Monday, May 23, 2011

Why Linux Matters (Why It Is Worth The Trouble)

Executive Summary
If you're a twitter type, then this is tl;dr.

Background
Before I tell you why Linux matters, let me tell you where I've been and where I find myself at this point in time.

Up until about four yeas ago I was an enthusiastic user of Linux, and wrote quite a bit about my experiences using it (or as much as I was allowed given my job's requirements). Then, starting in 2007, I ran into a rough patch (well, more like a washed out section of a bridge, metaphorically speaking). I'd made the mistake repeatedly of taking a working Linux installation and "upgrading" it. What burned me out was the ceaseless upgrade treadmill I kept willingly participated in, and the resulting system that needed yet more tuning and fixing of broken bits, tools that worked just fine in the prior release...

It's been nearly four years since I wrote my October Manifesto. Four years is a long time when software development continues at the rapid pace that Linux (and all other operating systems) has been on. What have I learned in the last four years to overcome my dark mood and to appreciate Linux again?
  1. Time Marches On. All those issues I had with Linux don't exist anymore. Really. Both the hardware and the software have evolved. Carrying a four-year-old grudge over technology issues that have long since been overcome by events is just plain silly.
  2. Just Use Gnome. I've dabbled a bit with the other desktop managers (DMs to you hipsters). I keep with Gnome 2.x because it's familiar, reasonably dependable, and provides all my core needs.
  3. Stick with the release that works. Keep the patches up-to-date. Resist the urge to go to the next release just because you can, just because it's so easy. Right now I'm running with Fedora 14 because Fedora is sanctioned by the company I work for (along with RHEL). It runs just fine on my Dell Latitude D630 notebook, and that includes every feature that matters, such as audio, the graphics card, and wireless. It Just Works.
  4. Use hardware that's fully mainstream. I made the mistake of assuming that anything I can buy on Newegg is mainstream hardware, and it's not. The tower system I built out of expensive parts in 2004 was obsolete and no longer manufactured in 2006. The motherboard manufacturer, which got such glowing reviews and convinced me to purchase a copy, went completely out of business three years after I purchased that motherboard. If you want a system that will work with anything, then buy Dell, or something similar. That's what everybody targets, and so should you.
  5. Loosen critical requirements, or better yet, be honest and drop them if they aren't "real". For example I no longer care about running multimedia content, specifically DVDs and movies. I could go to the trouble to install the necessary bits and have it work, but why bother? I've come to a more fundamental realization with regards to Big Content. Which is, I've had enough. I've watched Big Content over-monetize and over-criminalize all the fair use activities I used to take for granted, to the point where I don't want to have anything to do with them or what they're peddling any more. You may patronize Sony and Universal and Paramount and all the others, but I don't have to. Every time I do, I put more money in their pockets, money that they in turn use to build more walls around computing through DRM means and pass more laws that allow the blocking of content on the Internet, without any due process, in order to protect they're most holy of holy IP. Once that so-called requirement is relaxed or eliminated, then freedom is more easily attainable.
  6. Use Chrome instead of Firefox.
  7. Realize that my needs are not representative of the rest of the user community. This applies as both a consumer of Linux as well as a producer of applications and capabilities that would run on the Linux platform.
Most importantly, relax. I've noted this in other posts, but it bears repeating. Relax. The world is highly diverse. Learn to accept and thrive in heterogeneity. Chill out. When it gets too intense, put it aside and go have a beer.

So why does Linux matter?

Because once you get past all the personal issues, you realize that the Linux platform is fully open. And not just the Linux platform, but the BSDs as well (and others which I apologize for not mentioning). A fully open platform means that I can lift up the virtual hood and tinker with what's there. Open to me means the combination of open standards and open and available source gives me the freedom to understand, repair, and modify the software technology running on my computers. In this age of growing curated computing experience, I want an area I can escape to where there are no artificially imposed limits. Yes, I want to run with scissors because I know how to run with them safely and because I'm adult enough to take responsibility for my own actions.

Linux fits who and what I am, an inveterate tinkerer. I need that outlet, and I need Linux, or something very much like it. It isn't perfect, but neither is anything else I've worked with. A fully open system gives one the opportunity, taken or not, of going in and fixing things up a bit, of adding things for the fun of it, of asking and trying what if...

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Bill.

    When I had enough of the proprietary world and its restrictions, I also tried Linux. And BSD. It lasted a few years until someone showed me Debian, and that is what I still use (my wife and brother, sister use Ubuntu).

    What I don't do anymore is trying to "preach" - I have a very close attitude to it all today as yours. To each their own. But I also don't support proprietary stuff anymore, at least not during my free time.

    What I still do is to watch DVDs on my computer once in a while. I don't give a damn about DeCSS, because what difference does it make if I watch that on my computer monitor or on the stand-alone DVD player attached to the TV set? Oh I know: I could copy it, and mostly I do, for backup purposes. Criminalization? That's ridiculous, considered today's prices of the originals.

    Oh, of course I also use BitTorrent. There's more to download than cracked moviez and warez and such - Linux distributions for instance.

    Plus I *love* RawTherapee and its built-in RL deconvolution sharpening on Linux. Too bad that I still have to get proprietary when I want to use the Olympus viewer 2 software. Now that their DSLRs are almost all gone, they should consider to let it "free" (read: to gives us the code under the GPL, like RawTherapee did as well).

    cheers,
    Wolfgang

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