all day without catching the compu-plague.  

Explain to them that it is easier to learn Linux if they are NOT already Windows power users, since they won't have a boatload of expectations about how things should be laid out.  

Explain all these things, and most people are more than willing to make the switch.

Be sure to check out next week when guest geek Ryan Garret gives his in depth review of the new Ubuntu release! 

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