“I run Mac Unix.”
“I run Windows Dos”
“I run ubuntu Linux”
“I run a Ford carburator.”
“I run Android Linux”
What the heck? Come again? None of these sentences should be occurring because these sentences contain significant branding and social fails.
But we are all a little under-educated, so I’m going to go easy on you because many people in the past have gone easy on me – including all the people referenced in this post. I’m going to put lots of reference links so we can keep coming back here as a one-stop shop. This can be your ‘Why We don’t say Linux in Social Gatherings’ post.
First a bit of a background. I have a ham radio license. That’s right. A ham radio license. And I’m proud of it. I will be able to call my ham friends when all of your telecom is down. But just because I’m a ham operator does not mean I will drop that info in just any old conversation. Nor would a lawyer admit that he was a lawyer if he was enjoying a few drinks with normal people. Get it?
This ain’t the 80s any more. In fact, it’s not even the 90s any more. We can drop the L word. Let’s begin our journey with Randall Ross’ article on exactly that topic.
But it wasn’t just Randall and myself who dropped the L word. Canonical also dropped the L word from all their material. So Canonical, who has an actual marketing department, who has made ubuntu the best OS on the planet, and who has build relationships with some of the biggest companies on the planet has dropped the L word. As per the intro of this post, you don’t see users of other operating systems walking around talking about the core engine of their operating system. It’s uneeded. It screws up the brand and the message of simplicity and complicates it. Still not convinced? No problem.
Many people who don’t drop the L word are called ‘1337’. Don’t ask me. Apparently this is not the numbers 1337 but instead means ‘leet’ or ‘elite’. In essence, it means ‘I’m arrogantly higher tech than you.’ Joe Liau wrote extensively on ‘1337’ here if you’d like to learn more and laugh a bit. It would be perhaps someone who is a ‘geek and proud of it’ in all the wrong ways. Perhaps it would be the guy who brags that he’s missing the party to go to the computer club in high school. Not cool. It’s cool that you are going to the computer club but it’s not cool that you are missing the party and it’s even more uncool that you are bragging about it. So, people who say ‘ubuntu Linux’ are technologically arrogant. Perhaps another analogy would be the two guys talking about the latest Porsche engine components or the details of the baseball players batting average. It’s obvious that very few people in front of you are going to know or care about the lingo. Engaging them in lingo you know they won’t know, you are wilfully looking big in front of someone and showing off perhaps to compensate some other insecurity. You’re disrespecting them.
Now for you folks who say ‘ubuntu is linux’ – no. It’s not. Linux is a kernel. It has taken me a while and a bunch of emails back and forth to cement this and be able to talk confidently about it but here is the analogy from a few friends of mine:
1. Linux is a kernel, not an operating system. Go to www.linux.org, get a copy of Linux and try to boot it on your computer. Hint: good luck and make sure you pack a lunch!
2. Saying “I run Linux on my computer’ is analogous to saying “I took my carburator to work.” Yes, the carb was under the hood and part of the engine that got you to work, but it was the rest of the engine, the design team on the body, the seatbelts and airbags, and stellar surround sound stereo with lots of bass that got you to work in style.
“Linux is the ‘carb’. Ubuntu is the ‘car’.”
And you can quote that and give me zero credit if you want because the revelation was built on the back of many. Although I’m very thankful for the carb, I don’t ever talk about it unless I’m at a mechanics shop or with a group of car enthusiasts out of ear shot of anyone who wouldn’t give a crap about car talk.
If you really want to see ubuntu become greater, you’ll need to take an active concern about changing some habits. We’re all guilty of misrepresenting someone or something at some point, including ubuntu. But this ain’t the 80s or 90s any more. Ubuntu is mainstream. Let’s take ubuntu from mainstream to all stream by becoming better ambassadors for the brand. For ten simple tips to improve the way you represent ubuntu see this series by Randall.
Final note since we’re talking about brand: I started using lower case ‘u’ for ubuntu since I’ve noticed that’s what the brand does. Unless it finds itself at the beginning of a sentence in which case I feel it deserves a capital.
One last time, class:
“Linux is the ‘carb’. Ubuntu is the ‘car’.
And just to be clear:
ubuntu is a Ferrari. The rest are just Pintos.
So there I am talking to the Bitter Barista. The Bitter Barista (aka Bitter or BitBar), if you don’t know him, runs Ubuntu Central, a nick-name given to this branded cafe that hosts many of the Ubuntu Loco meetups in Vancouver. He feels it’s his job to train the public to become better people. He also believes it’s his job to filter the quality of people who go to his cafe believing that if you get rid of a few bad apples that more good apples will come. You may, therefore, not like him if you happen to be one he believes is a bad apple. Many, however, who have chosen not to get offended and hear his perspective have built lasting friendships with him and Bitter will protect them against bad apples in their life as well. Point is this – he says what he believes and gives everyone the chance to start a great relationship with him.
