A guy at work came in to my office yesterday showing off his newly installed Linux Mint on his Macbook. He was so excited about it, and I’ve reinstalled Windows on our home laptop enough times in the past three weeks, and been preached to enough by smart people who were also shiny-eyed Linux enthusiasts, that I’m tempted to install Linux and do a dual-booted laptop. Partially to fool around with it, partially to use it as a system to put on old crappy computers that ours will eventually turn into that my wife can use for basic stuff, and partially to be a geek.
So, this morning I woke up early, mainly because my body thinks I’m either 70 or 4 years old and thinks to bed by 8 and up at 5 is what it prefers, and have been searching around for how hard it would be to add a new partition to an existing XP installation, and it turns out I’m not sure I want to be that geek of a geek. And this is the rub. Yes – I want to fool around with new systems, tools, figure out how they work. Just doing that part of it is fun for me. Now that I’m married and don’t have computers willy-nilly that I can fool around with, I do measure this against the annoyance it will raise in my wife. She measures the utility of computers in how efficiently they let her email, play solitaire, read friends’ blogs, and watch Glee (the not-yet-released Chrome OS might not be a bad fit as long as it has a web-based Solitaire that looks and behaves EXACTLY LIKE Windows’ Solitaire). I also measure it against the community that comes up around these things – and, to be honest, the Linux community in the forums and pages that I’ve skimmed through are not only polite to each other, in contrast to 90% of the Internet, but also have all sorts of friendly tutorials on how to do it. Maybe every person who has seen the light and actually understands this stuff writes a tutorial.
Which in itself is actually a problem. When I want to learn how to do something, and run across three tutorials that tell me basically the same procedure, I’m good with it and pick one and follow it. So far I’ve found dramatically different instructions for Linux installations, all starting with something along the lines of “This is the really easy way, and doesn’t even involve learning Kobol, like we used to. It only takes about 3 hours and it may totally kill your machine but it’s TOTALLY worth it. Now, defrag your hard drive…”
It’s also interesting to notice the culture in some of these forums. These are nice people, generally – they’re the people you know from church, and school, and work (especially, like me, if you work in IT) and they just happen to have extra large brains and fooled around with this that and the other since they were five and conducting experiments with keyboard and monitors and science tubes. But there’s a definite feeling of superiority, not necessarily over us dopes who just install simple ol’ Windows and let it install ITSELF, without any of our CONTROL (though that’s there a bit) but over systems like Windows. I’ve seen a documentary or two and read hate-filled article or forums and understand the view that computers systems and programs should be free (as in free beer) and open (as in you can grab the code and tweak it to your heart’s content), and so understand that the party line is to almost universally condemn Windows (except maybe for servers, or specific tools whoever it is likes) and to shrug at Apple as the PRETTY system before cracking their knuckles and spending thirty hours to get a printer to work with their installation of Unix or Linux. I also understand that part of the reason that these systems are OH SO MUCH better than commercial systems is because they work differently, so I would need to understand how they work differently and would need some adjusting. And honestly I do see flyers for the install parties on campus and think, hey, these people are giving back, or at least proactive about sharing their Kool-Aid.
So then, honestly, part of me thinks, well, if I figure this stuff out, and get my little newbie Linux system going on my XP system, which I perceive is viewed by some of these guys as getting surgery and keeping part of the infection in-tact just in case I want to go back to it in a moment of weakness, if I do that, am I going to turn into one of those people, eventually, who when people ask for help with their computers, I’m going to just sigh and click through the issue and then patiently explain to them that they’re morons because they don’t care about spending significant time making their computer look exactly like Windows only different because it’s free and customizable if they knew what the crap they were doing which they don’t? Or worse, telling them to go back to a command-line system so that they can pound their chest and remember the good times we had before computers were much less accessible and grandma COULDN’T just go look at pictures of her grandkids by clicking that nice little ‘e’ icon and going to that one bookmark? How much of this stuff is genuinely useful? If I already have Windows, what’s the point? I’m serious. And if it’s so good, what are the larger implications? And I understand, I understand, not at a large university in the US but maybe other places they don’t need to run 1000 programs that all work on Windows and no other platform, where the free and customizable in the right hands might actually be the ticket?