Every now and again with my other favourite platform someone will come along and ask "Why bother?" (usually followed by a snide remark or two). If the comment seems to be of genuine interest, I'll answer. I do the same when dealing with prejudice with the Linux platform. What I don't do is give my time to the defense of something I like, enjoy and prefer to use. I don't mind spending time when it comes to helping to inform someone about what we can do with our systems (Commodore or Linux), but I don't see any point in having a long drawn out argument with someone closed minded. I have better things to do with my time, and I've found that these remarks are often made to see how much of a rise they can get.
It's one thing to have a preference for what we like, it's quite another when we start arguing with others over which is better. This is something that seems deeply ingrained in our psyche--people argue over Republicans vs Democrats, vi vs Emacs, KDE vs Gnome, Linux vs Windows. Having a choice is important; forcing your choice onto others isn't.
Respect is earned. It isn't something you can receive by way of apology or by preaching that your OS is better than any other. Your goal should be to let others know that you use Linux, not to convince them to install Linux at their first opportunity. The reason? People who are only casually interested will be turned off with a hard sell approach. Instead, plant a seed of interest and wait to see what develops.
My opportunities to introduce others to Linux generally come in one of two different ways. Sometimes a client will be in the workshop, notice the desktop on my monitor doesn't look anything like they've ever seen, and comment "What kind of computer is that?". The other common scenario is when I am out somewhere and the conversation turns to computers.
How far I go in taking "advantage" of introducing Linux depends on what happens after the initial few moments. In the first scenario, if the person tells me they're computer illiterate and don't know a thing about them, I generally go back to work and don't worry about it. If they show an interest and mention some aspect of computing they enjoy, I'll try to show them what software I use to accomplish the same, or simply give them a brief demonstration of some of my Linux favourites. Much depends on the attitude expressed and the amount of free time I have. In the second type of scenario, I generally comment that I use Linux and wait for the response, "Oh, I've heard about that, is it any good?", and carry on from there. If the casual comment hits a nerve and the other person doesn't want to know, I don't waste any further time on the subject. On at least one occasion, this has worked very well, as a few months later the person who told me Linux wasn't a real operating system rang me up and asked about Linux software. If I had argued with them in the first instance, chances are they would have looked elsewhere for support.
Consider it against the rules to say anything against "the competition". The competition speaks for itself each time your friend has to reboot their computer or when they get the dreaded "blue screen of death". Talking down the other person's choice of operating system isn't going to endear you to them.
It's by far easier to demonstrate some of the cooler things about using Linux by actually showing your guest what can be done. If possible, try to show something that you have plenty of experience using. I tend to make use of a few of my favourite GIMP script-fu scripts, or the ability to have multiple virtual windows in Enlightenment. If it's appropriate, be sure to show how long your computer has been up without a reboot. Go with the interest of your guest--show them things they have an interest in.
If you've never used a particular type of software, now isn't the time to take a crash course. Murphy's Law can strike at any time, and it's my experience that this law is magnified ten-fold when there's someone watching what you're doing.
If asked about some aspect of Linux that you can't answer, don't try to bluff. And if there's something you really don't like, say so--first of all, it gives you credibility. I don't tell people installing Linux is easy--it may be easier with current distributions, but my first experience was a long six week learning period. I enjoy learning, so it wasn't a terrible experience, but I wouldn't call it easy either. Was it worth it? Oh my, yes.
One of the comments we hear from people first introduced to Linux is one that relates to the amount of software that's available. For some reason, they assume that the only way to add new software to a Linux system is by way of magazine CDs. Unfortunately, (especially in my area), magazines that mainly support other operating systems tend to only have a few token Linux archives on their CDs if any, thus perpetuating the myth. As soon as we hear the phrase bemoaning software, we introduce them to Freshmeat (http://freshmeat.net) and Tucows Linuxberg (http://linuxberg.tucows.com).
If we've had to deal with the software myth, the next stage is to let others know where to find information about Linux. This is easily done by having a few Linux Journal and other Linux-related magazines handy, as well as pointing them to on-line resources such as Linux.Com, LinuxNewbie.org, Linuxtoday.com or SlashDot. Also, make it a point to let local people know about user groups in the area, and that there are many mailing lists with help just an e-mail away.
Nothing is more convincing than when you can describe what you like the most about something. In my case, it's freedom of choice--not only for the type of operating system I choose to use, but for how my desktop looks, which utilities I choose to use, and the financial freedom of being able to use high-quality software such as the GIMP without having to pay outrageous licensing fees. Along with this comes the freedom (and/or) responsibility to participate by writing articles or offering suggestions for software improvements. It's a chance to give something back to the community that's given me much more than "just" a choice of operating system.
Gaelyne Gasson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a web admin in South Australia and the author of The Internet for Commodore C64/128 Users. She can be found on-line at http://gaelyne.com.