Linux Social Experiment…People have NO clue

I spent a day doing something I see people do every day and never give them another thought.

There is hardly a street corner or intersection in Austin Texas that does not have bedraggled soul standing there with a sign in his hand. Sometimes they have spouses, some have kids, sometimes they have dogs…but regardless of who they have with them, there is a constant.

They all hold signs.

The idea came to me while I was helping my daughter with her homework. There was no direct reason why I should have come up with the idea during that event. It was just a random thought on which I followed through. What if I were to stand on a street corner with a sign in MY hand? One in which did not ask for money, food, a job or sympathy, but offered to give people something for free? What if I offered people waiting at the stoplight of a busy intersection free Linux disks?

I spent the next two evenings burning disks, covers and putting them in cheap cases. I made 60 of them and put them in two shoe boxes. The next morning, I traveled about 3 miles to an intersection of William Cannon Blvd. and the I-35 feeder road. I parked my pickup truck in the Kmart parking lot and carried my stuff over to my corner. It was there I sat up shop at 7 AM.

After 20-plus years in the United States Army, I have an aversion to barbers and razors. With the aid of a pair of old blue jeans, run down tennis shoes and a ratty old jacket, I didn’t look much different than any other street person. My “sign” was a 3×3 cardboard boxtop with the following message.

Stop paying for the privilege of using your computer. Get your free Linux disks here.
Ask scroungy-looking guy for details.

And in droves, by the dozen and then by the hundreds…they ignored me. I made it a point to attempt eye contact with everyone in the closest lane to me. When cars were stopped at the light, I had several disks in one hand and the sign in the other. It was amazing how many people found things to fiddle with in their cars when I looked at them. As the traffic idled at the light, I would walk down the median and hold up my sign so they could see it clearly. It was shortly after the morning work rush hour that it began to happen.

People gave me money…

And cigarettes…

4 gave me gift certificates to local eateries.

Some gave me phone numbers.

Go figure.

They were not reading my sign. They just assumed I was begging for money, and they handed it out the car windows and quickly retreated to their sanctuary. Most had the power windows rolled up before I could say thank you.

It was only after the morning rush that people actually seemed to read my sign and asked me what it was all about. Many judged that I had been hired by someone to do this thing I was doing. but in the 200 or so people in that day that actually spoke to me about what I was doing, only 9 knew anything about Linux. I gave away every disk that day. Those that took the time to speak to me were genuinely interested in the concept of a free operating system. All but a handful had the slightest clue that there was an alternative to Microsoft Windows. The thing that struck me most was the relief on their part when they found I wanted nothing from them. Some laughed and joked with me, others just wanted to get on their way. At 4:15 PM, I was out of disks and the traffic was picking up. It was again rush hour and those who waited at the light wanted nothing but the comfort of their homes. They wanted nothing to do with some scruffy-looking guy standing on the corner with a sign in his hand.

It was beginning to hint at darkness when I picked up my boxes, sign and my trash. I had packed a small lunch in a paper bag and put it in one of the shoe boxes. Mixed in with the empty sandwich wraps and chocolate milk carton was my “earnings” for the day. I got back to my truck and started it, wanting nothing but to go to my own home. As I waited for the engine to warm, I looked across the parking lot at the opposite corner of the traffic light. Some middle-aged guy with a worn field jacket and a ball cap stood on the corner holding a sign. I put my truck in gear and entered traffic, then stopped at the light where he stood.

I rolled down my window and motioned him over. He looked behind him and then to the side, not sure if I was signaling to him. I made the gesture again and he warily approached.

“How you doin’ buddy.”

The guy looked at me and shrugged.

“OK I guess…it’s gonna get cold tonight.”

I shook my head in agreement and reached into the shoe box next to me and took out my lunch sack. I stuck it out the window and handed it to him.

“Here you go man. You have a good day.”

The guy took the bag and said thanks without looking in it. I pulled away and smiled. I had spent hours and hours creating those Linux disks I had given away, but giving away that grease stained lunch sack was better. I fought the impulse to look in the mirror and see if he was checking it out. I had already tallied the contents.

