How do we attract the next generation?

What are we doing to expose new users to Linux and Open Source solutions? My wife, after coming back from a visit to our local electronics store asked me why there were no “boxes” of Linux on the shelves, or PCs supporting the OS on display?

Once upon a time, Red Hat did sell its software in a shrink wrapped box and you could find it on the shelf next to Windows98. But that was then and this is now.

Before we get into the heart of this matter, do not bother flaming me about how “yesterday” shrink wrapped software is, or that there are plenty of options. That is not the point. The point is this – Linux is a powerful combination of software products, regardless of whose distribution you are using, but our visibility to the next generations of computer users is almost nil.

Case in point. In the 80’s and 90’s, Apple computer’s “Apples for the students” program where they put thousands of Mac into the schools, creating legions of new user. Most school systems use Windows, either because that is what is in the “corporate” back office and is therefore easy to support or that is the only software the teachers know how to use because that is what they have at home. My buddy Shawn Powers, the LJ Gadget Guy, would argue that Linux is in some schools (and it is), but is it too late?

The Reader’s Advisory Board had a discussion thread going the other day about where embedded Linux was being used. Most of us wondered about this and it was put forward that it is probably in use in more places than we realized but because of a variety of reasons, knowing it was there was harder to determine. Similarly, unless your IT group is pro-Linux and not afraid to say it, I would be willing to bet that you have no idea how much Linux is really running in the back office of your corporation. It could be a lot, it could be a little. Attitudes are changing in IT management towards a more heterogeneous environment, but many still do not want to know the hows and whys, as long as it keeps running.

Linux is the IT industry’s dirty little secret, the “glue” that keeps it all going, with growth more organic than structural. But how do we expose the next generation of kids to this technology when we are not in their face like other folks, and how do we get in their face and show our value?


David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Is it a local or global problem?

KimTjik's picture

I've my doubts about the general truism of this article. Yes I'm closer to 40 than to 30, but my impression when checking the list of developers of many projects is that they're usually between 18 - 25 years of age. When further investigating the forums I suddenly feel very old, since teenagers represent a large part of the user-base. So I tell myself: "this must be the phenomena of a geek filter".

However when checking the overall opinions on some hardware forums the picture is pretty consistent, because even though these kind of forums tend to be predominantly Microsoft Windows oriented, which is understandable since most are gamers and overclockers, those members are definitely more Linux-concerned today. No secret that we encounter some silly fights with words between different camps of operating-system sympathisers, still there's a rudimentary wish of seeing Linux progress, and hostility toward hardware manufacturers that ignores Linux. Why? Because even though the majority of these youngsters aren't ready to go 100 % Linux or BSD, they have seen the beauty of Linux/BSD's flexibility, how they pretty easily can set up a server, how it can boost speed on low spec hardware, among other reasons. Some of them even get so bored with the same game-ideas being repacked over and over again, only a bit fancier, that they start to search for some other use and challenges in computing, thus Linux/BSD becoming the natural step. A growing part of home users have a heterogeneous computer environment, which is very positive.

History has proven that Linux/BSD doesn't need a dominant market share to progress. The desktop will of course continue to be a challenge, since anti-open-source forces still are strong. However the core which makes it all grow is stronger than ever. Furthermore, how old are those young Linux developers who initially made it happen? Could it be that some of those have settled down and now have families? If so, I think we could expect a natural growth and tradition.

Maybe the real issue is a lack of patience among us who gets older? There are dangers lurking, and Microsoft might make some desperate and harmful moves if their business model starts to shrink drastically. Instead of getting too high hopes of conquering the world, it's encouraging to see many projects cooperate in an attempt to safeguard themselves against future ridiculous patent attacks. As long as the core is green and pumping energy, and new ideas and innovations are born, progress will continue and results will eventually become evident even when talking about market shares of desktop computers. That's at least my opinion.


DOUGman's picture

Sorry to say this, but I think people are so ingrained with consumerism, that if something isn't sold for profit, then it isn't worth anything. Fine.. hire a company to repackage the major Distro's and charge $150.00 each. They just started doing this with Ubuntu at Best Buy.


Next Generation is here.

Phlatt U Lunz's picture

It is my understanding that Ubuntu Linux is now being sold in your local BestBuy.
Maybe you should check out articles in competing Linux magazines to see what the next generation has to say.

It isn't all gloom. The bright ones will discover it.

On Sale?

David Lane's picture

Well, Ubuntu maybe on sale at your BestBuy, but not at mine. This does not mean that it isn't being sold, simply that it is not as ubiquitous as it needs to be.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

Into the schools!

JohnMc's picture

Schools are traditionally strapped for cash. An enterprising LUG could leverage that fact of life as a group project. There are several distros specifically trageted as educational tools. Its sort of the Apple model, only for Linux.

talk, blog, vote with your dollars

Gavin's picture

I think the best way to get the next generation involved is to keep on doing the things we are already doing. We're blogging about it, talking about it, and supporting it. But one can always do more.

