I guess that's one of the benefits of the "long tail" of blogging. I can get on my soapbox and speak directly to my audience. I know what to say and how to tweak their buttons. Most of my family and friends stay pretty far away from my blog since it's too "technical" for them. Yet how do I present a version of the message available on my blog (if you grok geek) distilled into more palatable laymans terms? What was the first thing that appealed to me about open source?

When I first heard about open source I thought the idea of give and take was quite compelling. As a poor student, I liked that I could have (for free) the software I needed, the ability to work from my dorm instead of the crowded labs, and that I could tweak my computer. Those are some benefits of open source to a computer science student. But what about a non geek? Say my friend who is a doctor, or my mom who teaches school?

My wife and I were recently able to join my friend and his family for dinner. We don't see each other too much anymore since we live in different states, and he is pretty busy spending 90 hours in a hospital each week doing his residency (not to mention his wife who is clerking for a judge or their newborn child). They asked me about my job and I stated that my company provides enterprise support for open source.

Now I'm going to go out on a limb. The biggest problem facing open source adoption among common folk is ignorance (forget companies with monopolistic practices spreading FUD here and there). Yeah, I guess that's called marketing (but don't ask me, I'm an engineer) or lack of it.

I asked my friend and his wife what they knew about open source, which was very little. But when I told my altruistic doctor friend about the empowering nature of open source, and how it could enable the common user of the computer to use and develop applications that previously required very expensive middleware, he thought that was pretty cool. (I knew that since he had spent a bit of time in 3rd world countries volunteering in medical facilities he would be able to draw some comparisons).

The idea of software being developed for the common good of society resonated strongly with them. Yet they had never really heard of it before...

My mother, who teaches CTE in middle school recently related to me that her whole school district was moving to "open source" software for their office suite. Supposedly she was the only member of the faculty who knew of open source (my mom is known to exagerrate a little bit, but I don't think she's off by much). Luckily I'm her son, so she knew a little about open source and she knew that linux was something to do with a computer.

Does my mom care whether the software she is running is open source? No. But when you tell her that the school district no longer needs to send a big check to a certain supplier of productivity software every year, she will grok that. And it resonates well with her. She would much rather have ingredients for her students to cook with. (And quite frankly she can't tell the difference between two different word processors).

So how do other people present open source to their non-tech saavy friends? How do you change the message so that the choir understands it? I'm not claiming that everyone needs to run linux. It is satisfying though when someone starts to use firefox or openoffice after a bit of friendly encouragement....