Community / Marketing

Do You Know a Closet Ubuntu User?

Yes it sounds like a strange, socially, unacceptable drug habit. What! You are an Ubuntu User – better keep that a secret! And if you do meet another ‘User’ better keep it hush hush.

You are probably thinking that would never happen!


A lovely young women comes up to my marketing booth at the Farmer’s Market and asks, ‘Ubuntu. What is it?’ I give her the pitch and we converse for a bit. I notice a few feet behind is her male partner trying to look interested in the next booth. The women looks over her shoulder and calls her partner over to our booth saying, ‘This is SO interesting come and look at this.’ He comes over slowly and says, ‘Oh, Ubuntu – I know what this is.’ I ask him, ‘Are you currently using it?’ He responds, ‘Yes, its on my computer at home.’ Suddenly his partner jumps in and asks, ‘What? Which computer at home?’ He nonchalantly says, ‘Oh, its the one in the office you don’t need to use it.’ I say to him, ‘You really should share Ubuntu with her.’ He says, ‘No, no, its just for work,’ and turns to his partner and says, ‘It’s just for work you are not going to be interested in it.’ Then grabs her hand and pulls her away from the booth. She leaves reluctantly looking completely baffled and confused.

I just stood there stunned, shocked, and at a lost for words. I really couldn’t understand why he would keep that a secret from his partner? Why would he decide that its not for her?

This true story reflects the statistics polled in the Ubuntu Vancouver LoCo. We asked our members this question.

Of Your Friends and Family How Many are Using Ubuntu?

The Answer

0 friend – 53%

1 friend – 28%

2 friends – 10%

3 friends – 9%

Note: Poll your local! Ask them the same question and send in your results! I would interested in finding out if this is norm.

How many of my friends and family are using Ubuntu? 4. Above average, but I think its still something I need to work on improving as well.

I’m trying to figure out why so many people who are using Ubuntu feel that they can’t share it with those closest to them.

Is Ubuntu too complex or too hard to use?

Are you afraid you’ll become their personal IT help person?

Are your friends and family resistant to changing because its scary and new?

Is Ubuntu like a strange, socially unacceptable drug habit?

The Challenge

Time for some action! This week I challenge you to show ONE friend or family member Ubuntu. Let them touch your system. Let them play with it. Don’t go crazy trying to teach them everything. In fact don’t say a word in the beginning. Just turn it on and let them explore and experience Ubuntu. Sit and wait, the questions will come.

The key word in this challenge is SHOW! Yes its free, Yes its easy to install but I want to make this challenge one that everyone of every level can do and feel they won’t be technically burden. Start by giving UBUNTU TEST DRIVES on your system. I’ll be participating as well. I look forward to your comments on how your test drives with friends and family went. 😀


33 thoughts on “Do You Know a Closet Ubuntu User?

  1. I think it very often comes down to this:
    Friend: – What’s this on your computer?
    Linux user: – That’s (Ubuntu|Fedora|Debian|Linux|…)
    Friend: – But why don’t you use Windows like everyone else?

    At this point, you have to answer… and most people will wish they had never asked.

    You’ll tell them about freedom, community, security, performance, etc… But most people just don’t care.

    It’s like if you were using a hammer, and one of your friends would try to tell you that hammer X is so much better, and he would go on and on in lenghty and enthusiastic explanations.

    But you just don’t care, a hammer is a tool. You need to bang it on top of a nail and be done with it.

    Windows is the default hammer for most people, and they couldn’t care less about using it or something else.

    I mean, who have you ever seen being enthusiastic about any operating system? In my experience: Linux, BSD and Mac users. In other words, the minority who have already accepted the idea that not all hammers are equal, and that it is important to chose your hammer carefully.

    About the poll, the number of my (non-geek) friends and relatives using Ubuntu is 0. Replace Ubuntu by Fedora and the number becomes 1 (I’m a Fedora user myself). That’s my mother, and she’s using it because one day I told her “Your hammer is crappy, I’m sick of having to fix it. Here, take this one, or ask someone else for help”.

    Her answer was “ok”. She couldn’t care less about which hammer she was using. She still doesn’t. But hey, at least she’s using free software now. 🙂

    That makes me a bit sad, and I don’t really know how to promote something that you know is better to people who just don’t care. On one hand it makes switching them easier (they are not attached to what they have now), but it makes it impossible to explain to them why they should change (and I think it is critical that people know why they are choosing free software).

