As Ben Finney so aptly pointed out in my previous post, the comparison between "free beer" and "free speech" as is often used when describing FLOSS is a nice slogan -- for the insiders. But for someone who hasn't been exposed to the culture of the movement, what does this mean? Not much, really. It's vague, prone to a lot of interpretation, and very political. And "political" often has a very negative connotation in today's world. Especially in the US -- we won't go there. Beer too has a limited audience where it will hit home. Not everybody is a beer drinker, nor does everyone want to be.
So, while the politics are very attractive in most of our opinions (I love the politics), for a lot of people it's probably not the best idea to use the politics as an eye-catcher. Using GNU/Linux breeds the politics better than the politics breeds GNU/Linux users, in a lot of cases. I can picture a perfect use of the term "political suicide": going up to a group of teenagers and telling them that using Linux is cool because it's rebellious and oh-so-left-wing. Sure, it'll work great for some. The others it will just piss off badly enough to turn them off for a good long while.
We need to break out of these limited approaches in order to reach a wider audience. Here are some things we should keep in mind when promoting free software:
People hate being preached to. Just like KDE users hate being preached to about the virtues of GNOME and vice versa, most Windows users dislike being preached to about how much Windows sucks in comparison to Linux. So, rule #1: be objective - no dissing the other side. It's one thing that I noticed when glancing through TUX Magazine1 out of curiosity and interest in what seems to be a great idea. There's a certain Q&A column in this mag, authored under the handle of "Mango Parfait" that I have to say really pulls strings. She is blatantly pro-KDE and anti-GNOME, with no objectivity whatsoever. Not to mention she pulls off the stereotypical ditzy female quite well! We don't need that. Biased preaching triggers anger. Logic and objectivity are so much more effective. We're defensive a lot of times; our often jaded position has bred this reaction. We're better than that.
Rule #2: Make Linux look fun and useful. Fun is way more universal than politics or beer. Usefulness as well. One thing that is awesome about FLOSS: if you have a great idea that isn't already implemented, chances are that someone will want to make it happen - and then do it. Even if you don't have the skills to do it yourself (though that is a plus).
Rule #3: Break down the perception that $$ == good software. Simple, yes. However, lots of people expect to pay money for neat programs, thanks to our corporate buddies. Just look at the cost of Photoshop. A lot of "freeware" on Windows gives software that doesn't cost anything a bad name.
Rule #4: Emphasize our community. People like people. Faces are good. We have a head start on what many companies are trying to do in putting a personal face onto business.
Rule #5:: Seeing things work is a Good Thing(TM). We should provide a resource of Linux programs that have Windows ports, so that people can try them, get used to them, and then have familiar and comfortable applications when switching. Also, LiveCDs rock, and for more reasons than ease-of-giving-your-boss-a-heart-attack.
Obviously politics aren't the only reason why people turn to FLOSS. While some things are still in-the-works, we can push a lot: low or no-cost, flexibility and choice, community, technical superiority (not in every case, but in a lot). Ease of use is even getting up there. And don't get me wrong -- lots of groups and people are doing a great job in promotion right now! Just organizing my thoughts in a highly-visible way.
I think this is my last marketing spiel for a while. I'd rather look into those writing opportunities and work on Debian stuff for a bit ("useful stuff"). Or just relax and get some things done in the real world. And yes, I did join the GNOME marketing list.
1 Hmm, TUX Magazine could use some more GNOME writers, and has a good 50,000+ subscribers. It's a little lopsided in balance right now, and these are new people who don't necessarily have all sides of the picture -- preemptive reponse: yeah, I'll look into it.