Carolyn S: Back to the source – From Windows to Linux

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Looking for alternatives to Microsoft’s Windows OS

Last week, I wrote about how my brief acquaintance with Windows 10 operating system (OS) triggered concerns that my dependence on Microsoft was leading me to places I didn’t agree with: too much corporate dominance and control over my most private digital activities and concerns with the way users were being unwittingly delivered to advertisers, marketers, and other profiteering corporates.

Apple Macs

My first response was to start looking at buying a Mac laptop, which use Apple’s own OS. I cruised some local shops, and was getting close to making a selection. But I also have some reservations about Apple: it’s poor record of employment conditions in China,and it’s approach as a competitive, corporate, with intensive marketing strategies, though somewhat less aggressively monopolistic than Microsoft. Between these 2 corporations they have been a bit of a duopoly dominating computing operating systems.

Open Source and Free Software Movements

Then I started to think about Linux. At that stage my knowledge of it was limited. I have the time and motivation. Windows is like the ready-made-meals option: very convenient and easy to use without a lot of effort. However, the small print on the package contains lots of potential unhealthy contents, masking the actual contents with e-numbers. The alternative to ready-made, highly processed foods, is to make an effort to shop regularly at fruit and veges shops, or farmers markets. And it’s maybe a small step towards something like the digital equivalent of growing your own veges – and some control over the OSes people are using.

I associated Linux with the Open Source movement, which I associated with collaborative, non-profit-seeking development of computing software. In the 1980s, and 1990s, I was hopeful that the collaborative ethos was going to maintain a strong presence in computing and its development. Many had an ethos of contributing to the social good taking priority over competition and personal gain. However, I could already see that commercial interests were gathering, exploring ways to make money out of people’s voluntary efforts. And I was aware of the gathering momentum in popular culture towards individualism and profit-seeking.

There has been some tension between the Free Software and Open Source movements. Open Source focuses on the practical benefits, with better systems being developed through collaborative efforts. The Free Software movement focuses more on a “freedom” ethos, with the “free” being more like “free speech” than “free beer”.

For the free software movement, free software is an ethical imperative, essential respect for the users’ freedom. By contrast, the philosophy of open source considers issues in terms of how to make software “better”—in a practical sense only.

[…]

For the free software movement, however, non-free software is a social problem, and the solution is to stop using it and move to free software.

However, Open Source advocates say the “Free Software” term is ambiguous, and that Open Source stresses the “availability of source code”, as argued here. The debates are laid out on  Oxford Privacy, the source of the accompanying featured image.

Linux OS

Linux began with an ethos of providing a free operating system and software. In more recent times, it has become more of a paid enterprise, with the majority of people who work on it being paid. It is also used in many current applications, such as automated systems in people’s homes:

Since I wrote my Windows 10 piece I have started investigating the possibility of using a Linux OS in order to wean myself off my Microsoft dependency.

There are several version of the OS, each being developed by a team. They are called “distributions” or “distros”.

Ubuntu

I chose to go with the Ubuntu system, because it is the most well known, and it is claimed that it is a good distro for beginners.

I was a bit nervous about doing this, so bought some hardware for this purpose, rather than risk downloading Ubuntu onto my laptop that currently runs Windows 7. Ubuntu seems quite familiar to this long time Windows user, while also having many unfamiliar features.

There have been some frustrations and wrong turns, as happens when learning something new, and it has required some effort and time on my part. I still have much to learn, but feel the effort I will be rewarded with more control over the computing devices I use, and less dependent on the intrusive and manipulative market ethos of Microsoft.

This article has been drafted on LibreOffice Writer, the default system on Ubuntu, and I have used the OS for some of the research.

My next piece will be about my journey into Ubuntu.

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Carolyn is committed to economic and social justice. She has researched and taught in film, TV and media studies, sociology and gender studies. Carolyn is actively interested in local history, and its impact on the present and future. Carolyn currently works part time as a research librarian in Auckland Libraries, which is part of Auckland Council. The views, analysis, and opinions she expresses on this site are her own, and not those of Auckland Council.

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