I. GNU/Linux Can And Should Address The Firefox Target
The success of Firefox is a self-confidence lesson for the free software community. It showed the community that free software can be really successful on the desktop, that it can really provide value to the end user instead of giving a hackish imitation of a commercial product, and that users will switch if they know there's a better, free alternative. Moreover it made a group of people at least vaguely aware of the Open Source concept, and with a winning product.
Now, we also know Firefox adoption growth is slowing. This means that Firefox, despite all its wonders, is ending to fill its natural niche, and it will only slowly grow among other users. What is this niche -and therefore the GNU/Linux potential target?
Firefox users can be classified -in my experience- mostly as "computer-friendly users". They're not computer geeks. They're the people that use the computer often for fun, day-to-day communication, multimedia fruition, P2P and so on. They usually use the computer at home for social activities and spend much time blogging, chatting, emailing and navigating. They are familiar with basic concepts like installing new software and drivers or customizing the GUI, and they can successfully accomplish tasks like reinstalling Windows or partitioning a hard drive, if they need to. They usually care very much about privacy, spamming and basic security needs, so they will probably install service packs, free firewalls and antispyware/antivirus products and will actively take care them. They are accustomed to IRC, blogs and forums, and they almost always look on Google or Wikipedia when they look for info about almost everything. They are not geeks or tech addicts, but they're often consumers of basic multimedia-oriented hi-tech products like digital cameras or DVD players. A significant proportion of them own a laptop. They're often students or young employers of middle to high cultural level. They see the computer as a natural extension of their environment.
What do these users want? They want a slick, friendly, easy, but customizable, cool desktop experience. They basically know their way with computers and they're ready to accept new concepts. They often want something economical too, because most of them are students or young workers. They don't want viruses or spyware at all. They want a lot of ready-to-go applications for free that can accomplish their basic everyday tasks.
If you agree with this description, you immediately agree this is the niche GNU/Linux can easily fit just now. GNU/Linux fits the needs of most of these users: slick, good-looking desktop, easy and fun to customize, good security, cheap, full of ready application, completely OK for all basic needs. These are exactly the users that will happily understand and accept what GNU/Linux is, and that will seriously consider googling and looking on the internet before installing it, if they're explained that's for their good. They're almost all potential GNU/Linux users: they just need to be educated to it. They will have no problem orienting themselves in a KDE 3.4 or GNOME 2.10 desktop, and they will probably find them even much nicer than Windows XP. They would learn to use even non-Windows-like interfaces like Fluxbox quite fast and easily without training, even if probably most of them won't leave mainstream desktop environments. They would be intimidated from the shell at first, but if properly educated they would understand how and why it works, and they will become quite soon able to use it at least for basic tasks.