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Many Linux fans (of which I am one) take a rather Linux-centric view of the desktop issue: "Hey, we have this great, free, stable OS, surely you will want to switch from yours?" To which a normal user would reply, "Well, I don't care very much about the OS itself, I just want to run application X,Y, and Z." A much easier sell would be: "You should try this free alternative to MS Office. It can be installed on your current OS, and run at the same time as MS Office if you like. And if you don't like it, it's easy to uninstall, and everything will be back to normal."
At the moment, many are hoping that WINE and CrossOver Office will bring users to Linux. But why should a business owner switch to an unknown OS with the learning curve that implies, only to run the same applications as before through a buggy and complicated-to-set-up interface? She still needs to have licenses (and pay for them) for those applications anyway. It makes much more sense to keep the OS that came with the machine (because it's "free" then, right? Or at least, "I've paid for it already, anyway.") and then install Free Software instead of MS Office, etc. Perhaps WINE-like systems can play an important part later, when individuals or businesses consider migrating to Linux because they see that they can then use Linux versions of the Free Software they are already using. Then they can WINE when "there is this one Program X I need that only runs on Windows." If that one program can be shown to work with WINE, then the user has no reason not to switch.
So, if you who agree that this is a key approach to promoting Free Software (many will disagree; fair enough), the next question is how do we help promote it in this way? I suggest that we set up a Web site or at least a forum for this purpose. The participants would then nominate and vote on Free Software alternatives for each relevant proprietary OS. The programs at the top of the list would then be compiled and ISOed, so that anyone easily can download and distribute them. A new disc could be launched each month and simply be called the "OpenCD" or "The Free Software Collection." If such a compilation were to reach critical mass, it would be possible to get hardware resellers to bundle it with machines, etc.
It seems that the three projects soon to be released in version 1.0, namely OpenOffice, Mozilla and AbiWord, are obvious candidates, but there is still lots of room on a disc. I'm sure others will have lots of good suggestions. However, I don't think that we should strive to fill up the 650MB of a CD just for the sake of it; I would strive for quality, not quantity. There are plenty of CDs with "free software" bundled with computer magazines etc., but these often contain mostly shareware or demos of proprietary stuff. Besides, a 200MB ISO image is faster to download and burn.
This should all be relatively easy, but I also think great improvements can be made on this idea with a bit more work. First, a Web site should be set up which contains a description of each of the programs on the disc, and these Web files should also be included on the the CD so that the user can read about a program before installing. This should auto load when the CD is inserted to make it easy, and it should look professional. It would also be useful to have a friendly install shell where the user can launch each installer with a click. There should also be up-front information about what impact it will have on the system, such as the required disc space and file association changes, and information about how to uninstall. The CD might also include some classic Open Source literature for the curious, and a collection of useful links.
Some have suggested that GNU/Linux should be marketed more professionally, with glossy ads in Newsweek and Time. While that would probably help market the OS, it requires large recourses and a centralized effort. The free-CD approach, on the other hand, can be done in the typical decentralized Open Source way, and should be well within our abilities and resources.
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