Last october I wrote about the first Italian presentation of Free Software inside a supermarket chain because it looked to me, and still looks, a wonderful idea that should find many followers worldwide, since it proves that Free Software isn’t a boring topic best left to software professionals.
When I published the Italian version of that article I got some congratulation and this critique from Italy, born out of the fact that the article explains how and why Coop (the supermarket chain) promoted Gnu/Linux even if (as of october 2010) they didn’t use it internally or sell computers with Gnu/Linux preinstalled:
“If I were a Linux advocate I would avoid to advertise such an article, and recommend that people read it… because that’s something that Windows advocates should do. It doesn’t seem really useful to me as something to show people to convince them to try Linux. It is counterproductive to present the case of Coop that doesn’t use and doesn’t sell Linux, and explaining that they don’t because they found it wasn’t worth the effort. I may even agree with their choices, but (as a Linux advocate) I see no need to give them such public exposure”
Promoting more discussion on all these themes is one of the reasons why I wrote that article. The more the better. I had no time to do it earlier, but since I got similar feedback even outside Italy, here is my complete answer to this critique.
Personally, it seems to me that that article about Linux being presented in a supermarket that doesn’t use and doesn’t sell Linux is very useful to the cause of Free Software (that’s why I wanted to write it), because it may help many Linux advocates to get closer to the real world, in a couple of ways.
The first is to understand things won’t change… until we’ll spend much more time than today to go and speak directly with the masses, with the majority of normal people. With the people, that is, that choose to spend their saturday afternoon inside shopping malls “cuz no way I’m gonna get stuck inside some school to talk software with a buncha nerds”. That one presentation inside a supermarket may do much more for Free Software in Italy than all the professional comparison of Linux and Windows TCOs made in the other 132 seats of the Italian Linux Day 2010. Incidentally, this is also the reason why I wrote the Nine questions for a Linux Day (or any other moment).
The other reason is to remember that today many corporations and Public Administrations still think and proceed just like Coop explains in that article. Should the fact that the so-called TCO of Linux is, in some cases, actually lower than that of Windows be hidden? Shouldn’t it be acknowledged, to understand how to improve the situation?
There would be a lot to comment about the reasons presented by Coop to stick with Windows. Maybe I’ll do it myself someday, but so can everybody else. But today it is possible, just because that article is online, to ask Coop or Gartner (their consultants) to justify that decision or discuss its weaknesses. Me, I simply told things as they actually stand.
Why should I have avoided it? On this website there are about 200 articles about Free Software and Open Standards and the Coop one was the first where in which somebody else promotes Windows over Linux. Besides, if we don’t tell everybody that even a company that doesn’t use and doesn’t sell Linux now (cfr next paragraph) feels the need to “study” this phaenomenon, what should we tell? The fact that people who like Linux… use Linux? Is that news?
As far as the second part of the critique is concerned, that is “it is counterproductive to present the case of Coop that doesn’t use and doesn’t sell Linux…”: if you agree with that, please do read the original article. The Coop manager that I interviewed explicitly said that they had started to sell netbooks with Linux preloaded, then stopped simply because almost nobody would buy them. If Coop’s customers (that is, normal, average people) couldn’t care less about Linux today, how should we change this situation? Should we go to speak with them where they are, or speak with somebody else? I really hope that in 2011 there will be many more presentations like that one in Coop, in places where nobody uses or sells Linux.