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Linux and FOSS: Living A Conscious Life

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What is winning? It's not "world domination". Winning is changing the rules of the game so that a dirty convicted monopolist does not control the industry, and Linux/FOSS can thrive without constantly having to fight just for the right to exist.


It seems like gigantic swaths of the modern economy rely on customer ignorance and apathy, and Wal-Mart is the poster child for this concept. Wal-Mart succeeds because its customers can't see beyond the nickels they might be saving, and are not aware of, or don't care about the damage it has done to the US economy, and is still doing. The short story is Wal-Mart undercuts wages, the rights of workers, and is responsible for launching the mass migration of American manufacturing jobs overseas. I'm sure we've heard all the usual reasons for being a Wal-Mart customer: they're the biggest and cheapest, the local mom-and-pops are not adequate, and the mom-and-pops are gone anyway because Wal-Mart killed them. Wal-Mart is the only store they can afford to shop in because all the good jobs disappeared when Wal-Mart moved in.

Does any of that sound familiar? It should because it's the same with computers. Microsoft dominates personal computing, exerts considerable downward pressure on wages and worker's rights, exports jobs, subverts governments, kills real innovation, and sells overpriced, restrictive, inferior products. (At least Wal-Mart sells some decent brands.) Why aren't there any alternatives? Microsoft killed them. Why support a vendor who treats you so shabbily? Shrug. It's all there is, and anyway they're OK. Shiny!

The direct and indirect costs of Microsoft's impact on the world economy is a net loss because everyone else bears the burden of cleaning up their messes. So what can a lone individual who cares about these issues do?

What to Do?

One way to keep decisions manageable is to consider two questions: one, do I want to influence other people? Or two, just not be part of the problem? We see this kind of comment in discussions all the time: "What difference does it make what I do, I'm just one person." Which is true, and nobody can possibly be an activist for every issue that affects them. But you don't have to be. There is power in following your own path, and the sums of small actions by individuals can grow to large and significant sizes. Think, be informed, and consider long-term consequences.

For one example, a common decision these days is choosing between a new computer that comes with Windows because it costs less, or paying a bit more to avoid sending money to Redmond. The short-term gain is a few more dollars in your pocket. But what's the real cost to you over the long term? That one purchase is one more reinforcement of Microsoft's unhealthy control over hardware manufacturers and retail. On the other hand, making a purchase that does not benefit Microsoft strengthens the alternatives. After all these years of complaining the status quo has shifted only a little bit-- complaining doesn't do much, but voting with your money has clout.

The Biggest and Most Powerful Step

It's not enough to be against something, in fact that is a weak principle to live by. A much stronger principle is to be for something. Linux and Free/Open software make it possible for people of conscience and forethought to make informed choices, and to contribute to advancing real progress. It's not good enough to decide "I'll move to Linux when it is a completely perfect Windows clone and everything works seamlessly, and I won't have to lift a finger or pay a cent." People say that all the time, and it's meaningless.

Start now, start small. Use Linux/FOSS wherever you can, and if something you need does not exist then contribute to making it happen. Virtually all financial support for FOSS is corporate. Do you think that is healthy? I do not, not even when it's from an admirable company like Red Hat. We cannot honestly claim community support when business is doing the heavy lifting. I estimated once that setting up a system with proprietary software equivalent to my main Linux system would cost close to $4,000. I would be one big whiny weiner to complain that "I can't afford to donate money to anyone!" I know I know, "there are too many, I don't know to give to and I can't give to all of them!" It's not that hard. Pick the ones that mean the most to you. If your chosen Linux distribution accepts donations cover all the bases by sending them a few bucks.

If your business depends on Linux/FOSS, then for gosh sakes give thanks to your appropriate deities and write some checks. You'll still come out ahead, and you'll help yourself.

Learn to code, help other people, seek out ways to support FOSS projects that are important to you. Sell high-quality Linux OEM computers where everything works out of the box like ZaReason, Penguin Computing, and System76. Linux and FOSS won't win by waiting for other people to fix things. What is winning? It's not "world domination". It's controlling our own destiny. Winning is changing the rules of the game so that a dirty convicted monopolist does not control the industry, and Linux/FOSS can thrive without constantly having to fight just for the right to exist.

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