Currency = $144.09.

Cigarettes = 4 packs.

Gift certificates for a meal at Chili’s, Applebee’s and Logans = 4.

Standing in that man’s shoes for a day…

A gift that cannot be measured.

All-Righty Then


55 Responses to “Linux Social Experiment…People have NO clue”

  1. Pascal Says:

    What a lovely read. I spent my day today doing a presentation jointly with my father at a school just outside of the ACT, here in Canberra, Australia on open source and GNU/Linux, but really, it would be interesting to do the same experiment you went about down here in Australia and seeing the response. My initial guesses are that people would be more receptive and interested than what you experienced up in the states.

    I would partially blame it on society - the lack of interest in new things - and the consumer driven market. Most people nowadays in the ‘great’ western world are afraid of the term “free”, because it has come to indicate something completely different than what it means, especially in regard to the GNU philosophy. People nowadays seem to be afraid of the words “free culture society”, or “sharing”. I think a lot of people don’t even know what they truly should mean.

    You’ve got me inspired to do something like this myself now. I’ve already distributed and shared around my 55 Ubuntu Breezy Badger CDs. Just actually ordered in some more to fill the demand. I suppose I could order some more again, several hundred in fact and see how the response goes if I replicate your little experiment here in down under. Maybe… will have to consider it. I prefer presentations m’self. =]

    A big kudos from me for this entry and the actions that lead to it. Simply inspiring. Kind regards mate,

    Pascal Klein

  2. Pascal Says:

    In response.

  3. Llaicky o webu a jin�ch exotin�ch » Blog Archive » Linux Social Experiment - aneb rozd�v�n� Linuxu na ulici Says:

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  4. kgb Says:

    You did a nice experiment. Very nice. ;-)

  5. czubin Says:

    Actually I did something similar.

    On Software Freedom Day, me and a friend joined a small party in (belgium) Gent where we went to give out ubuntu discs, most people ignore you but when things got a little bit less busy some people actually were interested; not the younger people but the more older , and not that many woman :\
    I supose women aren’t so geek.

    We did have ubuntu discs , they look better then your own burned ones and one guy was dressed in a penguin suit.

  6. helios Says:

    and one guy was dressed in a penguin suit……

    This was a social experiment and only used Linux as a tool…distributing Linux was only a means to an end. I suppose it was fortunate that a tiny bit of data was collected in the process. By far, not scientific, but emperical data is of immense importance.

    Personally, I was happy to see what homeless people go through. Linux will take care of itself. Penguin suit and all.


  7. » Blog Archive » Linux Social Experiment�People have NO clue Says:

    […] eriment�People have NO clue
    by azxure @ 11:39 am. Filed under General

    » Blog Archive » Linux Social Experiment…People have NO clue    You should go read that.    [...]
  8. Cees’ Blog » Blog Archive » Linux Social Experiment Says:

    […] ironments Linux Social Experiment Great read–a guy doing a Linux Social Experiment by standing on a street corner begging people to take Linux CD’s from him. C […]

  9. windrose Says:



  10. Psion Says:


    Very timely read. I hope all take this message to heart. This will be shared with my family.

    Out of curiosity, I would like to know what your experience would be if you stood on the same corner with a nice sign, dressed nicely, and gussied up, handing out Linux CDs. What would the reaction at rush hour be then?

    Merry Holidays to all.

  11. Colin Krisko » Blog Archive » Linux Social Experiment People have NO clue Says:

    […] guy dressed as a bum gives out free GNU/Linux CDs, wants nothing in return

    read more | digg story This entry was posted on Saturday […]

  12. blinkin Says:

    Cool idea. And how humanitarian of you to give away what a bunch of people who let themselves see what they wanted to see (and this I find odd… perhaps that’s being harsh, but it seems that many people would find it easier to see something like a bum, which is everyday fare, than to see something that actually challenges them). That, I think, is my favorite part of your post.

