Easing into open source


Scott Nesbitt gave a great lightning talk tonight at the All Things Open conference in Raleigh, NC titled Easing into open source.

There are lots of people out there who are interested and eager to try open source, but don’t make that leap right away. Scott shared with us his tips as a technology coach of how to ease people in to open source. A lot of us learned by getting thrown in to the deep end and we did learn a lot – but for most people that doesn’t work. This leads to a lot of fussy, angry people and they decide that open source is not for them.

So, the first thing you can do is curb your urge to get up on your soapbox – it rarely works. Most people don’t really care about the 4 freedoms or the ethical reasons to use open source in the beginning. Instead go for the heart of it. Show them what they’re interested in – they’re interested in what open source can do for them. How can they do their work with it?

“I’m afraid of open source, I can’t program” – tell people that this isn’t true (I like to use Firefox as an example here). “But it’s not … ” – the answer is ‘So What?!’ the software we’re showing you is just as efficient as the proprietary options. Instead of going feature by feature, teach them how to do a specific task.

And finally remind them that free software does have a price – the price is in the form of time – time it takes to learn the software. It’s time – but it’s time very well spent.

Take baby steps. Show them how to crop an image in Gimp – but don’t show them all the features all at once. Once they have the basics they’re going to want to learn more advanced topics – or maybe they won’t – but they’ll be happy that they’re no longer paint licensing fees for their software.

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