Bitter is also a serious believer in the Ubuntu Project. He ‘gets’ it. He started out like many people as just some dude who wanted his computer to run better and more securely but then discovered the bigger picture. He’s not a super technical guy but appreciates and knows how to relate to those who are. He’s serious about doing whatever it takes to make Ubuntu the driving force behind how we relate to our technology and making sure we’re not getting unknowingly (or knowingly) abused. He believes that “the Ubuntu brand and public perception is key to pulling more people into Ubuntu-land” as he said and, “A few bad Ubuntu apples can make a barista really bitter.”
So there I am, talking to Bitter. He starts telling me this story. I asked him if I could record and transcribe it so it’s bang-on accurate and he agrees. *Disclaimer: the audio transcription you are about to read may or may not have been perfectly transcribed and some off-colour comments have been removed to keep it family-friendly.
So this dude comes in for a coffee. First of all, he annoys me at the till. He’s with this quiet girl and is clearly trying to impress her by being ultra-casual with me and trying to force some small talk and act like he’s my buddy. Then he orders a drink for himself but not a drink for the girl. This guy should have kept workin’ the girl until she gave in and ordered something. You could totally tell she wanted a hot chocolate. So this dude doesn’t even buy the girl he’s with a drink. Fail. I’m bitter. And once I’m bitter, you can’t fix it without a lot of hard work. Who is this guy anyways? So I stop talkin’ to him as soon as possible by pretending to wipe counters. Thankfully another customer came who was boring and predictable because it was a big improvement over Loudmouth.
A little while later, I notice out of my peripheral vision that Loudcakes is heading for the door with Victim-girl. Phew! Thank goodness. So I prepare to not interact with him to make sure he doesn’t think I want to be his buddy. Then, to my dismay I hear this annoying, loud voice ring out,
“Hey! Where’d you get THIS?” holdin’ up an Ubuntu Vancouver Loco marketing page. I don’t see what he’s talking about, so I say,
“What, man? Where’d I get what?”
“This!” he says holding up the Ubuntu brochure.
“Oh, that. I’m a member of Ubuntu Vancouver. In fact we use this cafe for various events.”
“Do you commit, man?” he yells. I look at the girl whose eyes also gloss over.
“Commit? What are you talking about?”
“Commit!” He says again louder and more annoyingly.
“Dude. I commit to many things. Why are asking me this?”
“Commit code, man!” He attempts to clarify.
“What are you TALKING about, man? Are you asking me if I’m a programmer or something?”
“Yeah!” he happily beams.
“No. I’m a user of the software and a member of the Ubuntu community.”
“Oh. You’re just a user.” he says somewhat disappointed.
“No, man. I’m not ‘just a user’. I’m a user and a member of the Ubuntu community. And thanks for coming. Have a good one!” I said with the nasty fake smile. Even this guy figured out it meant ‘get out and let’s end this conversation’.
What a loser. Seriously. If I met this guy and he represented, say, a coffee shop… I’d take out my pen, write down the name and location of the shop and make sure I never ended up there. I think if you just give me the power to give prison terms for talking about Ubuntu in public you’d have at least 80% more saturation in the market.
True enough that BitBar is a bit bitter, but his points are valid. Every major proprietary competitor to Ubuntu has marketing specialists they pay to make sure they project a certain image of the brand and product. This makes sure that people feel a sense of ‘pride’ related to their choice of Operating System (OS) and the people who use that OS. But they take money from every corner of the world to fund that.
Ubuntu is different.
BitBar, whether he likes Loudcakes or not, has to accept him in his family like the socially awkward uncle at the family reunion whether he likes it or not. That’s the downside of freedom.
So then how does Ubuntu brand itself and attract more family members?
With people. That’s how.
Ubuntu people need to attract more people who can attractively represent the Ubuntu brand. Simultaneously, Ubuntu needs to have a kind of marketing program/code of conduct where guys like Loudcakes can be given the tools to talk about Ubuntu in a way that doesn’t make people want to run away like from a fart in an Austin Mini. Even though I know first hand of the dangers that lurk in the Jehovah Witness faith, who can fault them for looking bad? I bet they have attracted most of their members by dressing up well and politely handing out deceptive pamphlets. They are well trained on how to act and what words to say, but also what not to say. On the occasions when I did stop to chat, they have always been polite and very well-adjusted people with a variety of racial and age representation. They ‘appear’ as a family.
They don’t yell, “Hey man! Do you commit?”