  13. - Blog » Linux Social Experiment�People have NO clue Says:

    […] th, 2005 guy dressed as a bum gives out free GNU/Linux CDs, wants nothing in return read more | digg story Leave a Reply Name (required) M […]

  14. Yvo Says:

    Whats scary is that $144.09 is more then the average low income house hold makes. 8 hours x $5.15 = $41.20. Even the people that carry around signs telling them to go to the nearest furniture stores earn less then that.

    Not to mention that its all tax free.

  15. Blank Confessions :: Linux Social Experiment… :: December :: 2005 Says:

    […] ember 11, 2005 6:55 pm Linux Social Experiment… I love this life message � Blog Archive � Linux Social Experiment�People have NO clue Enjoy! Comments […]

  16. bliz Says:

    That social experiment is real cool…it’s all about people…I would like to try something similar to this…too bad I live in Singapore and would probably need a police permit before distributing stuff like that…you just cannot experiment freely here.

    Anyway, you did great spreading Linux and give your ‘earnings’ to a beggar.

    Kudos to you and may you have a Merry Christmas!

  17. michael_d Says:

    I’m not sure if you thought about this — but what happens when one of those people (who know nothing about linux) put the CD into their computer? For all they know its a computer program and they just click ‘yes’ to everything the whole way through.

    Once they are done, they have a nice new linux machine — and they realize it formatted their hard drive and lost all their personal files. I’m sure they will be real big linux fans then! D’oh!

    Its a sad state, but nowadays the installation of programs and such have got complex enough a lot of users don’t want to bother reading anything, they will just click the ‘yes’ button until things are done/installed. Reminds me of the Simpson’s episode where Homer play hookey from work and uses a small water bird thingie to peck on the computer keyboard at home so he doesn’t have to sit in front of it. And it almost causes a nuclear meltdown of the plant.


  18. A Linux Social Experiment at sil’s babbling Says:

    […] ogy, Linux. No Tags. What would happen if you dressed as a homeless person, held a sign, and tried to give away Linux CD’s? People would see what […]

  19. The Grand Fallacy » Says:

    […] l=”bookmark” title=”Permanent link to “> Posted in Linux at 12:37 pm by paul Here’s an interesting account of a Linux lover’s experiment in giving out free […]

  20. » Linux Social Experiment�?�People have NO clue Says:

    […] m

        Guy dressed as a bum gives out free GNU/Linux CDs, wants nothing in return.     read more | digg story
      Filed under: News

    No […]

  21. Austoon Daily » Linux Social Experiment�People have NO clue Says:

    […] ometimes they have dogs�but regardless of who they have with them, there is a constant. They all hold signs. Leave a Reply You must be […]

  22. tech poetic » Blog Archive » Giving it away. Says:

    Posted Articles on Sunday, December 11th, 2005.

            This is an interesting read, I recommend it.    A guy decided to stand out on the corner and hand out free  [...]
  23. ralsina Says:

    Whoa. I almost make half the amount per hour a panhandler does.

  24. Sawdust + Incense » Blog Archive » Around the Internets 12.11.05 Says:

    […] let didn’t think of this rather than requiring compulsory registration… People don’t take Linux disks from the homeless in Austin. Tookie Watch: Violence feared as we wait for the […]

  25. Fat Penguin » Blog Archive » Do not be mistaken Says:

    […] f Tulare and Cedar with my cardboard sign I do not want anyone to be mistaken. I was not handing out free Linux cds like this guy, I was in fact expecting money or food. :) […]

  26. Says:

    Linux Social Experiment

    There is a great read on Blog of Helios,  Linux Social Experiment�People have NO clue.
    Guy burns a heap of linux CDs and goes to hand them out on the street and is mistaken for a homeless person.

  27. The Monkey House » Linux Social Experiment�?�People have NO clue Says:

    […] ressed as a bum gives out free GNU/Linux CDs, wants nothing in return. This a great story. read more | digg story No Comments » No comments […]

  28. mwallace Says:

    Good on you for doing this, learning from the experience, and posting about it. You�ve given me the shot in the ass I�ve been needing to re-involve myself in community outreach beyond stepping over homeless people on the street and doling out the occasional handful of change.

  29. Mike’s Blog » The Linux Bum Says:

    […] k him for a bum. Can’t say that I really like linux, but interesting none the less.

    « Candy Mountain

  30. Shahab Says:

    Very nice read .. Next time distribute Ubuntu CDs which they will send you free .. :)

    Btw .. Do something about your theme layout ..

  31. n0ah Productions » � Blog Archive � Linux Social Experiment�People have NO clue Says:

    […] Filed under: Technology — n0ah at 6:33 pm on Monday, December 12, 2005

            » Blog Archive » Linux Social Experiment…People have NO clue      "There is hard [...]
  32. greencrab capsules » links for 2005-12-13 Says:

    […] avetime) Orwell’s Preface to Animal Farm (tags: @havetime book history politics) � Blog Archive � Linux Social Experiment�People have NO clue (tags: free linux @havetime) Squidoo : […]

  33. onejdc Says:

    I’m curious—- did you read his sign?

  34. zymph Says:

    Hmmm…what’s it called when you give random people stuff they didn’t ask for and don’t want??? I know! It’s called SPAM!

    Congratulations. You’ve proven that people don’t want SPAM.
    Who woulda thunk it?

  35. Mrdeadworry’s Blog » Bum on Corner gives out Linux Cd’s. Says:

    […] About Bum on Corner gives out Linux Cd’s. December 11, 2005   � Blog Archive � Linux Social Experiment�People have NO clue This a cool social experiment into people […]

  36. Zyca » Blog Archive » Interesting Social Experiment Says:

    […] y Tocsic. No Responses. RSS 2.0 comment feed. Tags: Civilization, Society This fellow conducted an interesting experiment. He set himself up at a major intersection, dressed like […]

  37. helios Says:

    Hmmm�what�s it called when you give random people stuff they didn�t ask for and don�t want??? I know! It�s called SPAM!…..

    Ahem…pardon me sir, your ignorance of the english language is showing. Spam, in the New English Traditional Dictionary defines “spam” as:

    1. To crash a
      program by overrunning a fixed-size buffer with excessively large input
      data. See also buffer overflow, overrun screw, smash the stack. 2.
      To cause a newsgroup to be flooded with irrelevant or inappropriate
      messages. You can spam a newsgroup with as little as one well- (or ill-)
      planned message (e.g. asking “What do you think of abortion?” on
      soc.women). This is often done with cross-posting (e.g. any message
      which is cross-posted to alt.rush-limbaugh and
      alt.politics.homosexuality will almost inevitably spam both groups).
      This overlaps with troll behavior; the latter more specific term has
      become more common. 3. To send many identical or nearly-identical
      messages separately to a large number of Usenet newsgroups. This is more
      specifically called ECP', Excessive Cross-Posting. This is one sure way
      to infuriate nearly everyone on the Net. See also velveeta and
      jello. 4. To bombard a newsgroup with multiple copies of a message.
      This is more specifically called
      EMP’, Excessive Multi-Posting. 5. To
      mass-mail unrequested identical or nearly-identical email messages,
      particularly those containing advertising. Especially used when the mail
      addresses have been culled from network traffic or databases without the
      consent of the recipients. Synonyms include UCE, UBE. 6. Any large,
      annoying, quantity of output. For instance, someone on IRC who walks
      away from their screen and comes back to find 200 lines of text might
      say “Oh no, spam”.

    So the “receiver” of spam finds it in a static condition…lying there to be discovered in a pre-defined location. Spam as in mail or email are valid…What we did as an experiment was to see how many people actually payed attention to the sign. The Linux disks were simply a means to an end.

    Now run along…I think I hear your uncles Bill and Steve calling you home for dinner.


  38. idiotprogrammer Says:

    Funny, funny, funny.

