7 Tips to help your friends move to Linux

Rikki Kite

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

May 28, 2010 GMT
Rikki Kite

One of my favorite geek shirts is my ZaReason 'Friends help friends use Linux' shirt, which I was in the mood to wear last night after I helped my friend move to Linux. My non-technical friend was suffering from a sickly Windows Vista PC. She'd caught herself a nasty virus (she blames an old Red Hot Chili Peppers video, but we'll never know for sure). Other people had suggested that my budget-conscious friend move to Linux.

Tip #1: Don't tell your non-technical friends to move to Linux. Please, just don't do this. If you do this, you set them up to hate it. Your friend might be like my friend, who just wants her email, music, and internet to work. My friend doesn't want to install, configure, or troubleshoot. Yes, she's certainly smart and capable enough, but she's just not interested. She's got two teenagers and some chickens to raise and a business to run, and she'd rather live without her computer than spend hours tweaking it. I told my friend I'd be right over to see whether I could help, and I brought along my laptop, a couple of Linux DVDs, and my external hard drive to rescue her music and photos. Friends help friends move.

Tip #2: Help your friend find her new home. Before any move, it's important to evaluate whether you are in the market for a new house, or whether a repair or remodel will do. My friend didn't love Vista - she loves staying in touch with her friends online, organizing her digital photos, searching the web with the help of her meticulously organized bookmarks, watching videos online, and listening to her music collection while she surfs. My friend is an artist and on a tight budget, so spending money unnecessarily on her computer is... well... unnecessary. With her preferences in mind, my friend agreed that how she uses her system is more important than which system she uses. She agreed that she could would rather move away from Windows than invest any more money or time in it.

Tip #3: Give your friend a map. Show your friend where she is on the map now, and where she could be if she moves to Linux. Tell your friend what Linux is, and what it isn't. My friend and I have known each other for 22 years. We met in the late '80s, back in our glorious punk rock days. I told my friend that she of all people should love the Linux neighborhood -- it's the punk rock operating system, after all. I explained the community philosophy behind Linux: Who wouldn't be impressed by the amazing international network of diverse people who freely contribute their time and energy to create and improve such delicious Linux flavors? I explained what "Linux" means, and that there are many different Linux distros to choose from. And I told my friend what things might frustrate her about Linux, including the learning curve of using new programs and the need to install updates regularly. Then I pointed out that the system she spent her hard-earned money on was currently useless to her and would require even more money and effort before she could use it again.

Tip #4: Help your friend pack. I popped a Knoppix DVD into my friend's computer and we both ooh'ed and ahh'ed over the magic that is Knoppix. What a cool distro! We could see all my friend's files and move every single one of them onto my external hard drive without a pesky virus shutting us down. (I also told my friend that Klaus Knopper, the guy behind this really cool distro, writes a column for us every month. How could I not gush about how cool it is that the person behind this magical DVD also answers reader-submitted questions?!) I handed over my Knoppix DVD as the official backup plan for my friend. Now that we'd found a new home and packed her possessions - it was time!

Tip #5: Help your friend move. My friend watched as I popped in the Ubuntu 10.04 DVD and installed it. She saw how easy it is: click, click, click, wait a second, click click, yay! She said I made it look easy. In reality, Ubuntu made me look good -- I just clicked. (Oh dear... moving analogy needed. How's this: Ubuntu was the moving crew and I just barked a few orders.)

Tip #6: Give your friend the grand tour of her new home. I put my friend's saved files onto her new system and showed her where to find them, where to find games and the word processing program, how to install new programs, which programs would edit her images and play her tunes, and how to surf the web. (And look! There's your handy collection of bookmarks I saved along with your photos and music files! Feeling at home already.)

Tip #7: Don't leave 'em hanging! I told my friend to call me if she got stuck, has questions, or needs help. This step is very important! (And it's a lot easier for you to help your friend than for me to help your friend remotely when she calls our editorial number after you leave her hanging -- and believe me, we get these calls.) Remember that your friend has moved away from her comfort zone, as uncomfortable as it might have been! She will need a little time to get used to her new Linux surrounding, and knowing that you didn't leave her alone in a fixer-upper can make the difference between her loving her new system... or hating you.

I checked in with my friend last night and emailed, "Welcome to the wonderful world of Linux - I hope you love it!"

Here's how she responded:
8:07pm: ":) very pleased so far ! stumbling my way through..."

I wrote back, "I won't leave you hanging! Just let me know if you have questions or need troubleshooting."

This morning I woke up to this:
8:07am: "this is really cool rikki ~~i'm lovin' it."

What other tips do you have for helping your friends move to Linux?


  • Great

  • Another "Think" on number 1

    I look at it as having your friend wear a life jacket when first learning to swim in three feet of water. It's not needed but it gives the first-timer more confidence that he/she isn't going to blow the hard drive out of the machine. It gives that "I can always go back" feeling.
  • Yes, #1 really is wrong

    I agree with the first commenter: step 1 is wrong. If you don't want to spend hours keeping your computer up to date and figuring out what goes wrong, move away from Windows. I switched our entire home to Linux because I didn't want to literally spend days each month keeping them all updated.
  • #1 is wrong

    Ubuntu is really easy for non-technical users. A classmate of my daughter, 8yr old, installed it by himself after seeing it at her computer. He has stuck with it since then on his dual boot system.

    A friend of mine changed to Ubuntu after a lot of problems with windows (malware, viruses, hardware issues) and is very pleased. He had never installed an operating system before that and did it without even asking me.
  • Pros and Cons

    James1st, I agree -- I think it was helpful to my friend to see 2 Linux versions from the beginning. Knoppix and Ubuntu are equally cool, but for different reasons.
  • Maybe another tip...

    Don't allow yourself to get into any kind of an argument, when discussing the O.S. All of them have pros and cons, so stay away from the debate.
  • Oh Wow

    Writtem on 5/28 and has a whopping six comments eight days later. Now that's a real sign of a popular opinin and method.
  • netbook

    Leslie, Thanks for the tip! I've tried a different approach each time I've helped someone move to Linux. I'll try your suggestion next time! (and there will be a next time for sure)
  • Netbook

    If you're going to help a friend move to linux, the best way, in my humble opinion, is a netbook distribution. That way, your friends *can* just push a button and go.
  • Knoppix DVD

    I also told my friend that Klaus Knopper, the guy behind this really cool distro, writes a column for us every month. How could I not gush about how cool it is that the person behind this magical DVD also answers reader-submitted questions?!) I handed over my Knoppix DVD as the official backup plan for my friend. Now that we'd found a new home and packed her possessions.
    <a href="http://www.mcsatests.com">mcsa test</a>
  • good advice

    Thank you. This is the kind of advice I've been needing. Very practical.
  • love the analogy

    Thank you for this "moving" article! It should help many of us think outside the "box" when tempted to just hand over a liveCD.
    Thanks again!
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