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Promoting Linux in Bill's Backyard

Dec 14, 1998, 00:10 (3 Talkback[s])

Linux consultant Derek Simkowiak learns that in Redmond Linux is a tough sell even with great news coverage.

Linux was recently the subject of a feature spot by local Seattle TV station KCPQ. Dwight Johnson of Linux Today later caught up with Seattle Linux consultant Derek Simkowiak who had been interviewed in that feature.

Linux Today: You recently appeared on Seattle local TV station KCPQ with Randolph Bentson in a featured news story on Linux. Can you tell our readers who you and Randolph are?

Dr. Randolph Bentson is the author of Inside Linux (ISBN: 0916151891) and the author of the Cyclades Cyclom-Y async mux driver. He is listed in the CREDITS file.

I am a small business owner and Linux advocate. My company, K&D Development, focuses on Linux software development, although we do all kinds of computer consulting work. Whenever possible, we employ a Linux-based solution. Our customers get a better value, we get a reputation for a stable product, and we don't spend months working around a broken API.

Both Randolph and I are actively involved in the local LUG.

Linux Today: Can you tell our readers the specifics about the TV coverage you got and how the TV station came to run this story?

A few weeks ago, the local Fox station ran a story titled, "Microsoft's Image". They interviewed the mayor of Redmond, how she'd never met Bill Gates, and other tidbits about Microsoft's impact on the local community. Around here, anything to do with Microsoft is "news", but this was obviously filler material.

Compared to that story, the Open Source movement and Linux seemed far more interesting, especially when one considers its impact on Microsoft. So I called the reporter who did the "Image" story and told him about the Open Source movement.

To keep him interested, I had to stress the anti-Microsoft aspects of Linux. But when it came time to film, Randolph and I both followed the advice presented in the Linuxmanship article.

The biggest problem we came across was how to explain the Open Source movement. The story was only 90 seconds long--how do you explain what Open Source is when the majority of the population doesn't even know what source code is?

The only information we were really able to get into the story was that, "Linux is an Operating System for your computer, in the same way Microsoft Windows is an Operating System" and that "Linux is maintened by volunteer (and paid) programmers", resulting in a more stable product. The GPL was not even mentioned, nor was the term Open Source.

There were some shots of AfterStep 1.0 running the Gimp and Netscape, and a nice close-in of Tux. There was also some good footage of a local business that uses Linux for web serving and e-mail (office footage).

Overall, it came off rather well. Our biggest fear was that the Linux community would be made into some kind of Microsoft hate-group in the editing room. It wasn't.

Linux Today: What have been the benefits to the Seattle Linux community of this coverage?

The biggest advantage, I think, was in overall awareness and getting the general population to hear the word "Linux" for the first time. For a society that doesn't know how the coding/compiling process works, or what source code is, the Open Source movement cannot be explained in 90 seconds of sound bites.

Linux Today: Viewers were referred to a web page mounted on the web site for your business. Have there also been benefits to your business from this story? If so, what?

Somewhat surprisingly, no. The site listed at the end of the news story was meant as a starting point for people who wanted more detailed information. The hope was that people would be interested in the story, and then visit the URL to get the real info on Linux.

The 10pm showing only produced about 70 hits, and the 1:30am repeat showing only about 35 hits. Of those, less than 20 followed the link to our Seattle LUG site.

We had a LUG meeting two days after the story aired. The number of people who came because of the news story: zero.

I have not seen any impact on my business.

Linux Today: What have you learned from this experience about promoting Linux? What would you recommend to others interested in enlisting the media to promote Linux in their communities?

The sad truth is that most people don't care about computers or technology, and the general public has gotten used to having their systems crash once per day. Trying to explain Linux to Joe Average is like trying to explain knitting to a computer geek.

The only reason this story ever got aired was because of the anti-Microsoft aspects of the story--let's face it, everybody knows what Microsoft is, regardless of whether or not you like computers. The only thing that made the story interesting to the masses was that it represented a grass-roots movement against a monolithic empire (Star Wars theme, anyone?).

If you can get a short TV spot, try to get the very basics out: Linux is an Operating System. Linux is free. Linux is maintained by volunteers. Linux is very stable. If you are in the U.S., take care not to come off as a freak splinter group of Microsoft bashers--I've seen a lot of that in postings over the past few months, and those people need to realize they are hurting Linux, not helping it. From what I understand, the general public in Europe has a different opinion of Microsoft, so you'll have to decide how to best spin the story.

For those who are interested, the URL that was shown at the end of the story is http://www.kd-dev.com/linux (my business is the www.kd-dev.com). The Seattle LUG page is http://sealinux.itsite.com.

Finally, its worth mentioning that I contacted a couple of businesses that use Linux to have the film crew get some footage of their office. They declined, because so many of their clients around here are in business partnerships with Microsoft or because they were afraid it would affect their business negatively. Don't assume businesses using Linux are willing to admit it.