New-to-you laptop: best for churches or non-profits, part 3

Michelle Murrain, in the last installment of “New-to-you laptop” asks

Now, of course, there is the next question: how do we get people comfortable with using Linux?

This seems to be ground others have covered, at least in part. One approach would be to introduce open-source software already ported to Microsoft, specifically the Firefox browser and OpenOffice.org. Web browsing, web applications and an office suite would cover so much of what our hypothetical religion or non-profit worker would need. Solveig Haugland, OpenOffice.org writer and trainer, suggests this is the time for Microsoft Office users to convert to OpenOffice.org anyway, as radical redesigns will make OpenOffice.org easier to understand for current MS Office users than the 2007 version of MS Office. I can hardly wait to see how IE7 will be received, but Firefox has had can’t-live-without-it tabbed browsing for years and its community has been crystal-clear about the few security problems it has had.

One way to introduce these Windows-ported applications is by carrying them on a USB drive. Get them at PortableApps.com. (As a laptop-less person, I’ve carried OpenOffice.org “on a stick” in case I needed an office suite when staying at a hotel. You never know what the supplied computer has on it.) A better way to introduce Linux is by using a “live disc.” Boot up a computer with a live disc in it — and today Ubuntu Linux install discs serve as live discs — and it can run Linux from the disc drive, albeit rather slowly. (Remove the disc and reboot and the computer is back to normal.)

But an appeal to “open source as freedom” — even free of charge software — won’t appeal to many new acquirers if they think the software won’t work or they won’t understand it, and Linux has that reputation. (Discounting at the same time how byzantine MS can be.) Right now, the biggest problems Linux has it cannot use some popular software end-users will think are indespensible, like Quicken. Hardware problems continue. That’s a reason I think the growing edge for non-expert Linux (and especially Ubuntu Linux) include “non-power users” — say, an email and web appliance for Uncle Joe — and professionals with needs already well-covered by open-source software. Clergy and some non-profit pros seem to be in this boat. (There are others, but I think server admins are beyond my scope.)

Trust that’ll it work first, then convince people how right it is. That’s for later.

Now for laptops. The Ubuntu Fridge blog had a post a little while back about the laptop habits of Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu Linux’s founder and sabdfl, and I thought that for a multi-millionaire that his tastes are not really out of my reach (but out of the scope of this project).

And poking around at ubuntu.com I found this list of laptops end-users made reports on, perhaps making it easier to see which models would be appropriate low-end repurposing.

But only so low end — without wifi and at least one USB port, I think we’re engaging in historical re-enactment, not efficient administration. (Perhaps the really old ones can live on as thin clients, or as a small PBX (office phone system) server? — again, beyond my skills or this post.)

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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