What are the right questions to ask?

Grant Robinson santiago at mr-r.net
Thu Jan 17 17:44:14 MST 2008

On Jan 17, 2008, at 1:59 PM, Steve wrote:
> Linux isn't uber anymore folks.  My 10 year old niece runs it
> exclusively on her laptop.  Her mother is the "sys-admin" for their
> home.  Neither of these people are really "computer people".  My 70
> something year old mother runs her Neuros OSD and even upgraded her
> own firmware the other night, she called me and let me know... I'm so
> impressed :)
> My wife (who owns a Mac incidently), recommended to her girlfriend
> that she ditch windows and install Linux.

Let me say in advance that I am not trying to bash Linux here, merely  
point out some of the things that need to be considered when  
switching an organization (not an individual) to a new operating  
system.  Linux is great, but to think that it doesn't still have some  
work to do (even with all the advances of the last few years) to make  
it an operating system for the masses would be naive.

Switching operating systems is something that is going to be of  
varying degrees of difficulty for everyone.  I wouldn't bring up a 10  
year old WITH HER OWN LAPTOP who runs Linux as an example of normalcy  
or the average person of that age group.  I wouldn't bring up a 70  
year old mother with a Neuros OSD as the norm either.  My wife's 70  
year old grandmother can't even figure out how to get to our blog  
when we send her an email with the link in it, so my wife has to call  
her and talk her through it every couple of weeks. (and no, I am not  
exaggerating)  Technical competency and comfort level with technology  
varies SO widely it is hard to make any sort of accurate guess, but I  
will give you my thoughts based on my experiences as a software  
engineer in companies comprised mostly of non-technical people.

The biggest hurdles you are going to have to overcome are not  
necessarily technical, but social/mental.  Re-training is one  
example.  Most non-technical people I know only really care about  
getting their stuff done, and they learn how to use the applications  
they are given to accomplish that task.  Switching an accountant who  
is a heavy Excel user (tons of macros and formulas) over to using  
OpenOffice would be a bit of a shock (last time I tried OpenOffice,  
there were still some differences in formulas and the available  
functions, and macros recorded in Excel wouldn't work at all, don't  
know if that has changed or not).  Moving someone who uses a  
spreadsheet with embedded Visual Basic would be even harder.  Have  
these people ever used OpenOffice?  Would they be comfortable  
switching?  How much time would be lost in getting them up to speed  
in their new environment.  There are certainly technical challenges  
as well.  Someone who uses an IE-only website for 75% of their work  
probably isn't a good candidate to move to Linux or some other non- 
Windows variant.  If the same application they are used to isn't  
available on the target platform, then you are going to have to  
either run it in emulation or find an alternative and deal with re- 
training.  What are they using for accounting software?  Quickbooks  
or the like?  What is the feasibility of migrating that data?  How do  
they manage their customers (CRM software, spreadsheet, custom  
application)?  Do they have a large investment in commercial software  
that they use all the time?  Is one of their employees a graphic  
artist or some such?  Do they produce any sort of marketing materials  
(flyers, posters, etc), and if so, what do they use to produce them?   
These questions and many, many more all need to be asked before you  
can really gauge the feasibility of what you are proposing.  They can  
all be overcome, but it requires time or money or both, and it could  
be quite substantial in both areas.

Now, switching a single individual over to Linux (particularly at  
home) is different than moving an entire small/medium/large business  
to Linux.  If you don't know how to do something at home, you may be  
out a couple of evenings while you tinker and become accustomed to  
your new OS.  If that same thing happens to an entire office for  
several days or weeks, it's not just a few movies or story time with  
your kids that you will miss, but the business could potentially lose  
a lot of money.

Not sure if that helped, but I would be wary of thinking that because  
two unique people you know who are 10 and 70 are comfortable with  
Linux that an office of people who are probably non-technical will be  
as enthusiastic about having what is comfortable taken away and  
replaced with something quite foreign.

More information about the PLUG mailing list