    I’ll try your challenge anyway, or rather I’ll retry it: I did it a few months ago with my girlfriend, and now she uses Fedora (with Gnome 3) on my laptop when she’s at my place. And again, it makes absolutely no difference to her whatsoever, she just needs a hammer. Any hammer.

    Sorry for the long and cynical comment, I’ll go back to making my favorite hammer better, and try to show it to the world while the world thinks I’m completely mad for caring so passionately about something so “insignificant”. 🙂

    • By no means a cynical comment- all very good and very true! This is why I presented this challenge. To see what the global landscape is like and it appears to be very similar to Vancouver. Your comments have given me some great ideas for the future.

    • When people ask me “why does your computer look weird?” I say I’m using an operating system called Ubuntu, instead of what most people use which is Windows. When they ask me why, I say I find it more comfortable to use and like it better than anything else I’ve tried. That’s usually the whole conversation. No one I know, not even the guy who uses FreeBSD, cares about ideology, so I don’t bore them with that. I just give a practical reason they can understand, and it may very well be the main reason anyway. I mean, if I didn’t feel most comfortable using Ubuntu then I wouldn’t be using it, right?

  2. Hi! I LOLed at the concept of a “closet ubuntu user.” 😀 I’ve been using Ubuntu primarily for at least 3 years now, almost exclusively the past several months. Been trying to convince my wife to switch to it for her home laptop but remains reluctant to do so. However, I’ve made my sister switch to Ubuntu on her netbook for her day-to-day surfing and social media use.

  3. I bet most of your male readers instantly know why he keeps that computer from her…
    Hint: it’s not about Ubuntu 😉

  4. Being an Ubuntu user is like being in Amway or a religious cult: we can’t tell a lot of people because they are going to assume that we will try to pressure them into changing over. That’s probably why the guy responded so negatively about the whole thing — he didn’t want to seem like a super-geek in front of his gal.

    • I disagree with your thesis. Being an Ubuntu user is choosing freedom. There is nothing MLM or “cultish” about it.

      Withholding freedom from those we love is immoral and unethical.

  5. Yes, I have Ubuntu on one computer – with the buttons the right way around and a theme and wallpaper that ensure nobody will notice. I am embarrassed to say some members of my family also use disguised Ubuntus.

    We always call them Gnu/Linux and use an Ubuntu only when the hardware support in more free distributions fails, with recent wi-fi and 3G etc.

  6. An interesting topic. For example, what is the reason that within my family only my mother (exept myself) is using Ubuntu?

    Other candidates would be my sisters and my grandmother. None of them are any kind of “computer geek”.
    So what could be pitfalls for them when migrating to Ubuntu?

    1. (Propritary) Software that isn’t avaiable for Linux.
    Common examples are ICQ (my sisters still insist to use the original client. May have become solved recently by the avaibility of an native Linux client), MSN (same as above), Paintshop Pro, Microsoft Word/Office, Games (like Sims 3). A solution for some of these cases would be to make them run via Wine. But Wine doesn’t work always for all application and can be tricky to setup/maintain.
    Allthough my mother uses Ubuntu, her PC has still a Windows XP installation primarily used to run Microsoft Word. She tried OpenOffice a few times, but she said she is more comfortable with Word since she got used to it and OpenOffice is a bit different. Since she is a very non-computer-affine person, it is very hard for her to get used to another software.

    2. Hardware with no proper support for Linux.
    This would at least require testing for the particular machine. For example, I think it may be not that easy to find a scanner with decent Linux support. My grandmother has a multi-function device by Brother (laser printer, fax and scanner) and I doubt that the scanning unit would work with Linux.

    3. Users are happy with their existing systems.
    This is especially the case regarding my sisters, I think (who are happy with Windows XP/7). Given that, the risk is high if I make them migrate to Ubuntu that they are less happy than before/unsatisfied with some things. And they would maybe become mad at me because I made their computer work worse for them than before.

    4. General objections against Linux/non “big name” operating systems.
    That could be another problem regarding my grandparents. They are rather conservative and they have a bias towards big names of well-known companies like Microsoft. If I mention Linux, they tell me “Why does one want to put such stuff on his computer that no-one else has? There will be many problems!”.

    Hope this helps. My grandmother may be nevertheless the next-likely candidate to migrate her PC to Ubuntu someday.

    Kind regards,

    • Several things jump out at me in this post.

      First, let’s not say we’re running Linux. We’re not. That may seem to some (in the tech community) as a heretical statement, but it’s reality. Saying otherwise is confusing. Modern day free operating systems have thousands and thousands of components and not just a kernel. And, they all have unique and easily explained names. Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Edubuntu, etc. And, some flavours of free operating systems don’t use Linux at all. (Hint: Debian on a non-Linux kernel).

