The Cinnamon desktop

Opening Linux Even Further

I’m writing a book about learning to use the Linux operating system.

When you’re writing a book, one of the first questions your publisher asks you is who is your audience.

If you’re writing a book about something like golang, your audience is either the people already using it or the people who want to use it. Either way, they’re easy to find. They’re on sites about golang. And then, after you find them on those sites, you can tell them about the book.

But a book about learning Linux is tougher. Because you either know it or they don’t. If you have Linux installed and running, you won’t need my book. And if you don’t have it installed, where are you? I know who you are:

  • You’re technically-inclined, but might not have a technical job. You like to tweak your interfaces, though.
  • You have specific thoughts about your workflow. You’re probably opinionated about it, too.
  • You’re doing serious work and not just watching YouTube videos all day.
    FULL DISCLOSURE: I watch a lot of YouTube videos…

Linux seems very technical. When people think about it, they think about servers and terminal screens. It doesn’t seem very user-friendly. But I know that it is friendly. I run a site called My Linux Rig. One of the features is interviews with people about their Linux setups. While it does skew coder/developer/sysadmin heavy, there are lots of interviews with people from outside of those worlds. So non-technical users are open to the idea of Linux. But too many don’t even know Linux exists as a viable day-to-day operating system.

Why Linux? Because Windows and OS X want you to feel like you’re on your phone or tablet. Commercial operating systems are no longer designed for people doing work. They’re being designed for people writing emails and liking Facebook posts. People doing serious work on their computers are forced to work within these constraints.

That’s where Linux comes in. Linux as a variety of interfaces, called desktop environments, that allow you to change the very interface of your computer. You can make it look spartan or you can find something that looks like the much-beloved Windows XP. You can find something modern or something that rethinks the desktop concept. You can craft an experience that fits your work style, rather than working within the limitations of your operating system.

The KDE desktop

This kind of thing isn’t for everyone. Lots of people use their computers for email and Facebook. That’s fine. They’re not the audience for my book. I’m trying to find the people sick of their current operating system; the people who want their computers to help them work smarter. When I imagine those people, they’re writers, journalists, and academics. The people I interview — but before they discovered Linux.

The challenge is that these people are everywhere and nowhere. They’re not in a single place. They don’t necessarily have technical jobs. They might not even realize they’re dissatisfied with their current operating system. Maybe they’ve heard of Linux but maybe they haven’t. The only commonality is that they’re doing serious work and want a say in how it’s done.

Which is why it’s time for Linux users to make Linux more visible. Talk about it. Show it to people. Let them know they have options. Not so that I can sell books, although that would be nice, but so that people can see that desktop Linux isn’t that hard and can make their lives much, much easier.

The tech world uses the term convert a lot. If a user comes to your site and buys something, a conversion’s been made — a viewer was converted to a purchaser. But I appreciate the religious connotations of the word (if not the colonialist implications). I like the idea of converting people to Linux in the sense of making it a part of their daily lives. It’s why I’m writing my book — I want to help people switch to Linux. I want to help people be more productive. I want to teach people the power of choice within their operating system.

There are lots of reasons to use desktop Linux — security, privacy, and cost all leap to mind — but to me the most compelling one is that it makes life easier. It allows the user to do what she wants in the way that she wants to. Linux is about productivity, but it’s also about choice.

If you’re a Linux user, choose one person and talk to them about it. Not for a long time — just give them a 30-second pitch about why they might like to check it out. And if you’re not a Linux user, just think about it. Read up on it. See if it’s right for you. Because odds are if you’re thinking about Linux at all, it’s probably the right choice for you.

The code behind Linux is already open. Now let’s start opening up its user base.