For the Love of Linux
Aug 04, 1999, 13:32 (41 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Paul Ferris)
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By Paul Ferris, Staff
I'm often asked questions about Linux, and one of the most
difficult ones to answer seems to stem from just what it is that
makes me so passionate about it. It's a hard thing to explain, but
here is my closest take on the addiction.
First, Linux is like Unix in a lot of ways - and I do love Unix,
although it's kind of like an old love, not a new one. More and
more as I use commercial Unices I feel like I'm dealing with an
antique. Linux is more modern than most "modern" commercial Unices.
That's tough to swallow for a lot of people. Especially lovers of
commercial Unices, and by Gawd you can find a lot of brand name
loyalty in just about any Unix camp.
But here it is: Freedom. It's basic, simple things that I can do
every day without having to go and purchase some do-dad or download
some stupid fix. For example, I use vi a lot to compose things -
html, text and programs. Vi is a very difficult editor for some
people to learn, and Linux has other editors. I still love it
because it's such a power-house. It's power is something that
slowly dawns on you. The more you learn it, the more you can't
stand using anything else.
It goes deeper. I use vi to edit my commands on the command
line. I use ksh as my command interpreter. With Linux, like most
Unices, you have a choice of command interpreters. You aren't
forced to put up with something else and you can even write your
own if you are so inclined.
I like my text login screens to be a smaller size. I like to
altering the boot-up screens so that they say what I want. I like
my own font for my text consoles. I like being able to run my
computer from another terminal in another room - and not pay
royalties to some monopoly for the privilege to do something an
operating should do out of the box. For some company to promise me
that they will do that for me and take away even 10% of this
freedom, I'd say forget it.
Some of it is about autonomy. Why do I need another company to
provide for me what I can do myself given the source code or the
right automation tools? Why do I have to pay big bucks for
something others are willing to do from the bottom of their hearts?
Why do I need things that are being assembled by people who have in
mind their exploitation of me, when I am perfectly capable of
creating those things for myself?
It's mainly about freedom, and it's obvious. There are a lot of
people that could care less about the underpinnings of an operating
system. A lot of those people today run Windows. Why? I've said it
before: Mostly because they have had no choice in the recent past
and before that they had no understanding that there was an
important choice being made.
In the not-so-distant past I honestly could have cared less
about those people. It was only recently in the past 4 or so years
that I realized that I was going to have to educate people as to
how important that choice is. As more and more people were
"choosing" proprietary software (here I speak for both Mac and
Windows users), more and more people were saying that my Unix on my
desk was taking up too much money or that it was obsolete.
And therein lies the trigger that fired me into action. Because
my time daily was getting wasted on managing these pathetic
desktops. People who didn't know better were starting to make my
decisions for me. "No-Brainer" decisions, like "Just buy NT,
everybody else is doing it", without looking closely at what a mess
a lot of those IT shops were.
And personally that's where the line was crossed. It's one thing
to make a bad decision for yourself - it's another to come and try
and make one for me. And for money? How much money has been burned
on "client access licenses" that were not needed before in my
world? How much money has been lost on pathetic down time from
servers crashing? How much time on hiring IT personnel who are now
needed to service desktops by manually walking around to each one?
How much? No one was doing these calculations to justice, it was
all "no-brainer" decisions.
That's where the line was crossed. There are people in this
world who don't want to learn what they need to know about
computers. Those people are not to make my decisions for me. If
they want my Linux, they can come and pry it out of my cold, dead
In the mean time, I will continue to explain what it is about
this that is good. I will continue until the threat abates. The
world is not a safe place if bad, privacy-compromising, heroin-ware
software is being forced down our collective throats. When there
comes a day when Joe Public can purchase a Linux or FreeBSD desktop
computer fully configured, and he can get his day-to-day chores
done on it, then I will start to breath easier.
Change is only going to come when Joe Public realizes just how
important the GPL is to freedom. When Joe Public understands true
open standards. When Joe Public understands that choice on the
desktop is an important freedom. In the mean time it's time to
sound the alarm. In the mean time, I will not stand by as people
choose proprietary solutions over less costly ones that bring more
freedom as well.
Using Unix, and then going to any Windows based solution was
like going from a place where you were allowed to have the full run
of the landscape into a dark, damp cell. I don't care how many
different font settings are in the "control panel", I want full
control of my environment. I want control of the important things
underneath it all. I used Unix at work and when I went home I had
no hope of having that kind of control. At home my computer was a
PC running a Microsoft operating system.
I had pretty much given up on the idea of having this freedom at
home. Then one day I was reading my favorite Unix magazine, and
found a review of Linux. It was about 2 weeks before I found a
decent buy on the product - Yggdrasil's "plug and play" Linux. It
must have taken me 2 weeks of reading documentation to get the
thing to boot up on my PC. Far from plug and play but it was
usable. The kernel revision level I believe was .97, but it's been
a while there.
I can still vividly remember getting lilo properly configured,
and being presented for the first time with a login prompt. I
logged in, looked around, and began customizing my environment. I
found crazy things, like the shell - BASH. I did a "man bash" and
read the description: "Borne Again Shell", and I laughed out loud.
I immediately began toying with it and found that it was missing
one of my favorite Korn shell features - arrays. It didn't matter,
it was Unix as far as I could tell. There were minor quirks but a
lot of pleasant surprises.
This is the part that probably tells you I'm not your average
Joe operating system guy - I cried. I truly cried. It's not the
same thing for me as for Joe Public. For Joe Public, an operating
system is something you use to launch Solitaire or a word
For me, it's something else - it's freedom. For me it's much,
much more. I remember thinking what an amazing gift it was. Having
all of that, and that it was free - no company was going to charge
me thousands of dollars for it. I could compile programs. I had a
compiler for crying out loud (literally).
I know that a lot of people who read this are probably thinking
right now: Geez, this guy is crazy. Some of you are laughing. Well,
sorry to hear that if it is so. Let me tell you, I've confessed
this to several Linux geeks over the past few years and I've found
something out: I'm not alone. There have been very few things in my
life where I felt moved to tears over happiness and Linux is one of
those things. If you don't understand, that's ok.
So, you see, this is not just about Microsoft although a lot of
people see it that way. It's not just about a bunch of geeks
showing off their coding skills, although the media likes to focus
on that too. This is about something very intrinsic to a small few
of us that actually give a damn about the whole thing. We want
people to have the chance at seeing this extra dimension of
freedom. Point and Click - ok, we can do that too. But underneath
we want the future people who use computers to have more power, if
that is what they want. And we are the few who know truly how much
power that is.
This is a rather long winded piece about free software that I
hope shows that it's more than just technology - it's emotion too.
If it's been puzzling to you, this will probably help clear up some
of that. Next time you wonder why there is so much ranting going
on, try and realize that to some of us, this is more. To some of us
this is true freedom.