Those who have been following my weblog may see a bit of apparent contradiction between my recent move to Linux and my resignation from attempting to run Linux in June of this year. For both of you, I would like to attempt to explain.
I am fond of analogy, particularly in areas where a point is hard to communicate or rather abstract to the listener. In my early twenties, two of my best friends and my dad (who is another best friend, truth be told) all went skydiving together. It was an accelerated freefall program; 8 hours of training and 45 seconds of freefall with two trained folks holding you by the arm and then a 3-minute parachute ride down. Anyway, there is this cliche that skydivers say over and over, “why would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane?”
Commercial operating systems are very much like the “perfectly good airplane.” They’re fine, for the most part. They more or less get you where you want to go, and at a cost that is not too outrageous, though sometimes exorbitant.
I know why people jump out of perfectly good airplanes. I know because I did it. I also know that all people who ask that trite question tend to share one thing in common; they don’t know what’s outside that airplane, and they don’t want to know.
When my body settled into the safe freefall stance they had taught us, I looked out and beheld an amazing thing. As the air rushing past me cradled my body in a surprisingly comfortable position, I looked out and beheld the entire horizon, right there before me. There was nothing in between myself and it. That was fascinating, and the risk was mitigated by the fact that two professionals who had done this hundreds of times before were right there, guiding me and protecting me even from myself. It was a unique and memorable type of freedom I have not experienced since then.
Open source and GNU/Linux-based operating systems are alot like that for me. The first time your X windows installation starts up and you behold that graphical user interface, it is a strange feeling of elation and freedom. It’s like the Matrix, where you step outside the world you have known for so long and suddenly realize that there is more.
Most folks who are curious enough to explore Linux on their desktop have enough of a distaste for the constraints of Microsoft products to warrant the risk in learning something new. That risk has been greatly mitigated by the fantastic advances that have been made in Linux desktops in the past few years, so that people running mainstream x86 hardware have a virtually trouble-free path to getting a Linux installation up and running.
I run a niche computer (Apple Titanium PowerBook G4) and a characteristically alpha-geek Linux distribution (Debian), so it’s safe to say that my experiences with desktop Linux do not reflect the majority. Desktop Linux is becoming more and more viable.
However, the viability of desktop Linux is not what attracts me in particular. It is that raw, alpha-geek challenge, mitigated by good hardware and experience. It is being somewhat removed from the computing mainstream. It is being able to dramatically influence the performance of almost every aspect of your computing experience through effort and collaboration. I guess you could say it is about a type of freedom. I think Richard Stallman is onto something with his ideas about freedom in software.
So, why do I run Linux? Because I have tasted of the freedom it offers me in one of my strong passions, computers, and I want to know more of it.
Those who may have wondered whether or not I was truly a geek should have most of your uncertainty removed by now, and that just fine with me. Thanks for reading.