      Second, in term’s of “No one else is running it”, that’s quickly becoming a fallacy. There are 20 million Ubuntu users (give or take). That’s sizable.

      Third, hardware support is documented and easy to find. Check the Ubuntu certified hardware lists for further information.

      Finally, if a person is happy with their system, they likely aren’t a good candidate to switch. My experience though is that they may be happy with the functionality, but not with the notion of paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for software add-ons.

      • Hello Randall,

        regarding hardware support, I just looked at the Ubuntu certified pages and was not that much impressed. Allthough there is a “component catalog” which contains a list of device categories, it lacks essentials categories like Printer or Scanner or Multifunction-device (if it’s called that way in English^^). If I enter “scanner” into the search box on the right, I get not a single result. If I enter “printer”, I get a few results of “printer ports”…. not quite what I was actually looking for. So I dare to say these certification pages are not always useful at the moment.
        What I find more useful in such cases is a hardware database on a german wiki about Ubuntu ( ), where users could submit if their hardware is working, there is also a blacklist of known-to-be-not-working components. Don’t know if a similar effort in english/other languages exist, maybe Ubuntu Friendly will eventually evolve that way.

        By the way, my personal experience is that you have to read such compatibility lists with a bit of caution. For example, some years ago (around 2006) my scanner (HP Scanjet 2300c if I recall right) was listed on the Sane database as “Fully supported”. In reality, I sadly found out it was “a little bit supportet” actually at that time. This meant that if I tried scanning a subject 3-10 times, there was a chance that you would finally recognize the scanned subject, and yes, it did almost _never_ look good as one would exspect. (To be fair, I have to mention that support for this scanner improved since release of Lucid or so, it still has some flaws but you can actually use it under Linux!).

        Another issue with hardware is, that “non-geeky” people tend to not look for hardware certification bases in foreign languages on the internet. If they need some kind of a new hardware device, they usually make a visit to a local dealer. And that means unfortunately the propability is high that if they ask for Linux compability, they get a response from them that they have no clue if the device will be supported with Linux, adding that they definitely know that it is supported with Windows! That’s the poor reality in most cases 😦

        Kind regards,

    • When I first tried switching away from Windows I looked for Linux, but instead found all kinds of 3rd party versions. I couldn’t find the official Linux operating system anywhere. Since all the other versions were unofficial I didn’t know if I could trust them, so I tried to install Slaris and FreeBSD instead, but the installer was scary. Then I read a review of Ubuntu that made it sound nice and interesting and tried it. For the first few weeks or even months (I think it was 3 months) the PC card didn’t work, so I didn’t have any internet, thus no real ability to install applications. Eventually, after hunting down all kinds of solutions that didn’t work I found some long script that sort-of, kind-of worked. I went through it, cut out all the nonsense, and eventually found the command that finally got me the internet. Then I added it to the init script. This is from someone who until he first installed Ubuntu didn’t really know any of this stuff. I think the first 3 months of struggle are when I was most enthusiastic, most willing to work and contribute, but I burnt out most of my motivation on a distraction and never really got anywhere.

  7. Hi,

    A few nights ago I unleashed my wife on my notebook running 11.10 (should have left 11.04 on because it was a bit crashy)… She is a typical user of computers to get something specific done, other than that she has very little interest. She struggled her backside of with Unity.

    I captured her comments and goings on with Recordmydesktop and will polish it up a bit and upload it later 🙂

    • That would be great if you can post the comments and suggestions. It would have been better to be using 11.04. And Unity does need a bit of getting use to…however! I solution to this problem is about to hit the planet soon.

  8. I can understand that guy. I also don’t install Ubuntu for people who have absolutly no technical know-how and no interessting in learning new tech stuff (>90% of all women).

    And yes, I’m not a supporter. I have enought to do with 2 technical interessted friends I where I installed Ubuntu on their machines.
    You can’t install Ubuntu and leave them alone.

    • I disagree. The women in my life run Ubuntu and they are quite competent at it. And so are the men. Ubuntu knows no gender.

      In terms of “install Ubuntu and leave them alone”, that risk is mitigated by a local community willing to help out. Check for a list of Ubuntu teams near you. Ubuntu is developed and supported by an active community. There is also paid professional support available through Canonical.

  9. Charlene, Thanks for the article and the call to action. It is indeed one of my biggest frustrations in Ubuntu Vancouver and beyond.

