[opensource] The Future of Open Source Club & Spring Workshops

Brandon Mintern mintern at cse.ohio-state.edu
Fri Mar 30 02:42:31 EDT 2007


On Fri, 30 Mar 2007 00:35:21 -0400, BRIAN SWANEY wrote:
> [a bunch of good ideas]

Seriously, those are some great ideas, so please stop being so down on
yourself :-).  I have not been to an Open Source meeting in over a year,
and that is something I wish to change this quarter.  Of course, that does
not solve the problem of preaching to the choir, because I have been
running exclusively FreeBSD and Gentoo for about 6 months now.  My
non-tech girlfriend even works regularly in Gnome.

I agree that some kind of serious recruitment campaign is in order.  This
will help not only the Open Source Club at OSU, but the Open Source
community in general, by bringing new people into the foray. While I think
it's important to show that free software can do everything that Windows
can, I think it's also important to relate facts like the ones about
Apache being the most-used webserver, to show off the cool effects of
Beryl, or to point out that many of the best new programming languages are
open source. In other words, I don't think people want to hear, "We can do
that, too," but instead, "We can do that better."

We can promote open source without even requiring a Linux install.  After
attending an Open Source Club meeting last spring, I was very interested
in Linux, but too used to Windows to make the switch. My first step, at
this point, was to switch all of my major Windows programs to open source
versions, IE -> Firefox, AIM -> Gaim, Photoshop -> Gimp, MS Office ->
OpenOffice.  After some time, I found that the only non-open source
programs I was using were Calculator, Notepad, and Paint, and at that
point, I knew it was time to switch (I still kind of miss Paint).

I think it might be a good idea to promote some of these open source
alternatives to Windows users.  For example, I was pleasantly surprised to
learn I could customize my top bars in Firefox, even stuffing everything
into the menu bar.  I also found that the tabs, quick search features, and
plug-ins were pretty cool, too.  Brian already suggested some Gaim
features that are good, but there are also things better about OpenOffice,
like auto-completion and export as PDF.  For reading PDF and PS documents,
Evince rocks all over Adobe on startup time and lack of user tracking.  I
think that the first step in converting people to open source (and getting
them to join the club) is to get them to begin using open source software
on a regular basis. Eventually, we might be able to convert them to
Ubuntu.

The tips above can apply to just about anyone, even people who aren't CSE
majors.  For those who are majors and who think they may like to hack, I
think there is another thing that I have found to be a bit lacking.  When
I decided to leave Windows, it was not for political reasons or monetary
reasons, but because I liked the capabilities of the command line for
automating some repetitious tasks, and for performing some operations
quickly without having to wait for some program to startup.  I also wanted
to know what was going on with my computer, to control wired and wireless
connections and to learn how things work.  In short, I was tired of the
Windows interface and was ready for something different.  When I installed
Ubuntu, I felt like I might as well be using Windows. Everything was
automagic and the point-and-click interface for doing everything was
actually what I was trying to avoid. While this is great for someone who
is non-technical, I was frustrated by it.

I eventually came across Gentoo, and I have been very happy ever since.  I
have had no dependency problems, everything on my computer is compiled
specifically for my platform, I get great 64-bit support (something Ubuntu
was lacking at the time), and no updates or installs have caused breakage.
 I even appreciated the excruciatingly long installation process, because
I felt like I learned something about how everything works.  In short, the
only Linux I have seen promoted by the club is Ubuntu, but I believe that
there are better (in some respects) distros out there that could at least
be mentioned.

Perhaps to cater to potential users like me, we could show some of the
cool things that can be done through the command line by showing how it's
possible to manipulate a bunch of files through the use of xargs, or to
show how magical interweb connections actually work by running dhcpcd from
the command line.  For programmers who are used to programming in the
Notepad-like excuse-for-an-IDE called Visual Studio, we could show how
even the old-school vi can increase programmer output and productivity.
Finally, showing how easy it is to connect to your home computer from
campus or to campus from your home computer is a major benefit that
technical users should appreciate Linux for.  I found it more efficient to
do 581 programs by VNCing to my home computer to use vim to program, and
then SFTPing it back onto the local machine to make sure it worked in
Windows.  Being able to do things like this, in my opinion, makes Linux
pretty cool.

Finally, the hardest part of switching to Linux is making "the big jump".
It can be scary and difficult, and that nagging uncertainty can make
people very reluctant to switch.  I think it would be great to purposely
cause some error, show how you can search the error text in Google and
then find a free solution to your problem on community message boards or
mailing lists.  We could show sites like Gentoo-Wiki which give great
step-by-step instructions on almost anything you would want to do.
Finally, we could implement a mentor program where someone would borrow a
club member for an evening (or maybe a weekend in the case of Gentoo ;-))
to assist with an install and to be there to provide help later when
needed (by e-mail or phone).  Many people depend on their computer for a
lot now, and the thought of being stuck with no idea what to do can be a
bit scary, so having someone knowledgeable to help could be a nice
confidence booster.

Anyways, those are my ideas, and I believe this is my first message to the
list, so hello :-).

Brandon


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