Users and Open Source Software

Blake Ross wrote an interesting blog entry yesterday about Internet Explorer and Firefox that highlights the chasm between developers and users of software. Many of us think nothing of using the command prompt, FTP, and other utilities that are second nature to us, while some users have never installed a piece software and do not even know what a browser is. They use one and know that they access the Internet; however, some confuse it with a search engine, and others do not realize that it is an independent application separate from the operating system.

One of the challenges of the SpreadFirefox campaign has been in educating these users. “So you can imagine convincing someone to download an ‘alternative’ to a product he didn’t know he used, in a genre of software he never knew existed,” (Blake Ross). Developers and other techies frequently make the argument about technical superiority (it is better, so people will use it). “These kinds of arguments ignore an entire spectrum of barriers facing ‘regular people’ that we developers never contend with, and I think our industry would do well to empathize with them,” (Blake Ross).

If we want average users to adopt open source technologies, we need to remove our techie hats for a bit to help them understand ‘why’ they should use it while talking in a language that appeals to them.

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