[sf-lug] Another victory...

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Mon May 15 10:28:57 PDT 2006

Quoting Jim Stockford (jim.stockford at gmail.com):

> Gloria (one of the owners) says people are complaining
> that the machines aren't running the other OS. She'll
> probably change them.

OK, so time to re-post some of the lessons of The CoffeeNet, the
Linux-based Internet cafe I helped build in SOMA (and lived upstairs
from it), and that thrived and was a huge hit from its Auguest 1996
opening until it was forced by real estate machinations in July 2000 to
close.  Proprietor Richard Couture then moved to Guadalajara, Jalisco,
Mexico, and re-opened the business there as "LinuxCabal"
(http://www.linuxcabal.com/), where it's still doing well.

I have a mirror of the CoffeeNet Web pages, here:

...including the cafe's "help" pages describing its workstation
machines' fvwm2 interface using the tkGoodStuff button bar:

You'll notice no special effort was taken to imitate the MS-Windows
releases of the day.  Moreover, Richard deliberately did _not_ go out of
his way to install MS-Office-imitation business-productivity software, 
because of one very key decision he made:  He did _not_ want to
encourage people to bring in their high-stress business world (or
completing-one's-thesis-on-deadline) concerns, or other general
computing tasks.  By contrast, he wanted to offer Internet access (Web
browsing, IRC, e-mail, newsgroups) as an amenity to people visiting to 
have coffee and sandwiches in pleasant surroundings.  He did not seek to
sell computing or connectivity, both of which people already had at work
and at home.

And yes, there were a small minority of people who came in and bitched
about this:  These were the MS-Windows true believers and/or people
wanting to bring their office work with them.  Richard figured the fact
that _they_ were unhappy meant that he'd make exactly the right decision
for exactly the right reason.

And, you know what?  Despite the fact that fvwm2 didn't look a whole lot
like Windows 95/98/NT, hundreds of people per day used the (IIRC) eight
Linux-equipped Pentiums to browse the Web and read their mail without
even knowing or particularly caring what OS those ran.  Once a week or
so, a customer would get up and absent-mindedly ask the staff, Richard,
or me "Which versions of Windows is this running, anyway?"  They did
this because they were just curious, as an afterthought.  Which meant it
was a success for the general-public target audience:  OS identity
_should_ be an afterthought.

Anyhow, Gloria should consider _who_ is complaining -- and what she is
trying to achieve -- as Richard did.  Several competing Internet cafes
went bankrupt trying to compete with the CoffeeNet:  They (e.g.,
Cyberworld on Folsom) were driven out of the running by the high cost of
maintaining an entire IT departmental infrastructure, to deal with the
inevitable malware plagues, security breaches, etc. -- while Richard's 
Linux/NFS/NIS-based setup just kept right on running with _zero_ IT
staff, while its focus _away_ from Windows-type business tools
contributed to the reliably pleasant atmosphere that kept people coming

A lot of people (especially managers), however, simply cave in to a
perceived need to reduce complaints, and never bother to contemplate
what those complaints really indicate, in light of what the business is
trying to achieve.

Doing differently requires actually spending some thought about what you
_are_ really trying to achieve.  I'm not sure Gloria has yet done that.

> I've offered to help make them look more like the other OS.

In my opinion, this is solving the wrong problem.  The people who bitch
that they "can't use" (e.g.) KDE because it "needs to be more like
Windows" are using a code-phrase that actually means "I won't be happy
with anything _but_ MS-Windows -- which I'm insisting on because I can,
because I think you're wishy-washy on the subject, and because I think I
can redirect your business priorities through complaining."

KDE (to pick the most obvious example) and even typical GNOME setups are
so damned close to the look of MS-Windows that the notion of them
needing to be closer is simply bleedin' ludicrous.   

> I'll write up a proposal for us to put in a linux box, probably
> headless, but accessible physically and via their network.

Why?  What does this achieve?

If you want to have a showcase for Linux, then configure and deploy a
single desktop box (_not_ headless) and have it be available for
CoffeeNet-style Internet use.  Gloria and co. can be asked from time to
time whether it's given them any problems, e.g viruses -- and be counted
on to eventually realise it's been the only problem-free box in the
entire joint, along with the only one that didn't require gobs of
processor power and RAM just to get half-reasonable performance.

The CoffeeNet's workstations were all cheap P266 boxes with 64MB EDO RAM
(32MB, at first), a single 4GB IDE HD, a cheap 100Mbps Intel NIC, some
commodity video card with 2MB VRAM, a 17" ViewSonic monitor, a Logitech
TrackMan Marble trackball, and a KeyTronics keyboard.  /home, /tmp, and
/var were NFS-mounted from the NFS/NIS master in Richard's apartment
upstairs, and passwords were kept uniform across the LAN using NIS.

If some joker cracked root on a workstation and clobbered the system
load, the food servers had instructions on how to boot a custom recovery 
floppy, which automatically reimaged the system from the master server 
upstairs, rebooting it and putting it back into service 15 minutes
later.  I'm not sure the procedure was ever even needed.

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