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You Can Hack An OS But You Can't Hack People - part 4: Godzilla moves in with Bambi

Date/Time Permalink: 05/11/08 07:50:20 pm
Category: General

And so, many (but not all) Windows citizens now want to emigrate to either Apple or Linux.

I assure you, this situation is far, far graver than any of the rest of you seem to know. As much guesswork as it is figuring out who runs what, I'm going to take this recent Desktop Survey article. We'll peg their numbers at 7.38% desktop market share for Apple, and 0.63% for Linux. That leaves Windows at a mere 91.72%. These figures match our conventional wisdom pretty accurately.

So Apple and Linux users, you want to kill Windows? Oh, sure! Hey, let's convert all the Windows users to Linux! Gosh, it's that easy, is it? Piece of cake!

OK, let's say every carpet-ba... ah.. I mean "Linux evangelist" gets their magical wish and *poof*, overnight, all of the Windows users decide to switch to Apple and Linux.

Here is the point that just about everybody seems to fail at: logistics. Let's start by illustrating the math a little more clearly. This infographic illustrates the relative sizes of the three platforms by user base:

market share comparison

Now, let's pick up the Windows ball and drop it on the Apple and Linux balls. Guess what kids! Your neighbor Windows is coming over for a little visity-poo! KA-THUD! Oooooh, doesn't it look like everybody's having fun?

Because, see, Windows users migrating to another system will need help. They will have questions, and they will need an Apple or Linux user to answer them. Going by the world total of Internet users, there's 1.4 billion Internet users. That means (roughly) that there's 1.28 billion Windows users who will need help from 103 million Apple users and 8.8 million Linux users combined. Which means for every 145 of the Windows users who want to switch to Linux, there is just one (1) person to answer all of their questions.

Oh, and we're never allowed to recommend you read a manual. That would make us out to be some nasty elitists! No, every step must be typed in by hand in forums and chat rooms, over and over for each person, with lots of backing-up and re-explaining when the Windows refugee gets confused. And remember, your average ex-Windows user has the patience of a bat out of hell. Just like Stan Beer, who, you recall at the beginning of this series if you read his article to the end, snivels, "I've had my polite request for help with wireless input sitting on the Ubuntu forum for 24 hours. It has been read 27 times and received zero responses."

For that matter, plenty of that (<1%) Linux user base is new, too. We're still explaining Linux to each other, just within the community. Me, I don't even have a machine with wireless input. Isn't home-made desktop boxes with cabled ethernet good enough for anybody? If I ever get around to buying a brand new laptop made this year with a wireless card, I'd be happy to hack on it and figure it out in my spare time and then post the answer to Mr. Beer's question, where I wouldn't be surprised if he will still be waiting after this past year, and where, I'm thinking, he will still want more help after that and will fume off at the end calling me elitist. But anyway, there you go. It's in my inbox. But I have other things to do with the money this month besides buy a new laptop, like, you know, eat.

If you're asking yourself at this point, "My God! Why would anyone want to use Linux or Apple if they had to put up with that all the time?" Well, that goes to show how good these alternative platforms are. The benefits do compensate.

Throughout the rest of this series, I'll give Linux the benefit of the doubt and call it a 2% market share and knock Windows back to an even 90%, just for brevity's sake.

Getting back to the point: This is just one of the hundreds of issues to consider, even if we solve the problem of how to get Windows users to switch. You do know that most Linux distros are released for download on a server that runs on donations and hope, don't you? They aren't all Red Hat and Suse. So when a new release comes along, the servers get swamped. They do that right now, at 2% market share. At even 50% market share with the current situation, I'd imagine your Ubuntu download would just finish in time for the next release.

The size of a population shapes its infrastructure. You can go to a Caribbean island and find small boats and bicycles are all anybody needs to get around. Go to New York, and now it's subways and taxis. The thing is, the Linux culture needs to be able to scale to the size where it could handle those teeming masses. "Google it" or "ask in our IRC #channel" works fine for taking on new people one at a time, but is inadequate for five-figure waves of new people.

Indeed, that could be where a lot of the friction which we experience right now comes from. That's where I have a problem with blind evangelism. It's all hype and enthusiasm, no follow-through. You don't cure illiteracy by slinging books at people; you have to stay behind and teach each one to read.

There are many more issues I'd like to point out with the sheer, swelling numbers of Windows users, but it's time to move on. In getting the Windows culture merged into the Linux culture, we have problems yet to face that will make simply being outnumbered 15-to-1 (or 145-to-1) seem like a one-banana problem.

That's to come in part 5.

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