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Promoting Linux in Bill’s Backyard

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.