My group support Linux, and we have interns. These interns see the effectiveness of Linux in the enterprise. We teach them to fish, or how to do it themselves. They will carry that on with them.

Marketing is important, so we should vote with our dollars when we get the chance. We can do that by purchasing contracts from companies that do this marketing, like Red Hat and Canonical.

One user at a time

Michael Raugh's picture

I expose my kids by having Linux in the house. They noticed right away that our home server got a lot faster when I removed Windows (NT -- this was a few years ago) and put on SuSE and SAMBA. When my daughter's hard drive crashed in her laptop I replaced the drive but put OpenSuSE on it instead of XP, and the performance difference on an aging machine made her a believer. I gave one of my sons a Dell Inspiron 1525 preloaded with Ubuntu as a graduation present last spring. He loves that machine and only goes back to the family XP box to play Neverwinter Nights.

I like to think I'm stickin' it to Steve one user at a time.


...or sticking it to the

Mark Cahill's picture

...or sticking it to the Steves :-)

The catch-22 is how to make a product that is by nature non-competitive a competitive player in the marketplace. I like the idea of charging for Ubuntu,, etc. There's a lot of psychology at play here. You get the name out there, and corporations will start buying the shrink wrapping (which will of course include support. What else would the money go to?), and the 14 year olds will start typing things into Google like "download free Ubuntu" and getting the Ubuntu home page.

Stick it to them hard.

Fight in the workplace

Anonymous's picture

I work at the largest IT-service provider in my country (European country) and I am the sole user of Linux in an all Windows environment. When I started my contract people were curious and intrigued by "The Linux-man" (as they still call me) and some of them wanted to learn more and a couple even adopted the most popular of the "easy" "people oriented" distributions on their second laptops. But all that quickly faded away. I try every day to push the company to go Linux/GNU/Apache on projects to cut the expenses (licenses to Microsoft and others) and bring more revenue to the company, but although they (mostly) agree, I cannot seriously say that I have found a lot of adopters of my way of thinking. I can do whatever I want. People respect that and they like my products. But the fact is that people will not sit down and take the time to configure apache or install linux/gnu on a server or even look for open sourced variants of applications that the customer wants. The only exceptions here are VLC and Firefox - and even those are hard to overcome.

I think the problem lies in the business models of the IT-companies (that does not actively focus on using Linux/GNU/OSS). The strategical thinking is provided by people completely inept at technology and they hire what they are used to; MS-"gurus" with little or no competence in other fields than running the setup.exe from a zip-file and filling in the license details. And I understand why. People with that kind of knowledge is easy to come by. People with the rudimentary coding-/scripting-skills required to work in the POSIX environment is rare. Although some of my friends spent years in the university aquiring that knowledge - they still choose to work by executing the setup-files in compressed packages.

It is a shame. But what we really need is smarter people. And the only way of making that happen is, like one poster here said, to expose the kids. Kids is the hope of the future. And I must admit that I really do not think that I would be much into Linux if I did not get exposed to it at a really early stage in life (pre win95).

(btw: I use a mac (as my primary machine) at home and will continue to do so for many many years to come)

The new MoveOn info marketing

Crystal Edwards's picture

Personal opinion: Linux needs a marketing model. When you stop laughing, I'll tell you why.

Up at the tippy-top of many American corporations, they're asking for updates and help with their servers at very low cost. If you ask them about Linux as a possibility, they respond, "Isn't that what college kids use?" or "It isn't safe." There is so much misinformation out there, that even if a shrink-wrapped box was on a shelf you wouldn't get the PHBs to give it much beyond a wince.

First, the organic marketing model; then, the shrink-wrap. If someone's using it at work, they're more inclined to consider it at home (c.f., Outlook, Excel).

Yes, marketing

Chris Lees's picture

Word-of-mouth marketing is very powerful - that's what I was taught in my Communications course at university.

So far, Linux has been spreading through word-of-mouth. As the userbase grows, word spreads ever faster.

At this stage I don't think shrinkwrapping or advertisements will attract the right people to Linux - the "right" people are those who are expecting there to be differences from Windows. Word-of-mouth, however, is great because the person giving the word can figure out if their intended target is the right sort of person, and whether Linux is suitable for them. And can provide assistance in setup too.

How powerful is word-of-mouth, really? Well, I got my workmate using Linux. She told one of her friends about Linux, and now I'm going over to this person's house to see if she and her hardware are right for Linux.


Luigimax's picture

the main (possibly only) reason microsoft is at the top is not because of their "supperior product" (queue laughter) but because of gates' briliant marketing. now in recent years its the only thing keeping it afloat. especialy after the last few os flops (ME, Vista).

the cure for os visibility would be Games. most kids that use computers play games. once it gets to an even playing feild mac and linux will easely take microsoft. though i agree that to do that linux would need a marketing plan of some sort(advertisements, adds, support with faster flash- wich currently sucks)

I agree

David Lane's picture

I never even chuckled. It is one of the many things the movement needs.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack