Will XP Users Shun Windows 8 in Favor of Ubuntu?

Tuesday Oct 30th 2012 by Matt Hartley
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While Ubuntu use is growing, a flood of new users is unlikely unless the open source community does a better job of getting the word out.

Historically, Windows hasn't been tremendously effective in the area of backwards compatibility. Anyone who has migrated to a new Windows release with older peripherals has likely felt the pain I'm talking about.

On the flipside, the idea that Windows 8 will drive Windows users to Ubuntu in droves is unlikely. If a new PC buyer has been content with the Windows OS, switching suddenly to something else is highly improbably. Even if keeping their existing hardware and locating a good Linux distro might be a more economical solution, most people will stick with what they know. It's simply a matter of familiarity for most Windows users looking to upgrade.

Ubuntu Is Attracting New Users Every Day

Although we don't have hard numbers on the Ubuntu adoption rate, we do know that Ubuntu is seeing new users every day. Many of these users are installing Ubuntu on newer hardware so they can enjoy all that Unity has to offer.

This is great news; however, these days it feels like Ubuntu's focus on newer hardware has left existing users of older hardware out in the cold. Normally, I wouldn't have a problem with this, except that Ubuntu has left some users wondering if it will continue to be a viable option for them. I touched on this in a previous article.

In many respects, Windows 8 is much like Ubuntu in that it is best suited for newer hardware. The one area where Ubuntu enjoys an advantage is with peripheral compatibility. As a rule, if it worked in a previous release of Ubuntu, a peripheral will work just fine with the latest Ubuntu release.

Are peripherals enough to drive people over to a new platform?

In most instances, no, not even a little bit.

The fact is, most users are bound to a familiar software and desktop layout that they’ve come to expect. It’s the price folks pay when they become accustomed to a proprietary operating system. Once you’re locked into a needed proprietary application and its corresponding file format, you may be locked in for good. There are certain motivations that may potentially still bring people over to Ubuntu, but the legacy software issue remains a concern.

Windows XP to Windows 8 Migration Represents an Opportunity

Despite the software lock-in issue, one group of Windows users may be willing to try out a Windows alternative. These users are the ones who will be upgrading from Windows XP.

Regardless of what you may have read elsewhere, Windows XP is alive and well in the world. And things are going to become interesting when XP users look to their next upgrade path.

For the less tech-savvy, the natural upgrade path is going to be to a new Windows 8 PC. After all, Windows is a brand these users know.

However, for those who have been exposed to Ubuntu Linux at some level, the temptation to give the OS a shot might finally take hold. These individuals are usually more tech-savvy or might be the family tech support person. Assuming the PC is fast enough to support it, Ubuntu suddenly looks like a viable option in these instances.

But before we get too excited, there are some things that need to happen here in order to maximize Ubuntu’s adoption rate during the Windows 8 release cycle.

No One Is Getting the Word Out About Ubuntu

Most people may not realize this, but Ubuntu was advertised on Adwords for a week or so, likely for testing purposes. The ads were poorly designed and probably didn’t yield the success that was anticipated. And to be fair, traditional advertising might not be the best approach for getting the word out about Ubuntu.

A more natural approach would be a greater focus on the Ubuntu LoCo teams. These are Ubuntu support groups who volunteer to put on events in their local areas. They help those who need assistance with Ubuntu, along with providing other great benefits.

With this in mind I went to my own LoCo group page thinking surely there would be lots happening considering how new Ubuntu 12.10 is, right? Sadly, I was mistaken. Upon visiting, I was presented with a static website and crickets.

Worse than that, the more I dug through, the more disappointing things were. After clicking on Washington State’s LoCo wiki, I found myself presented with “other” Linux user groups. Clicking on the forum link led to IRC logs, a mailing list, and other uber-geeky means of reaching out--not exactly newbie friendly. But hey, at least the Facebook and Twitter pages were loaded up with content! But upon visiting the local LoCo Facebook page, I was presented with a post from May... of 2011.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I explored other state LoCo groups. My next stop was to the California LoCo. After all, if this tech-savvy state weren't well represented, then I might as well have given up looking into LoCos at this point. Unlike the Washington group, California’s had an event scheduled for November in San Jose! Excited, I clicked on the link to get more details on what cool things I might learn but saw with nothing more than an event name and a locale. Seriously guys, this is supposed to get me to the event? Frustrated, I finally clicked on the event name and finally discovered a page with information on "Ubuntu Hour."

From the limited information listed there, it was clear to me that this page was targeting those who already knew what Ubuntu is. And once again, it lacked any compelling reason for me to check it out. But hey, at least they offered pictures! On the plus side, I was thrilled to see that their forum was very active, so that was good.

After poking around the various LoCo resources, I realized why the expertise gap remains between Ubuntu and Windows and how incredibly ineffective the current LoCo setup is. Honestly, I’ve seen local Linux User Groups with better organization than this! While the LoCos do okay with coordinating international events, they remain largely within their own little echo chamber. And last time I checked, that isn’t a great way to get new users on board.

We Need to Go to the People

Finding myself rather disenfranchised with the LoCo approach to community outreach, I think that taking the following approach would be vastly more effective. How do I know? Because I’ve done this with non-Linux products in my youth and will tell you firsthand, this works.

Linux events aren’t enough. We need to start looking at where the "real" people are. Schools, malls, airports, anyplace one can set up a table with access to power and broadband should have a means of demonstrating what Ubuntu can do!

The obvious hurdle would be getting the funds to make such a thing happen. So I propose recruiting tech-savvy big dollar sponsors, such as HP, Intel and Google, among others!

The idea is to frequent someplace where you can get the biggest bang for your buck. And if possible, use a video camera to capture the actual reactions of people using Ubuntu for the first time. I can attest to the fact that most user reactions are priceless and positive!

From there, we could open up a true dialog. We could sell flash drives with Ubuntu pre-loaded, and put the captured video onto YouTube for all to see.

Get a viral campaign going. Put out a call to the community to share why they love using Ubuntu. Perhaps we could even use the idea behind the once-successful Mozilla Firefox Flix campaign! A video like this explaining the dangers of using Windows 8 would go viral very quickly.

The ideas listed above would easily help get the word out about Ubuntu and potentially help steer those legacy-loving Windows XP users into the arms of a better operating system.

Closing Thoughts

So there you have it--the reasons why someone would or wouldn’t consider making the leap to Ubuntu from Windows, the challenges that may be faced and my suggestion for a way to get the word out about Ubuntu to Windows users.

My goal with this article is to make sure we are actually being realistic about how we are attracting new Ubuntu users. As things stand now, new users are coming on board through one of the following ways:

  • Schools/Work -- Some schools and workplaces are using Ubuntu as the standard desktop operating system, which introduces new users to the OS.
  • Introduced by a geek -- A friend or family member may have installed and set up Ubuntu.
  • Windows power users -- Oftentimes experienced, geeky Windows users show an interest in Ubuntu and want to learn more about it.

Each of these areas of Ubuntu discovery are fine; however, they are also very limiting. All of these methods of Ubuntu discovery require someone geeky enough to be the force pushing others into trying it. This simply isn’t enough, and as I discussed above, I think we can do better.

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