    As a former Austin resident, I’ve observed that there are a good variety of “beggars”: the bohemian types and the truly homeless.

    For better or worse, people naturally distrust strangers who are giving free things away from you. (I developed this distrust after I took a “free” psychological test conducted by the Scientology organization (that was in the 1980’s–way before anyone had heard of this group).

    Two other links that might interest you:
    a man who has been giving away his books for free (even in Austin). Also, my Austin sucks essay

  39. Idiotprogrammer » Blog Archive » Ubuntu Everywhere! Says:

    […] aquo; Wireless for the Linux Laptop (Part 3) Ubuntu Everywhere! A man who gives away Ubuntu CDs in his Austin neighborhood–and people assume he’s a beggar! It […]

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    […] .. linux social experiment
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        An experiment that someone did in Austin  ..  I spent a day doing something I see people do e [...]
  42. ShiftyEyed Bloggin’ Says:

    […] ue

                    guy dressed as a bum gives out free GNU/Linux CDs, wants nothing in returnread more | digg story      
                        This entry was posted
                        on Thursday, D [...]
  43. Quizzer’s Realm » A Linux Social Experiment Says:

    […] @ 6:32 am Published December 11th, 2005 in Technology, Linux. What would happen if you dressed as a homeless person, held a sign, and tried to give away Linux CD�s? People would see w […]

  44. bobanon Says:

    The less they know about linux, the better!

    The more mainstream linux becomes, the more exploited it will be.

    Once Audio & Electronic Music Software Development Companies start focusing on Linux, things will be very nice, and scary. =/

  45. Here lies a toppled god » Blog Archive » Interlude Says:



    by toppled god

                    Xmas is over, yay.  Here’s something I found tonight.  This morning.  …Twenty minutes ago.  Had to go to Australia [...]
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  48. Pauric Says:

    Nicely done. :)

  49. medic Says:


    You may have stood in that man’s spot for the day, but you were nowhere near standing in his shoes.

  50. helios Says:

    And you know my past? What if I were to tell you that I was once a drug addicted fugitive from the law who had to live a homeless lifestyle in order to avoid prison? No, I haven’t stood in his shoes, but I’ve shared his desolate outlook and his self-perceived bleak future. I just choose not to share my experiences with many people. Judgemental are they.

    I have stood in his spot…and shared his silent desperation…..I simply faced my demons and stepped back into the light a bit ahead of him.

    Trying to guess a mans past from your perception of his present is a fool’s game.


  51. terrawhistle Says:

    That’s a cool experiment.
    A giver in beggar costume might have been expected to be treated as what he’s dressed up as.

    A comment on Linux v. Windows;
    Linux, like Freedom requires a certain amount of knowledge, self reliance, and responsibility. You have to know something about how computers & software work to use Linux, just like you need to be an informed, involved, and self reliant citizen to make things work in a free society.

    Windows is more like a Socialist model of government or a drug dealer where Big Bro. will take care of things for you.
    “Don’t worry about anything but what you do best. We’ll take care of the rest.”
    The catch is, the Man owns your software, and you have to do things his way. By the time that realization hits, you’re a dependent with a habit.

    Remember the big names in Socialist history; Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Sadaam, Mao, Castro? Nice guys. You can feel safe in that environment as long as you play by the rules and don’t cross the Man.

  52. Tales of a Coin-Operated Boy » Blog Archive » Behold the power of Linux Says:

    […] I was going to just make a small tidbits post about this article, but I wanted to be sure everyone saw it. […]

  53. samejeep Says:

    what distro were you handing out . . . was it a livecd?

  54. helios Says:

    PCLinuxOS and Kanotix, both live cd’s.

  55. Swimming in the Pensieve » Playing “Catsup” Says:

    […] Lest you think Helios is some sort of heartless curmudgeon, please take a gander at his weblog entry which is chronologically situated between the above two entries: Linux Social Experiment…People have NO clue. The man is absolutely correct; which means that most people will unquestioningly believe the false headlines that this article refers to: US-CERT’s FUD. […]

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