Evangelising free software
(This was originally going to be a comment on Jonathan Rose's blog entry, but it grew far too long, and it looks like I'm ranting. So, ideal blog material, then.)
The trouble with evangelising is that it immediately makes you an outsider – you're the group of weird kids trying to persuade the heathen masses of something that might be against their best interests. (Not that free software is necessarily against their best interests.) The whole thing could potentially cast the whole of the free software community as a bunch of nutters, when we should be aiming to eventually become the mainstream (arguably).
For instance, using creative spellings of 'Microsoft' isn't terribly respectful – it creates a bad image of people who advocate free software. As the Linux Advocacy mini-HOWTO says, "If we expect respect for Linux, we must respect other products."
Really, there are two groups of people you might want to convince about the viability of free software; ITS, and Warwick students. Now, ITS will probably come round to using free software on their servers over time; for instance, they (afaik) still have a plan to deploy Linux desktops in greater numbers across campus, and just look at their new choice of mail server (Sendmail with a SquirrelMail web interface). I'm confident that this trend will continue, but it can only be made on technical arguments. It is also likely to be slow. I can't see all of campus switching away from Windows overnight.
Warwick students… well, there's a puzzle. The more technical among them will get exposed to GNU/Linux on desktops in DCS and Maths. Most of the rest simply won't care. The challenge could be to somehow find the demographic of users who would be open to trying Ubuntu Dapper when it gets released, for example – who have been hit by viruses and spyware in the past, and just want an easy desktop that lets them browse the web, check their webmail, and play music. This range of applications is more demanding than it sounds – it includes being able to run Java applets, play Flash animations, and various multimedia codecs that don't have free implementations yet, so you couldn't currently give them a completely free desktop without some complaints.
Your best bet at furthering 'the cause', is to learn as much as you can, and either start programming free software, or get a job administering GNU/Linux servers, or both – the entire computer industry has to turn around before 'Linux on the desktop' is going to be feasible. The first thing that has to happen is widespread adoption of servers running free software in businesses (for technical reasons, which is already starting to happen), and then a standardisation on a free platform for those businesses' desktops. People might then end up wanting to use the same software at home as at work. It's simply not going to happen overnight, and I would contend that effective advocacy does not include hanging around outside the library, preying on people with Knoppix CDs.