The participation ratio

Recently Dell asked their customers if they’d like to be given the option of Linux instead of Windows as the pre-installed operating system on their new PC and were overwhelmed by the numbers who said “yes“.

Some on that feedback forum complained that the ratio wasn’t accurate because the “Linux geeks brought all their friends in to make it appear to be a higher demand than it is, and that normal people still want Windows.

So what’s the reality? I’d say a bit of both…..let me explain.

People who look at the role of their operating system, software, hardware to think out how it all fits together, how it does what it does realize how dirty and flawed Wndows is. They may have to use it at work, but they feel dirty using it. They start to ask the question “does a PC have to be like this? or is there an alternative?

There is one alternative which has split off in three broad directions….ALL of whom offer a better package than Microsoft. The path is UNIX…..which splits off into FreeBSD (a pure UNIX), Apple Mac (basically a designer UNIX based on Darwin), and the many distributions of Linux (UNIX-like)…of which I have switched to Mandrake Linux a few days ago.

People who think beyond just a games machine with email and web browsing capabilities to HOW it works tend to abandon Microsoft to its fate. These people make up a LOT of the content in forums, blogs, news groups, wiki’s. In short…..these people take part in communities, and like to help each other out….they understand much of the philosophy behind making a PC from a heap of components.

This reminds me of the conservative right wing in the US. In numbers they are a minority…..quite a large minority, but still a minority, so how do they get so much influence? They participate. If you’re in a grouping which numbers 30% of the population…..and around 90% of you participate, it can make a hefty contribution. Compare that to the other 70% of the population, and only 10% of those participate…….kinda skews the ratio a bit huh?

The minority group appears to have a much larger support than it does, but on the other hand….those are the people who take an interest, and are willing to spend some of their private time participating when they could be in the pub. The crux is WHAT the people are saying, not the numbers involved.

I’d guess that many Linux users will make their own PC’s from separate parts, and install their preferred distribution themselves, I know I plan to do exactly that with my next PC. Why? I have the skills to do that, I have taken an interest beyond the level Microsoft expect of normal users and have taken the time to educate myself in these skills. Normal users don’t take that time, they don’t think about their PC, they simply use it to play games or surf the web watching YouTube videos etc ….. the bottom line is that they see their PC as “recreation” rather than a tool they can learn to harness.

With that in mind, many normal users don’t know or care about Linux…..neither are they likely to take part in PC related forums. How many of those who put in feedback would actually buy a pre-made Dell Linux? The point of this feedback was not a “hands up if you love Linux” but a marketing angle to see if it’s worth their time pursuing Linux as an option.

When you have a group of people who know how a PC works, how the relationships between all the different components combine to give a working tool, rather than a flashy toy… have to listen to what they say on the subject. These people very rarely use Microsoft, and have switched or are desperate to switch. They may have two PC’s… normal one, and one with Windows for gaming.

They see a brighter future and are participating to help spread that feeling to more and more people…..they do not use doctrine but reasoned arguments logically laid out. They don’t just deliver the sales pitch but lay out WHY. This applies to the Apple Mac and UNIX people too……..the direction one jumps away from Microsoft may be different, but the reasons why are the same.

In comparison we see a small (and heavily outnumbered) ratio of Microsoft fans sticking to a few lines of attack……varying from person to person.

  1. Only geeks use Linux and the only real operating system is Windows.

  2. High end gaming is almost exclusive to Windows.

  3. The mighty Microsoft has already solved all your PC needs, why look elsewhere?

  4. All the Linux geeks are secretly inviting their friends in to boost the numbers.

A quick response on each of those 4 points, from a Microsoft Certified Professional (and increasingly frustrated Windows user until a few days ago).

  1. The last couple of years has seen Ubuntu lead the charge with other distributions following suit, that are mature, stable and more user friendly for the newbie than Windows…..that argument USED to be true, time has moved on.

  2. Until Linux gets more support, this will continue to be true. The Microsoft monopoly and “bully boy” business style will fight tooth and nail to maintain market share, and deny all others.

  3. A quote from the late Douglas Adams sums this one up rather nicely. “The idea that Bill Gates has appeared like a knight in shining armour to lead all customers out of a mire of technological chaos neatly ignores the fact that it was he who, by peddling second-rate technology, led them into it in the first place.

  4. Of course they communicate with each other. The power behind an Open Source way of thinking is that it is a COMMUNITY….where people regularly take the time and effort to help each other out where they could be playing the latest game. A company thinking about being part of the solution to issues they have is going to attract attention in that environment.

I have a couple of other blogs on the philosophy behind a PC. “Refusing Vista” is focussed on Microsoft pushing of their operating system despite it not being wanted. “Inside a Microsoft OS” and “The Vista Verdict” are different looks at how Microsoft feel about their valued chumps (read “customers”)……and what you have sitting in front of you (assuming you’re a Windows user).


12 Responses to “The participation ratio”

  1. fakebill Says:

    I don’t get you people. You just don’t listen to any logic what so ever. Its pretty simple:
    Windows is the only choice. That is it. Final answer. No discussion.

  2. Dirk Gently Says:

    I’d respond by first quoting a part of my blog

    “…they [the Linux / UNIX community] do not use doctrine but reasoned arguments logically laid out. They don’t just deliver the sales pitch but lay out WHY.”

    …..and conclude with a simple “I rest my case”

  3. fakebill Says:

    Lol. Just look at my blog and you’ll see why I said that.

  4. Dirk Gently Says:

    Am I supposed to guess where your blog is? Or do you want to enlighten me with a URL?

  5. fakebill Says:

  6. Dirk Gently Says:

    HAHAHA!!!! I got ya now, it didn’t click at first.

  7. fakebill Says:

    No one could actually believe that Windows is better!

  8. Dirk Gently Says:

    I’ve found only three groups of people who fly the Windows banner. Everyone else has either jumped ship, or want to but don’t have anyone available to help them land in another ship.

    1 The people with a vested interest in Windows because they make (at least part of) their living from it.
    2 The clueless users who are unaware how their PC works……and why they’re always having to spend money and time fixing it.
    3 Gamers who have no choice until developers start treating Linux / UNIX and Apple Mac’s with equal status……and don’t want to risk the next version of their current FPS to be unavailable on Windows (as if that’s gonna happen).

  9. hydralisk Says:

    You could just as well expand 3 to be all those people who are addicted to some software or other that is developed exclusively or primarily for Windows. Which I think is quite a lot of people, but the gamers stand out the most.

  10. Dirk Gently Says:

    That’s very true, I use Photoshop and Dreamweaver a lot. I knew I had to find a Linux solution to that before I’d feel comfy switching. I found WINE can accommodate Photoshop 8 and Dreamweaver 8, and that GIMP is a much better image manipulation program than I gave it credit for.

  11. fakebill Says:

    If open source gaming gets a bit better than the last problem won’t be applicable.

  12. Dirk Gently Says:

    The result of Dells Q&A about Linux is explained here.

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