How do we attract the next generation?

by David Lane

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?