Whenever I read articles or hear discussions about Linux’s ability to take over the desktop market, Whitney Houston’s song “The Greatest Love of All” comes to mind (actually, I think of Arsenio Hall’s–aka The Sexual Chocolates–rendition in the movie Coming to America). “Why?” You may ask. Because the children are the future in so many ways, but especially for Linux.
I’m certain you’re all familiar with that old cliché, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Although this is not the case for every old dog (OD) (after all, I get my technology butt handed to me on a regular basis by some pretty old dogs), it is true for many who don’t have interests in technology. ODs like this yearn for familiarity. They don’t like change–not even from one version of MS Office to another. “Why did they move that thingy from here to over there?” “I don’t understand why they changed that. Everything was working fine until now.” “Why would I want to give up this big, shiny tower that takes up almost half of my desk for that tiny little laptop. Bigger is better, right?” All right, you get the idea. Enough geriatric bashing; I’m not getting any younger and will probably be just as stubborn and more cantankerous in my golden years.
Back to my point. To truly understand where I’m going with this, I need to redefine what I mean when I say old dog. An old dog isn’t someone who is merely old, in fact, many of them are fairly young; rather, they are people who are stuck in their ways–the ones who will sacrifice faster, more efficient, and secure technology for what is familiar because it simply works for their needs. After all, no one wants to relearn how to do the everyday typical task. I know, I know. I said in a former post that intuitiveness and qualitative measures of what is good or better is intrinsically linked to familiarity, and what is most intuitive, a lot of the time, is the one that is most familiar. This is true; however, the true measure of intuitiveness is the ability to make changes while staying familiar. How users adapt to the changes is a good measure–the quicker they adapt, the more intuitive the technology is.
Again, I digress. Back to old dogs. The problem with old dogs is that you can’t force them to change. You have to let them think that they are dictating change. That’s why it’s better to roll out changes slowly, so that the learning curve is flatter. The less painful it is, the more welcoming ODs become. But yanking the entire OS from under their feet is not a good idea. Too much change. Too steep a learning curve. But why bother? Why force ODs to change? If Deepak Chopra’s Fourth Spiritual Law, “the Law of Least Effort,” is accurate, it makes little sense to force ODs to do so. Too much effort. Besides, it goes against nature’s flow. Introduce new technology to them, show them how it works, and then, let them decide if they want to take the leap.
But the kids! Ah yes, the kids. They are the answer. Today’s children have grown up with technology all around them. Nintendos, X-Boxes, Playstations, iPods, iPhones, and so on and so forth. At their age, they aren’t frightened of change. They are just beginning life’s journey and are eager to learn new things. These two factors combine to create the perfect storm for learning new technology. Today, children figure out new technology quickly without much trial and tribulation. I’ll give you a personal example. It took me three boot cycles to teach my 5-year-old son how to load Puppy Linux from the Grub menu, launch Firefox, find the bookmark for his favorite Spongebob game, launch the game, and how to shut everything down when he was done. Three boot cycles…that’s it. I know some adults who can’t even check their voicemail on their cell phones, or how to program the favorites button on their TV remotes after numerous attempts.
If the Linux community wants to see their market share increase, they need to go after the children. I know that sounds insidious, but believe me, exposure to Linux is safer and more beneficial than McDonald’s, Barbie, and GI Joe. Steve Jobs and his marketing team figured this out a while ago. They don’t necessarily target young children; however, they have used a concentrated marketing strategy, and have gone after young adults and teenagers with great success. Look around. How many young people do you see carrying iThings? iPods? iTouches? and iPhones? And now, rumor says that Apple will be releasing their first iTablet next spring. (Sounds suspiciously like a bigger iTouch to me.) I’m guessing it will be very intuitive and will be all the rage if the price is right. Why has Apple become so ubiquitous? Because they figured out which market required the least effort on their part.
Canonical has at least made an effort to reach the children with their Edubuntu spin. It’s a good idea, and a nice starting point; however, it needs much more development. Development in two ways. One that creates apps that are more exciting, appealing, and educational for children. And the other that creates apps for educators–e.g. gradebooks (like GradeL) and class management software. A concentrated effort like this will help get Edubuntu in more classrooms, and hence, more exposure.
There are other distros and interface tweaks that seem to be targeting a younger and more mobile crowd. Android, seems to be making some headway. And although I’m skeptical of Google’s motives, I think their influence and marketing savvy will bring Android to more and more devices. If the multi-touch tablet takes off, I’m sure the heavyweight distros will begin developing for this platform.
I once read a comment on some blog that stated that Linux needn’t worry about Windows, but instead, should set their sights on Apple. I didn’t think too much about the statement at the time; however, in retrospect, that person was right. Why worry about Windows? Linux has overtaken Windows in so many ways, that the point of which is better between the two is moot. But Apple on the other hand, is leading a revolution. They have flooded the market with sophisticated and innovative peripheral devices that aren’t in direct competition with the desktop computer. Slowly but surely, many of these device holders are more and more interested in Mac computing. The iTablet will be another stepping stone to the promise land.
Do I think Apple is on the brink of world domination? No, I don’t. But I have to say, they are surely working towards it. What does Linux have to do? Focus on the children. The more young people who are raised on Linux and Linux devices the better it will be in the long run. Build it fast, beautiful, and easy to use…and they will come.
I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way…