    Things to keep in mind when demo’ing Ubuntu (or letting people test drive):
    1) Use a modern and stable released version. Ubuntu 11.04 at time of writing. Don’t “treat” your friends/family to unreleased code (Oneiric Ocelot) or old nasty bugs from 8.10 (as examples).
    2) Create an account just for them (use “Users and Groups”). That will ensure that they are experiencing as near the “freshly installed” experience as possible.
    3) If you’re running Ubuntu on old/scrap hardware that you rescued from the recycling stream, please forego the challenge until you’re running Ubuntu on a modern system.

  10. I have a list as long as my arm of people around me who are now using Ubuntu because I advocated. Some of them are family, some are friends. I’ve tried by best to explain why it’s important, but of course the biggest deal is getting the machine working for them first.

    And that is why as much as I support Free Software, I install restricted extras and other packages. I’d rather they were using a Free Desktop and proprietary flash, than a proprietary desktop and obviously self same flash.

    In fact I don’t think there are any windows users left anywhere near me.

    • This is great Martin. I’d like to encourage everyone who tries to duplicate your results by working from the certified hardware list. We often burn too much time/energy on the U-WOE issue (check my blog). The Ubuntu certified list is here:

      If your friends/family don’t have certified hardware, offer to help them trade or sell their current equipment.

  11. A small point of clarification. The Ubuntu Vancouver survey is worded like this:

    “Of your three closest friends and family members, how many are using Ubuntu?”

    The rationale behind phrasing the question in this manner (those closest), rather than in a more general sense (anyone) is that the people closest to us should be the ones that are in the best position to switch, and that have an additional reason/coaching to switch.

    If we are unable to convince or inspire those closest to us, we have a significant problem. It startled me the first time I polled, and it still startles me today. (And not in a good way.)

    So, I’d like to add to Charlene’s challenge by encouraging you to start with the persons in your life that you are closest to.

    Good luck to all. Please remember to share your results.

  12. At least three of my friends from my Masters degree class. I didn’t convert them. I just made it a point to always use Ubuntu as the base OS on my laptop and desktop, and let their curiosity get to them.
    When asked why I didn’t use any other OS, I simply said that I liked this more. No mention of freedom unless they asked.
    Almost everyone in class has had it installed in their system at some point of time now. Some like it, some hate it, but most agree it is useful. My experience is that once you experience freedom, you keep coming back for more.

  13. I have ubuntu on my 2 laptops and 3 workstations, and unnumberable servers. My wife uses then with no issue, but has no interest in losing windows (mainly due to itunes).

    Others I used to recommend, but can’t anymore, cause I can’t even upgrade my ubuntu desktops without loosing a usable menu. I have tried the new one in natty and oceiric, and just can stand it, even when it was netbook only, I refused to install netbook edition on my netbook cause it feels so limiting. And if I have to switch to a different distro, I can feel good recommending something I can’t use to someone else.

    • Ubuntu may not be the only operating system with freedom included, but it is the leader, the easiest, and the best chance the FLOSS world has to take freedom to the masses (those on the other side of the chasm).

      All that, and real community.

  14. My mom doesn’t want anything new or different. Give her Explorer and Outlook and she’s happy, although my Dad switched to Eudora, so she uses that. She only uses Ubuntu if she is forced to do so.

    My Dad wants to learn new stuff but has no time for it as he is always swamped with work. However, since Vista has become so slow and unresponsive as to become almost unusable, he started to use Ubuntu for some tasks. He says there’s a virus on Vista, although the anti-virus program doesn’t detect anything. He keeps saying he’ll switch to Windows 7 to match what he has at work, and that when he does so he will erase Ubuntu, but he never gets around to it.

    As to my friends, most use Windows and either don’t know or don’t care enough to bother with alternatives. One of them uses FreeBSD.

  15. I know exactly the reason behind this problem –

    Jokes apart, my friends/relatives do have some ugly applications that are Windows only and they are unwilling to take the pain to learn Ubuntu or use the Linux equivalents in spite of all the apparent advantages. I have still got 2 friends on to Ubuntu but I keep getting calls for their issues and I really don’t have time for that after a 50+ work-hours week…. 😛

    • There is some truth to that comic. But we all know Ubuntu’s not “cool” so let’s move forward. “Cool” is so yesterday and so damaging. Ubuntu is kind, human, and inviting.

      The second part of your post points to a lack of Ubuntu local community in your city. Consider joining an Ubuntu LoCo, or starting one, and your friends/relatives will have a new and robust way to get help.

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