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Chris Mostek [opinions]

Converting your techno-resistant loved ones [advocacy] [switching]

The techo-resistant person in my life is my own spouse. See, my wife loves to work with her hands. Her favorite activities involve knitting or crocheting. She takes balls of yarn and converts them into items of beauty. So, her instinctive reaction to computers and software was “why do I need that” and “what would I have to show for my time”.

However, in the last few years, I converted her into a bona-fide computer user just as I converted her to Chinese food. She is now a frequent user of free software, primarily Edubuntu 6.10 and Firefox 2.0.

So how did I activate her latent geek genes? By following this four step program:

Step #1: Make the most of an opening—The chink in my wife’s armor wasn’t opened with free software, but with a PDA. She had been a faithful user of a Franklin Covey organizer. One year I pointed out that given the cost of the yearly calendar update, she would pay off a PDA in about two years. Her natural frugality led to purchasing a Sony PDA and a weekend lesson on Palm OS. The “repeat” function on calendar events would be my friend all weekend. Thus, the first tentative steps into the Digital Age were taken.

Now onto widening the breach in her defenses where both free software and Microsoft would be my allies.

Step #2: Make it work—The next stage occurred when my wife wanted to research a few knitting patterns on the internet. Using IE6, led to a series of frustrations around how often IE6 shut down with no warning or failed to load a web-page. Throw in a few Blue-Screens of Death and the situation was ripe for change.

Fortunately, a friend had pointed me in the direction of Firefox. With Firefox loaded, she could pull up knitting patterns with minimal browser crashes. Soon multiple bookmarks were saved for knitting websites (and suspiciously for house plan websites too).

Step #3: Make it faster—Patience is not a virtue in ample supply around here. So Microsoft gave me the next conversion opportunity. Waiting for Windows XP’s excruciatingly slow boot up times or waiting for the security software to load or waiting for the security software to check/download updates or waiting for Windows to check/download updates, or, or, or. Simply too much waiting for this household.

I had taken my own next step into free software by setting up our computer to dual-boot Edubuntu (beginning with 6.06 and upgraded to 6.10) and Windows XP. After she started using Edubuntu, my wife responded with a “Wow! This is fast!!” With faster boot times, availability to use the desktop when shown, increased speeds on loading web-pages and faster downloads on email, there is a lot to like on the speedometer.

Step #4: Make some space—This step really meant me shutting up unless asked a question. Then, answering the question without embellishment. If asked how to bold the font in, I’d show her the bold button and nothing else. At this point she didn’t care how to set up the document as a brochure. Yes, I walked out of the room a few times, but patience and a quiet tongue were the best approach. I had to allow my wife the space and time to explore the new software on her own.

The end result is my wife primarily uses Edubuntu instead of Windows. She regularly checks her favorite knitting websites and blogs. Print-outs of knitting patterns and house plans seemingly appear out of no-where. She smiles and says “I’m sorry” at the few times I use Windows XP. Sometimes, I even have to wait before using the computer (oh, what webs we weave).

So, you may ask, what areas has my wife converted me? Let’s just say that long list is outside the scope of this article. My question to you is, who do you plan to convert to free software? Pick someone and try. They may be more open to change than you think.


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