A Few (Hundred) Good Men... and Women Needed.

by Steve Mallett

Related link: http://osdir.com/PNphpBB2-index--.phtml

With the inevitable barrage of PR that's about to come out of LinuxWorld I'd like to remind everyone that there is no one vendor that can attract and retain Linux users. Just like SCO can't scare normal everyday people off of using Linux.. the Redhats, SuSEs, Mandrakes, Debians, et al. can't retain users simply by providing Linux to them. Linux's second greatest asset is the people around it.

One good reason that Windows is so insanely popular (among many bad reasons) is that everyone knows someone, a neighbor, who can help them with problems. We need and require the same kind of folks who use Linux. Once someone installs Linux there are inevitably questions upon questions that they will either want or need answered. They need a place to come and get those questions answered.

One thing that I've tried doing with OSDir.com is to provide some feedback on applications so new users can determine which might be best suited to what they need and help get them up to speed using open source applications as painlessly as possible.

Up until now this has been fine, but info and data are only a first step. The next is inevitable. Being that neighbor who can help out in a pinch. We all have pinching moments. Even the best of us, among which I won't count mys1elf.

Visitors to OSDir are often coming from a Windows world. First they might ask me which applications do such and such, and predictably the next question is for help with it. Often I don't actually use the app and try to find help for them.

As much as we might like to think that Google and HowTos can handle this, forget it. Only a good neighbor will really keep a lot of new Linux users happy. And really, isn't this our next best asset? A community.

This is the second stage for OSDir.com. The site started out as a horribly ugly homemade job pumping out of my little DSL line three years ago. We got slashdotted when we had 70 or so apps and was built on top of the code that was running sourceforge at the time. I've killed the site and restarted from scratch a couple of times to try to give people what they thought was helpful knowing that you don't really know what will work to get people excited until you try something new.

OSDir.com is now published by O'Reilly, but I still want to try new things to give people a head start in our community. And so here we go...

I'm looking to recruit some folks who naturally enjoy helping others with problems and inquiries people will have with Linux on our new bulletin board. I've contacted some folks to help out already who I thought would be interested, but I certainly don't know a 100th of you all.

Let me be straight. The gathering crowd mulling about at LinuxWorld are soon to be a rampaging mob. You can't beat the press Linux is getting and people are only starting to become interested. Even SCO with its antics probably sends more people to Linux than if it didn't exist. The neighborhood is about to start expanding and the newbies are gonna want to know the direction of the parks, when they can mow the lawn, where the movie theater is, and what the best schools are. Some of them are going to be rash, some nice, some impatient, some good drinking buddies. It's important for us to be here for them and to be good neighbors if we expect people to at least give Linux the good try we've been encouraging people to give it.

I wish there were a more magical answer, but being helpful is simply it.

Right now the forum is in beta so you can get comfortable first and to give the forum a bit of a chance to gather some helpful neighbors. There are only a basic amount of topics right now as I'd like the forums to grow organically with demand. So, please move in. The land is cheap, but the landscape is fine.

Up for some good neighboring?


2004-01-21 04:06:57
you forgot a reason
One of the first problems many encounter (me included, several times...) when installing Linux (or some other OS OS) is getting online.

Most of the "help" available tells you to visit some website or chatroom/newsgroup/mailing list.
Without a working internet connection those are completely unavailable to the wannabe user.

In fact, when I called the manufacturer of my modem with a question of how to get the modem to work they told me to look up the FAQ on their website (which I of course could not access without using the modem which the question was about to dial into my ISP).

Another problem is that most of the documentation and advise that currently IS available is extremely cryptic and understandable only to seasoned Unix users.
When a newbie stumbles across it (s)he often can't understand a thing of what he's about to do, yet when asking for clarification from the average Linux user community will be shouted down with "RTFM", "read the manpage", and other less than helpful replies which only state to look at the info the newbie didn't understand in the first place.

2004-01-21 04:33:24
you forgot a reason

Wow, you just took be back in time. Whoosh!

Getting online: When I first installed Linux I had an old Que book that didn't mention anything about the problems I was going to have getting online in the first place. I was rebooting, reinstalling.. it was a nightmare. And of course, mailinglists and websites aren't of much use when you're cut off from the net.

One of the best things to happen to Linux in the last few years has been the auto-configuration of ethernet settings, but folks who had win-modems (as I did at the time) were in for a rollercoaster ride of installation pain.

On Documentation: Bang on. It can't keep up to a live person so it's always slightly out of date depending on what it is.

"RTFM": What does one say about this? I hear you. "RTFM" doesn't help in most cases because it's gibberish to the newbie. A friend of mine is about to embark on Linux and was suggested to buy Running Linux. It's the manual for a lot of Linux stuff, but as I remarked to him just yesterday... half it only makes sense once you've lived through it.